Following on from his comments on shale gas and civil disobedience, Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre has given a robust defence of scientists’ involvement in policy debates. Speaking to Manchester Climate Monthly on 17th December, the climate expert stated that he is “deafened by the political roar of most scientists who work on climate change.” Their “silence is an advocacy for the status quo.”
After explaining where he felt the boundaries of advocacy lay, he concluded “those… who people are throwing political mud at the scientists by saying ‘you are no longer a scientist, you’re now engaged in politics’, actually I think they are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists that are engaged in these issues.”
QUESTION: So what would you say to a scientist who sits in their laboratory crunching the data and producing research who said to you “Well, you’re no longer a scientist, you’re a policy advocate. And you’re using your scientific credentials or standing to advocate for what the Shell blogger called ‘political ideology’.” What would you say to someone who accused you of that?
ANSWER: I would say – I did say this at the event [Radical Emissions Reduction Conference] – I would turn that on its head. I think the scientists – particularly those of us who do work at the interface between science and translating that into a language that others can engage with – not just policy-makers, but broader civil society, businesses and so forth. For those of us to stay quiet about our work, that is political. So I am deafened by the political roar of most scientists who work on climate change.
So we may think we’re doing this neutrally, but we’re not at all. That silence is an advocacy for the status quo. So there are no such things as scientists that are not political. Scientists by their nature are being political, whether they engage or do not engage in the wider debates. And I would argue that the ones are who are the least political are the ones who engage in it.
And the reason I say that is because what is happening at the moment is that the scientists are producing their information and then it is often being misused. It is being misused by a complete array of people, whether it’s members of the public, whether it’s some of the skeptics, whether it’s how it’s misused in the newspapers, whether it’s misunderstood or misused by some of the policy-makers, by business leaders.
And we stay quiet about that. And that is not our job. By staying quiet we are being very political. We’re saying that our science on these issues doesn’t really matter. That’s not a reasonable scientific judgement.
So therefore it is incumbent on us to make sure the work is used appropriately. Now, there is a difference between arguing for that, which I would say is not political, and arguing for things that our science does not justify. So it doesn’t tell us necessarily which set of policies we have to adopt. Sometimes it might tell us that. It might start to favour one set of policies over another set of policies for reasons that can be scientifically justified. But if it can’t, we mustn’t drive that agenda. Other people may do that, and that was clear in the conference – some people have a wider political agenda that informs how they think they should respond to these issues. But of course that’s the case. Society has responded to most of the climate change issues so far using market mechanisms, and that’s because society is familiar with those. They’re the sort of currency we’ve been using. Now, they’ve fundamentally failed to get any grip on ever-rising emissions. So they’ve failed to deliver. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’d always fail to deliver, but the science can ask questions, and empirically they’ve not succeeded so far. Can, from our understanding of how these things work, can they play out and be successful in the future. And I think that some are starting to suggest that these are not necessarily the appropriate tools for dealing with these issues.
But that’s not a political judgement, that’s a judgement on the analysis.
Because it has political repercussions does not make it a political judgement.
So by and large I think that those… who people are throwing political mud at the scientists by saying ‘you are no longer a scientist, you’re now engaged in politics’, actually I think they are the most political and the most dangerous of the scientists that are engaged in these issues.
QUESTION: So you’re off a few people’s Christmas card lists?
ANSWER: I hope so, because Christmas cards have to be transported by vehicles which emit CO2 (laughs). Less Christmas cards is not necessarily a bad thing…
Which includes mention of the late great Stephen Schneider. Here’s a clip of him from 1979. Yes, 1979, talking about climate change and what might be coming. Sigh. What a species.