Thursday, June 30, 2011

Advice to Scientists

In a recent EOS (newletter of the American Geophysical Union), Alan Betts has some advice

Earth scientists face a profound ethical challenge. Humanity is an integral part of the Earth’s ecosystem, but the waste from our industrial society is now driving rapid global climate change. What is our responsibility as a community of scientists? Is it simply to follow tradition and explore and discuss in our own world, largely isolated from the broader community, the many interesting facets and complexities of the transformation of the Earth’s climate system and then to publish our results in our private jargon in copyrighted journals that are not freely available to the public that is funding us? Surely this is for us just “business as usual,” an integral part of the problem, not the solution.

I suggest it is time to reconsider our responsibilities to society and to the Earth. Humanity will be unable to deal with climate change, in terms of both mitigation and adaptation, until a broad spectrum of society is fluent in discussing the issues and the choices we face. Changing the direction of our global society from its present unsustainable path is a moral and ethical
challenge as well as a scientific one.

However, broad understanding of the limits imposed by the Earth system is essential. Clear, open communication and discussion are needed at all levels of society, along with research directed at clarifying the limits for decision makers in local communities. The contribution of science, honest communication of the state of knowledge, is needed to inform and counter the
simplistic ideologies that are common in politics. I conclude that scientists need to
become more deeply embedded in society.

We all face the essential task of reducing human impacts on the Earth system
Now Eli hates to bring this up, but it is not so far from what Greg Craven said somewhat more energetically at the last AGU Conference, for which all the kool kids dumped on him for not being kool. Read his open letter about why he was juuuuuust a bit strong. The scariest part was

It might surprise, and hopefully disturb you, to hear that in my short time at AGU, I discovered four scientists who are already creating some form of survival retreat for their family, and they told me there are many more. But they are all too scared of being ostracized in the scientific community if they speak of it. It struck me that they aren’t even “in the closet” yet. They still think they are isolated freaks of nature, ashamed to share what they truly feel.

Being in the closet would be a positive step for them!
the most depressing

What I ask of the scientists is simple, easy, and does not threaten the purity of the scientific endeavor. I ask only that each scientist recognize that we each wear multiple hats in our lives, and that it is a tragic mistake to insist on wearing exclusively your scientist hat when addressing the public. Instead, go out and tell the public in any forum you can find: “As a scientist, here is what I know. As a citizen, here are my concerns, and my thoughts on what we should do. And as a father, a mother, a grandparent, here are my fears, even my terrors, and my backup plans to safeguard my family.”

This idea has been and clearly still is anathema to the traditional scientific sensibilities, of eschewing any expression of the impact of their knowledge on themselves as people, as citizens, as fathers and mothers. Of actually speaking on policy decisions as a citizen. I am completely befuddled as to why that right–exercised by every other, equally unqualified citizen–is voluntarily surrendered by those who know best what is likely to happen in the physical world. . . .

I have come away from the meeting shaken to the core. Especially after seeing in the panel discussion that there is still absolutely no felt need to change how they operate, though such a small, easy, non-threatening change could turn the tide of the debate.

Instead, to my horror and dismay, what I saw was even the encouragement to hold the line harder, with the incredibly influential Michael Oppenheimer telling the audience to be sure they continue to assiduously stick to avoiding any discussions of policy.

To date, the scientific community has made the understandable but flawed assumption that providing the public with facts will result in the public making a rational decision. It boggles me that the scientific community, of all people, would disregard so completely the long-established finding of psychological research that people on the whole simply don’t make decisions rationally, as the divergence between public and scientific opinion demonstrably shows.

So perhaps you can understand how deeply distressing it is to see the scientific community this late in the game doubling down on a strategy that has already been demonstrated to be woefully ineffective

But Willie Soon is doing well, just as Eli pointed out years ago


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about a 'survival retreat' ever since I got my head around climate science about two years ago. In Oz we can move south to Tasmania, and that is what our fam. intends to do. I even thought of starting a business in 'personal climate adaptation planning' to help fellow travellers (and make a mozza on the side, of course. 'Big carbon' has to pay doesn't it?).

badger badger badger said...

