What’s Wrong with Ben Bova?

Published January 26, 2009

Science writer Ben Bova recently tried to take on Heartland’s James M. Taylor in a debate on the causes and consequences of global warming in the pages of a newspaper in Naples, Florida, and ended up looking pretty foolish. Taylor’s essay, http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2009/jan/03/guest-commentary-global-warming/?partner=RSS
documented the scientific facts that contradict claims that man-made warming will be a catastrophe. Bova’s reply, http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2009/jan/24/ben-bova-why-argue-over-global-warming/ is all rhetoric, much of it repeating again and again the claim that “everyone just knows global warming is real.”
Bova’s essay both begins and ends with reminders of what a famous fellow he used to be, including that he’s “the author of 119 published books, with several more in the pipeline.” This reminded me that I happen to have one of his books on my shelf, titled “The High Road” (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981). It’s a very curious book, beginning with the copyright page (“Portions of this book have appeared previously in Omni and Penthouse”) and the preface by Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, who recently announced publicly that he, like James Taylor, is a global warming skeptic and will speak at Heartland’s International Climate Change Conference in March.

The opening chapter sets the alarmist and very unscientific tone of the entire book:

“All of the people of Earth are in a desperate race against global disaster. The end of civilization is in sight, now, in the smoking streets of Tehran and Belfast and Miami, in the starving masses of the Sahel and Cambodia, in the nuclear arsenals and imperial ambitions of many nations. Only by raising our sights above the immediate problems of the moment, only by reaching outward into space itself, can we avert the coming worldwide collapse of civilization and the deaths of billions.”

Wow. And when does Bova expect all this to happen? Would you believe, nine years ago? Chapter 2 begins:

“The year is A.D. 2000. There are forty million unemployed in the United States of America. Ever since the economic Collapse of the late 1980s, the nation’s standard of living has plummeted until now, at the turn of the century, most Americans live no better than their forefathers did two centuries ago.”

With similarly great confidence but similarly poor aim, Bova identifies the source of the coming crisis: “And the only real problem we have is ourselves. There are too many of us. We have outgrown this planet.”

Lest you think I’m taking this out of context just to make Bova sound like a fool, here’s what he wrote in Chapter 4, after quoting the incredible Lester R. Brown, president of the Worldwatch Institute, and then the utterly discredited The Limits to Growth: “Billions of human beings will die. The survivors will be reduced to a medieval standard of living, or worse. Superdisaster.”

The only good thing about this book is that it describes accurately the role played by S. Fred Singer (another noted skeptic in the global warming debate and yet another speaker at Heartland’s upcoming conference!) in the civilian use of space. Bova identifies him as the person perhaps most responsible for getting the U.S. government to support putting satellites into space.  This is from page 160: “Twenty-five years ago, when visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke, S. Fred Singer, Wernher von Braun, Frederick C. Durant III, and others were urging government and industry to move into space, most of the industrial executives of the giant corporations scoffed at the idea.”

Mr. Bova, in short, has a record of embracing predictions of imminent doom, so his endorsement of the global warming scare is no surprise. Perhaps he should call his old friends Harrison Schmitt and S. Fred Singer and get their advice before he expresses his opinions on global warming again.