Letters to the Editor

Letters: March/April 2020

Readers talk back about Harold Bloom, climate change, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

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It’s getting hot

I was delighted to see Yale’s alumni magazine celebrate the university’s focus on climate change as well as wonderful alums like Mary Nichols [’71JD] who are leading the fight to limit carbon pollution (“The Climate in California,” January/February). From my perch in the Senate, I want to give particular credit to Yale sociologist Justin Farrell, who is doing vitally important research into the operation of the fossil fuel industry’s apparatus of climate denial and obstruction. I also am deeply grateful to Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication, which is probably the country’s best “tracker” of public sentiment on climate change. Among many others, both deserve a big “bravo!”
Sheldon Whitehouse ’78
Washington, DC

The author is a US senator from Rhode Island.

Congratulations for the great coverage on the climate issue.
Good to hear that the president of Yale is committed to stop using fossil fuels.
Don McCluskey ’42, ’59MEng
Mystic, CT

How fast can Yale stop producing CO2? The clear evidence is that it can be done right now. This is based on my 45 years of professional work with major corporations, governments, and institutions worldwide. Much of it I began sharing in the mid-1980s with the office of Yale president Benno Schmidt.

Yale’s CO2 emissions in 2019 were 200,000 tons. This indicates that the detrimental effect of Yale’s CO2 ranges between $20 and $100 million annually. (This figure is based on current estimates of the “social cost of carbon,” or SCC, which measures economic, health, ecological, and other kinds of CO2 impacts.)

One strategy that has the potential to be both climate-positive and revenue-positive is called Shrink, Shift, and Source:

SHRINK through continuous and comprehensive end-use efficiency gains in energy and resource use (pioneered by Ralph Cavanagh ‘74, ‘77JD), such as electrification to replace combustion equipment and vehicles and full use of wireless smart-sensor networks to ensure high efficiency design.

SHIFT to onsite, community-based renewables and energy storage, with the goal of integrating the campus into a microgrid (promoted by Gus Speth ’64, ’69JD).

SOURCE carbon offsets: verified projects that absorb carbon—like protecting threatened intact assemblages of flora and fauna such as rainforests, mangroves, peatlands, and native grasslands. (The verification system was pioneered by Peter Seligmann ’74MFS, Glenn Prickett ’88, and me.)

Given that Yale campus space limitations may not allow for delivering 100 percent on-site and distributed energy services, Yale should participate in regional solar and wind projects that provide a ROI (return on investment) comparable to the ten-year average ROI of the university’s investment portfolio. The Yale Task Force on Net Zero Carbon Emissions has been apprised of the Shrink, Shift, and Source strategy, and hopefully will embrace it.
Michael P. Totten ’72
Denver, CO

This letter was cosigned by Ralph Cavanagh ’74, ’77JD, Glenn Prickett ’88, Peter Seligmann ’74MFS, and Gus Speth ’64, ’69JD.

The latest cover of the Yale Alumni Magazine yet again promotes unwelcomed social engineering, this time about climate change. This topic, as any other social engineering propaganda, is so contentious, even among scientists, that I will limit my objections to only two points. First, it would have been possible to read the magazine if dissenting points of view were presented rather than repeating the partisan world view on climate change.

I only have a glimmer of hope to be understood on my second point, which is that the “debate” about climate change could be put to rest if instead you published information about the simultaneous climate changes occurring on the other planets in the solar system. Also, the promotion of planetary stewardship is as unrealistic as just saying no to . . . whatever. Please stop with the social engineering or cancel my Yale Alumni Magazine subscription, because I’d rather think that there is one more tree growing, rather than contributing to composting it.
Viktor Stolc ’98PhD
San Jose, CA

I was very disappointed to read your reports on the Yale approach to climate change (“The Race to Cut Carbon,” January/February). Although I am not a climate scientist, I have followed the political and scientific approaches to this topic for a number of years. In your articles, there is no mention of two of the most cogent observers of the climate change phenomena: Professor Nir Shaviv and Professor Valentina Zharkova.

Together, they have forecast the reversal of the recent trend in global warming. It looks like the end of the global warming episode is occurring in 2020 due to the period of Grand Solar Minimum (GSM) which we are now entering.