I confess not to get what exactly a survival retreat is supposed to accomplish in this context. Don't live less than 2m above sea level or in a 10,000 year flood zone? Move poleward to be able to cook your gruel in relative comfort?

Anonymous said...

I don't know what advantage a survival retreat would have beyond a refuge during a brief crisis. We have examples of places where effective government control is a memory (Somalia etc) and a survival retreat in a place like Somalia would be a grim joke. Hungry people with guns are just like zombies. Except they can drive, run quickly, plan, talk among themselves, etc. I guess they're not like zombies at all except for being inexorably dangerous.

Scientists need to speak up about the dangers of AGW and risk being labelled "political". Or worse: comic.

After all, there are greedy people right now who aren't afraid of being labelled greedy and they are doing everything they can to make sure that Somalia will be the model of government and society in the furure.

Jeffrey Davis

Anonymous said...

As George Carlin put succinctly. "The planet isn't going anywhere, we are. Pack your shit folks we are going away."

This little mouse wants to know how does he have to be to avoid the hydrogen sulphide?

J Bowers said...

"Scientists need to speak up about the dangers of AGW and risk being labelled "political"."

They're already doing the time for that, so may as well do the crime ;)

manuel "moe" g said...

The Inuit should get on famously. Caribou will have more access to grasses. I am trying to rent a walk-in freezer so my family can practice survival skills while I remain employed in southern California. Disneyland's Matterhorn is not sufficiently realistic, I'm afraid.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

The SwiftHack dumping of Phil Jones's private e-mails, the repeated fishing expeditions against Michael Mann, the rape threats against their children, t the even bigger threat that climate change will pose to the planet's livability ... nope, even when one combines all these together, one can't get the Earth Science community to budge a single inch out of their Ivory Tower!

Perhaps it's some twisted variant of capitalism at work, except instead of money, our scholars think of papers, papers, papers as being above all else, including the well-being of their own families. As in, they probably think that stuff like engaging with the public and going after those who make death threats are activities that eat into their 24-hour-a-day schedule of writing, writing, and writing more research papers, which is of course all-importanat.

-- frank

Hank Roberts said...

> some form of survival retreat for their family

It's all a matter of perspective.

If we were anywhere else in the known universe besides Earth, we could see the best possible survival retreat for our families.

We're on it. We can't see it.

Anonymous said...

Alas, Caribou won't get off scot-free either: "", and neither will Inuit (especially those who live on the Arctic coasts whose lands are crumbling from under then as permafrost thaws and sea ice retreat leads to more storms):


Rattus Norvegicus said...

IIRC, Ed Yourdon (famous software engineering guru, author of "The Decline and Fall of the American Programmer") built himself a pretty green and off the grid retreat outside of Santa Fe in anticipation of Y2K. I thought that this was a bit of an overreaction, but hey...

On the other hand, a survival retreat from climate change? That is going to be far more disruptive than Y2K, and there is little hope that we will, or can, do anything to mitigate it.

Word verification: refail. Seems about right.

Anonymous said...

This aspect of the scientific community is a big part of why I gave up on completing a PhD. It just seemed pointless. I was studying the ecology of coastal ecosystems while watching them be desecrated. And my supervisor was being funded by one of the desecrators to dispassionately (and incompetantly) conduct studies that found that oil pollution has no impact. I chose instead to go out and actively strive to make a difference.


Neven said...

Is there a video of that Craven speech? I think some documentary makers will know how to make use of it 10 years from now.

Dr. Lemming said...

Why should those of us not specifically paid to look out for the common good (e.g. NOAA employees) do so? Wouldn't it make more sense to wait until the shit hits the fan and then charge obscene consulting fees to people in a jam?

If people choose to base their decisions on something other than science, then why not just sell them beachfront properties and marginal cropland and let them reap what they sow. There is nothing about the practice of science that requires us to be nice.

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Dr. Lemming: I can almost hear a climate scientist this:

'But if I invest in beachfront property now, and I also invest in a survival retreat, then ... how will all these affect my chances of getting tenure?'

-- frank