Hopefully my readers will recognise Betteridge’s Law. James Dyke highlighted an article on Twitter that suggested that [t]he climate crisis demands new ways of thinking – scientists should be first to admit failure and move on. The suggestion is that …
… in some strange way, and despite the warnings over the past decades of many individuals such as Roger Revelle, Jim Hansen, Kevin Anderson, to name but a few,–– it appears the latest generation of protesters, from Fridays for Future to Extinction Rebellion – have done far more to hammer home the real message that climate crisis cannot be taken lightly, and is urgently and ultimately a most horrifying question of life and death.
As much as the above seems to be true, it was never really the job of scientists to hammer home the real message that climate crisis cannot be taken lightly. It was always going to require some other group (which may also have included scientists) to do this. It’s maybe a pity that it’s taken this long, and a pity that we’re relying on school children, rather than stepping forward ourselves, but I don’t think this is really the fault of scientists.
Scientists have been speaking out for a long time, and there have been numerous reports highlighting the issue. In many respects, this has been remarkably successful; most countries of the world have accepted the science of climate change and the need to act. That this hasn’t produced any particularly meaningful action is hardly the fault of those who’ve been presenting the information.
I don’t, however, disagree with the article entirely. I’m sure there are things that could have been more effective. However, I suspect those are likely to have been marginal; I really don’t think the position we’re in today is because scientists didn’t speak out forcefully enough. I also think there is some pressure for scientists to rationalise things and to try to not sound alarmed or concerned. Some of this can be healthy scientific reticence, but maybe this does go too far in some cases.
I also broadly agree with the suggestion that we should rely more on the expertise of social anthropologists, historians, psychologists, and political and social activists. However, I don’t think that the reason we’re in the position we’re in today is because we haven’t done so sufficiently yet. Our lack of substantive action is not because we haven’t had a good idea of what we should do, it’s mostly – in my view – because we haven’t really wanted to do anything. I think it would be good to broaden the range of expertise involved in looking at this issue, but I don’t think this will be some kind of panacea.
Although I partly agree with the general suggestions that climate scientists shouldn’t be seen as having the superior expertise, I don’t think that this is why we have been so stunningly unable to react to climate change. That’s because of the powerful unfluences who have actively worked against climate action, and because of policy makers who were not really willing to take things as seriously as they probably should have. I think things are starting to change, but I do think we have to be really careful of suggesting that the reason we’ve reacted so poorly to climate change is because climate scientists have failed.