The Danish and Finnish Meteorological Institutes report increasing Arctic ice volume, increasing Arctic sea ice thickness, mass gain of the Greenland ice sheet, and increasing northern hemisphere snow-mass totals. Recent news reports record-low temperatures in southern Australia, Delhi, Bangladesh, and Thailand; record-breaking blizzards in Newfoundland and Iceland; and temperatures in Colorado below -40 degrees Fahrenheit, even before the coldest winter months.
The science around climate change is by no means settled. The impact of the Grand Solar Minimum should be apparent within a few years. If the GSM outweighs Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), we may see falling crop production and life-threatening cold where people are ill equipped to handle cold weather. If this grim scenario comes to pass, I hope you will present a corresponding issue on how so many at Yale got the matter so wrong.
Bruce F. Heitler ’67, ’72JD
Denver, CO

The January/February issue makes it clear that the university is “all in” on CO2 reduction to ameliorate climate change. No doubt that is the politically correct position and the one that exerts social pressure on people including academics. The popular press communications are no surprise, but the university is expected to exhibit a high level of intellectual integrity. I do not see it.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but the direct effect on climate is trivial as shown in numerous calculations reported in scientific literature. Credible scientists and studies reveal:

The long-term record shows that CO2 increases in response to temperature increases, not vice versa.

The shorter-term record also shows no direct correlation between CO2 increases and temperature increases. Witness the 1940–1975 period of rapid CO2 enrichment and global cooling. And 1998–2018 when temperatures changed little or none while CO2 built up in the atmosphere steadily.

During the Phanerozoic eon, CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere has ranged up to several thousand parts per million. It can be argued that the present level of about 400 ppm amounts to a CO2 drought. In fact, 150 ppm is thought to be the minimum CO2 concentration to support life as we know it, and that is pretty close to current concentration.

The UN Food and Agriculture Committee has forecast a crisis in food supply within 50 years. Deliberate enrichment of the atmosphere with CO2 may, at some point, be advocated. Encouragement derives from the greening of the Earth which has been impressive in the last 50 years due to CO2. Perhaps food requirements will adjust our perspective on the value of CO2.

The science of climate change is complex and certainly is not settled. Much is to be learned. Let’s not jump too quickly to an overly simple explanation and miss other important factors. Intellectual integrity demands that all aspects of an issue be deliberated with clarity of mind. That is not too much to ask of a university such as Yale.
Henry R. Savage ’66DEng
Georgetown, TX

We asked some faculty at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies about the issues raised in the three preceding letters. The response below is from Noah Planavsky, Assistant Professor of Geology and Geophysics, and Peter Raymond, Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and of Geology and Geophysics.

“We respect the diversity of views from all of our alumni. However, as Yale scientists, we feel these letters contain views that are dangerous to society and based on a poor understanding of climate science. These letters conflate shifts in weather—local, short-term conditions—with long-term global climate changes. They ignore the wealth of paleoclimate data, modern observations, and climate modeling that went into generating the overwhelming consensus view—the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—of how humans are affecting climate, how climate has impacted societies and ecosystems, and how climate will continue to change and have impacts over the next 100 years. The faculty works constantly to ensure we have classes that will prepare Yalies of all fields to develop the tools to objectively evaluate climate science and its impact on society.

I rise to commend Mary Nichols, featured in your January/February 2020 issue. Your article chronicled Mary’s lifelong devotion to justice, particularly in the area of environmental justice for the citizens of California and throughout the entire world. By word of the article, she is largely responsible for the reduction in greenhouse gases throughout California and continues the fight in behalf of us all.

Mary was a classmate in the Yale Law School Class of 1971: an eclectic class renowned for its commitment to diversity, social justice, and grassroots activism. I was not aware of Mary’s astounding record of success in championing the environment against daunting odds and massive resistance at the highest levels. I am proud to know Mary, although I know her only at a distant and tangential level. But even at that level, it was clear from her optimism and tenacity that she would achieve something remarkable.

Climate change is recognized by almost all people claiming the most basic level of consciousness as the greatest threat to survival of the planet (some in our political class seemingly excluded). It is comforting to know that there is a Mary Nichols out there “person-ing” the ramparts. Thank you to Dylan Walsh for crafting this inspiring article.
Clyde W. Waite ’71JD
Newtown, PA

When I received the latest issue of your magazine, there was a pronouncement on the cover about a “climate success story.” How wonderful!

It would be amazing if the magazine itself could be another climate change success. By switching to a digital magazine or blog format, the Yale Alumni Magazine would be helping to save tons of CO2 emissions. By now, most alumni can navigate the internet. My 92-year-old father reads the paper on his iPad. Do we need a paper copy? Do we need to waste the resources used to produce, transport, and eventually dispose of the alumni magazine? Ceasing to make an analog version of the magazine would be an investment in the future for all alumni, past and future.
Catharine Maloney ’09MFA
Wilmington, DE

We do make the magazine available online at our website, yalealumnimagazine.com. Readers who would prefer not to receive the magazine in print can let us know at yam@yale.edu.

Understandably, the president of Yale needs to speak and write in a diplomatic and even-handed manner. It comes with the job. Even so, President Salovey’s comments in your January/February issue (“Yale and the Climate”) seem especially odd. On the subject of climate change, the president writes of “nonpartisan solutions” (twice) and “elected officials from both major political parties,” and he asserts that “it is possible to reach across the aisle.”

