I hope everyone is keeping well and listening to all the advice which, in the UK, is basically to stay at home and to only go outside for food, some exercise, or to go to work (where this cannot be done from home). Also, wash your hands. Although I am trying to work from home, it’s not something I’m particularly good at at the best of times, and these are not exactly the best of times. As such, I have plenty of time for thinking about possible blog posts, but I find it hard to know what to actually write about. It seems that there are currently more important things to worry about that people misrepresenting climate science, but I don’t really feel that I have the expertise to write about the current topic.
I also don’t particularly like making associations between our current situation and how we might address climate change. What we’re doing now might lead to a reduction in a emissions, but this isn’t something to be particularly happy about. We’d really like to reduce emissions in ways that aren’t nearly as disruptive and that don’t lead to substantial suffering. What we’re doing now isn’t – in my view – a blueprint for climate action.
However, there are some aspects that I have found of interest. It certainly seems that we are capable of making difficult decisions, and committing substantial resrouces, when it becomes clear that we need to do so. We certainly seem to be doing things now that, until recently, many would probably have regarded as being impossible. Although there has been some pushback, it currently seems rather muted; most seem to accept the need for what we’re doing.
The role that science advisors have played has also been interesting. Anyone involved in the public climate debate will be aware of the constant reminders that science can’t tell us what to do. Although this is clearly true in a literal sense, it does seem as though this is a case where the scientific evidence makes it pretty obvious what needs to be done. Of course, it’s not that we’re now ignoring our values, it’s that it’s pretty obvious that a strategy that will lead to a large number of unavoidable deaths is simply not acceptable. So, maybe the linear model does essentially work in some circumstances?
The complication, however, is that we’d probably like to be making decisions that help us to avoid getting to the stage where what we need to do is obvious. However, if we haven’t yet got to that stage, there will not only be more disagreement about what we should do, but it will also be more difficult to convince people to do things that might be inconvenient and disruptive. Maybe we’ll come out of this whole situation with a better appreciation of the role of science advisors and a improved understanding of the need to sometimes make difficult decisions before it becomes obvious that we really need to do so?
On the other hand, maybe we’ll see this as rather unprecedented and will simply hope that we never have to do anything like this again. Some combination of the two would be my preference; learn something from this about the role of effective science advice, while also hoping that we don’t have to do anything like this again. Anyway, this is just some thoughts I’ve had about this. I’d be interested in what others think and, since this is a time of isolation and/or social distancing, feel free to use the comments as a pleasant communication channel.