Dossier

A publication providing succinct biographical sketches of environmental scientists, economists, "experts," and activists released by The National Center for Public Policy Research.

Environmental Scientist: Dr. Carl Sagan

Dr. Carl Sagan, the world-renowned astrophysicist, is professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences at Cornell University, a position he has held since 1968. He is author of The Dragons of Eden, published in 1977, and was the host of Public Broadcasting System's Cosmos science series in 1980.

Sagan has received numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Dragons of Eden and the Helen Caldicott Leadership Award, presented by Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament. One award that Dr. Sagan is unlikely to include in his resume is the "Chicken Little Honorable Mention," granted by the National Anxiety Center of Maplewood, New Jersey in 1991. The "honor" was bestowed on Dr. Sagan "for keeping everyone nervous with theories about nuclear winter, global warming and even the possibility of being hit by an asteroid."

Dr. Sagan was one of the early supporters of the Global Warming Theory, the proposition that the build-up of CO2, methane and refrigerant gases in the atmosphere could lead to a cataclysmic rise in the earth's temperature. He was also one of first proponents of the Nuclear Winter Theory, the proposition that nuclear war would send so much dust and debris into the atmosphere that heat from the sun would be blocked and the planet would freeze. Both theories have been hotly contested by respected members of the scientific community. A 1992 Gallup poll of scientists involved in climate research, for example, showed that 53% of the respondents did not believe global warming was occurring and 30% were undecided. Sagan has also advocated legalizing the sale of drugs.

Though Dr. Sagan is one of the most frequently cited experts on atmospheric issues by the media, his predictions are often wrong. For example, at the outset of the Persian Gulf War, Sagan warned that if Saddam Hussein delivered on his threat to set fire to Kuwait's oil wells, so much black soot would be sent into the stratosphere that sunlight would be blocked and a variation of the "nuclear winter" scenario would occur. Hussein followed through on his threat and by the close of the war over 600 wells were on fire. But the fires had little environmental or climatic effect beyond the Gulf region and virtually no ill effects globally. Peter Hobbs, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor who studied the atmospheric impact of the fires for the National Science Foundation, said that the fires' modest impact suggested that "some numbers [used to support the Nuclear Winter Theory]... were probably a little overblown."

Selected Sagan Quotes

"It was an unmistakable chimpanzee pant-hoot." - Quoted by Matt Crenson of The Dallas Morning News, November 18, 1992, commenting on the noise made by supporters of Patrick Buchanan at the Republican National Convention

"Quickly capping 363 oil well fires in a war zone is impossible. The fires would burn out of control until they put themselves out... The resulting soot might well stretch over all of South Asia... It could be carried around the world... [and] the consequences could be dire. Beneath such a pall sunlight would be dimmed, temperatures lowered and droughts more frequent. Spring and summer frosts may be expected... This endangerment of the food supplies... appears to be likely enough that it should affect the war plans..." - Sagan in op/ed he co-authored with Richard Turco, The Baltimore Sun, January 31, 1991, commenting during the Gulf War on the impact of oil well fires

"I am moderately hopeful that we can get out of this mess -- but only by changes in behavior. We have been irresponsible in technology. We've been greedy for short term goals and profits. Now, we must change." - Quoted in the Phoenix Gazette, September 26, 1989


Version Date: August 31, 1993



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