This is nonsense. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, the simple fact is that in the US, there will be no meaningful governmental action, at any level or in any place, to combat climate change, as long as Republicans have the power to prevent it.
John Bay ’69
Silver Spring, MD

For a number of reasons, I was delighted to read your recent articles on climate change. By focusing on the difficult transition to a carbon-free economy, as a society we are finally moving past the deceitful and immoral campaign over the past 20 years to discredit climate science.

Mary Nichols deserves our respect and praise for her persistent and effective work in dealing with the challenge of climate change. As a resident of California since 1979, I am very proud of the action our state has taken, which serves as a model to the world that eliminating fossil fuels is technologically and economically feasible. This is particularly important now, given the repeated efforts of the Trump administration to impede this transition.

Finally, I was moved by President Salovey’s letter proclaiming that, “entrusted with the care of our planet, we have a responsibility to address the world’s greatest challenges.” Unlike most publications, our alumni magazine addresses different generations. Recent graduates will be forced to deal with the greater impact of climate change in the future. Older generations, like mine, have an obligation to strive to become, in the words of Jonas Salk, “good ancestors” to minimize this impact.
Christopher P. Khoury ’71
Escondido, CA

Thank you for your issue about climate change. I attended the Yale-Harvard game and witnessed the halftime demonstration to combat the climate crisis (“Climate Protest Delays The Game,” January/February). I was proud of those from both schools who participated. The public address announcer repeatedly intoned, “Please leave the field. The game must go on.” I found myself thinking, “No, the game does not have to go on. What must go on is a massive (Green) New Deal–like effort to save the planet.”

I applaud young people for disrupting business as usual and demanding action. They have the most to lose by our collective inaction. All of us, including Yale, must do all that we can to address the climate
Andy Coe ’70
Mountain View, CA

The author was captain of the 1969 Yale football team.

After the climate justice protest at the Yale-Harvard game, I would love to see an in-depth article explaining and justifying Yale’s position on this existential issue. I am sure that the Yale scientific community supports the findings of the climate scientists, and the time for urgent action by a great institution seems now if ever.
Given this crisis, which the Yale administration says it recognizes, and the urgency of dealing with dramatically decreasing fossil fuel use, it’s hard to see why Yale insists on supporting the fossil fuel industry and its continued growth with its capital resources. We know this industry must shrink, and quickly, if the world as we know it is to survive.

Why doesn’t Yale make a high-profile commitment to financing global clean energy initiatives and put its money where its mouth is? Make our students and old alumni proud to be Yalies.
Neil Hoffmann ’64
Bryn Mawr, PA

Memories of Harold Bloom

I had the privilege of being taught by Harold Bloom (“Inimitable,” January/February) in the fall of 1960. His comment on my précis of a poem by John Donne has stuck with me for nearly 70 years: “This paper reads like the manual to a washing machine. Rewrite.”
Stephen Walke ’64
Montpelier, VT

I graduated from Yale in 1948, and I had one and only one (admittedly brief) contact with Yale’s towering scholar, Professor Harold Bloom. It took place in 1995 in an Amtrak Northeast Regional railway car in New Haven.

By chance, both he and I were traveling down to New York City in the same train and, again by chance, I found myself seated directly in front of him. At the time, he had a single empty seat next to him. I recognized him at once as one of Yale’s most prolific faculty members, and perhaps it was this fact that restrained me from speaking to him.

Just as the train was about to leave, a young woman—perhaps a Yale student, maybe not—entered the passenger car and seated herself in the empty seat next to Professor Bloom. After getting settled, they began a conversation that I could not help but overhear.

“So what do you do?” she asked. He replied, “Oh, I teach and I also write books.”
“What kind of books?” she asked. His answer: “Well, I just published a book on the Western Canon.”

Her reply was itself a classic: “Oh, I love books on war, especially World War I.”
Richard M. Hunt ’48
Lincoln, MA


Reviewing a review

It strikes me that having Emily Bazelon’s colleague, friend, and employer at Slate, Jacob Weisberg, reviewing her book (Reviews, January/February) was a lapse in journalistic integrity.
Stan Tamarkin ’83PhD
Woodbridge, CT

We commissioned the review after Jacob Weisberg had left Slate and was no longer Emily Bazelon’s colleague or employer. He says, and we are satisfied, that he would not suppress a criticism in a review of a book she wrote.—Kathrin Day Lassila ’81, Editor

In our profile of Mary Nichols ’71JD (“The Climate in California,” January/February), we identified Ralph Cavanagh ’74, ’77JD, as the codirector of climate and clean energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council; his title is energy codirector. In addition, we identified Fran Pavley as a recently retired California congresswoman. She served in the California State Assembly and State Senate, not the US Congress.

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