Sir David King, who has been leading the Independent SAGE group, is planning to set up a similar group that will focus on climate change (H/T Doug McNeall). It will apparently have 14 experts, from 10 nations, and every continent. This include Johan Rockström, Fatih Birol, Nerilie Abram, and Mark Maslin. So far, this seems like a reasonable group.
Given that I’ve been writing a blog about climate for a good number of years, I clearly think this is an important topic and am generally supportive of attempts to make it more prominent. So, this group could make an important contribution.
However, I also think there are some reasons to be concerned. Although things have improved over the last few years, this is still a pretty complex communication environment. It can be easy to slip up, say something that’s easily criticised, and undermine what you’re tryng to do. There are lots of people who’ve been engaging publicly in this topic for a long time, some of whom I hope they include, or at least spend some time talking to.
Then there’s the make-up of the group. Those named so far seem reasonably sensible, but there are some prominent people who may not be good additions. So, it will be interesting to see who makes up the rest of the group.
Also, what will the focus be? I’m a scientist, so I do think it’s important to stress our scientific understanding, but science alone does not tell us how to deal with this issue, and convincing people of the significance of this issue involves more than just explaining the science. If, as the news article indicates, the remit will be to press for more urgency, how will they do this in a way that’s effective?
Finally, as Doug McNeall highlighted on Twitter, there was this somewhat concerning comment in the article:
“I’ve been amazed by the response to Independent Sage,” King said. “All 12 members have become media personalities. I hope we get the same level of interest for the climate group.”
Clearly, if you want your message to be heard, you do need to get media exposure. However, there is a difference between finding ways to get your message heard, and aiming to become a media personality. Becoming a media personality is probably pretty easy. Doing so while still remaining credible is probably less so (I will say, though, that I do think those on Independent SAGE who have become quite prominent in the media have generally done well.)
As usual, this has got too long, so I’ll stop here. I think this is an interesting idea and could make a positive contribution. However, this is not the first time that people have been trying to press for more urgency. I hope this group doesn’t think that they can simply step up and easily do what many others have tried before.