Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The evolution of Climate Science

The scientific method and science in general has always been constructed to be both objective and unbiased, but increasingly science and scientists are being used to inform or justify policy. Indeed if science is purely objective then there would be no debate over climate change. If climate science is destined to end up informing policy or published in mainstream media, how does the role of the climate scientist change?

Rapley & Mayer (2014) argue that a gap exists between the needs of society and the current role of the climate science community. This is echoed by Corner and Groves (2014) who find that climate scientists are trapped between scientific norms and the need to engage the public. Climate science no longer remains purely in the realm of science and thus needs to be adapted in preparation for a wider world. This may be because climate science has a profound affect on the way we live our lives of the world we live in (Northcott 2013). As we’ve discussed before there are many reasons the public lack engagement with climate science, and I’ve argued that scientists need to do more. Rapley and Meyer conceptualize the idea much better, identifying the 5 roles of a climate scientist from ‘pure scientist’ to ‘issue advocate’. They put the reluctance of scientists to engage with the public down to two reasons, the lack of formal training and pressure of research responsibilities. The ‘publish or perish’ paradigm leaves very little time for scientists to take on roles in other areas. As I’ve suggested they support the idea of an professional body to help climate scientists engage with the public. As well as directly informing policy and individuals, this institution would also help train scientists in the their growing roles. Having recently finished an undergraduate degree, the lack of education on any form policy work is startling and is certainly far behind other disciplines within the social science who explore their impacts to a much deeper level.

Chris Rapley a climate scientist at UCL has actually taken climate communication one step further, his play 2071 opens at the royal court this week. Set in the near future following a business-as-usual climate scenario it examines climate impacts through an intriguing new lens. Image courtesy of REX via The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/01/royal-court-play-2071-global-warming [Accessed 4.11.14]

Despite a number of climate related programs, skepticism cannot be explain be a knowledge deficit alone (Brulle et al 2012), extensive research e.g. Corner et al (2014), Kahan et al (2012) tells us that values and political ideology are far more important, and that higher levels of scientific literacy can even amplify polarization. I think a great deal has to be said for general public distrust in science, with findings often hidden away in inaccessible journals results are mediated by politics, media or others. Again we return to the idea of stakeholder involvement, Prof. Roberts argued this a great deal in her Greeness talk, and Rapley and Meyer also see it benefiting climate science. By involving the public at every step, whether this is citizen science (I'll talk about this next week), in separate institutions or in delivery of policy recommendations.

We are at the stage were the majority of the science is settled. Alright there are still specifics to be argued but we know that our climate is warming, caused by CO2 and other GHGs and this could have catastrophic effects for civilization. Scientists, for the most part, however are happy to remain in the role of ‘pure scientist’. Climate science findings have too much of an impact on the future of public life and thus greater attention needs to be paid to the expanding scientific role. Whilst an independent institution might be outside possibility, increasing responsibility for existing institutions can help educate climate scientists on how better to assess the implication of their work and help positively affect public engagement. 

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