IPCC reports are climate science beacons. So why are these scientists saying we have to stop?
In 1990, scientists around the world released a report saying that the climate was changing and that we were to blame.
If we continue to pollute, business as usual…
“Due to greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures could rise by about 1°C above current values by 2025, and 3°C by the end of the next century. .”
1°C above pre-industrial levels in 2017, the 3Cs remain on the cards of the century, depending on emissions pathways.
This is the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with the sixth series of reports coming out this year.
But while the IPCC continues to provide the most comprehensive climate data and projections, some scientists refuse to participate in future assessments.
And they encourage their colleagues to do the same. why?
Late last year, Australian and New Zealand-based scientists Tim Smith, Iin White and Bruce Grabovich published a paper in the Journal of Climate and Development called “The Tragedy of Climate Change Science” (along with several others). after some journal knocks them back).
They argued that the IPCC had fulfilled the mandate it was set for 30 years ago and was no longer fit for purpose.
Instead, they showed that scientists needed to adopt a more radical approach to counter the “lack of transformative action by governments.”
“The tragedy of climate change science is that compelling evidence has been gathered, new warnings have been issued, new institutions have been established, new methodologies have been developed to solve the problem. emissions and other indicators of adverse climate change, and global change more broadly, are increasing.Year by year…”
“The contract between science and society has been broken,” they wrote, adding that continuing science as usual was no longer bearable.
The paper succeeded in starting a dialogue, but almost nine months later, they say there are still many changes needed to be made.
Professor Glavovic, an economist, environmental scientist and environmental planner at Massey Research Institute in New Zealand, said: University.
Lessons from Apartheid
Professor Grabovic grew up in South Africa under apartheid. Apartheid was a brutal and racist regime that under the eyes of the world he lasted well into the 1990s.
The regime recruited white men to defend themselves against “communism and African nationalism.”
“[Was] Could I take a rifle and be ordered to go shoot black South Africans because they were so-called terrorists or engaged in civil disobedience?
“For me, it was an abomination.”
As a conscientious objector, his experience in South Africa has taught Professor Gravovic an important lesson about the structure of power and how systems can be distorted to protect those in power.
“We could see the limits of the law. Situations could arise in South Africa. [where] We essentially had the rule of law, which supported an illegal regime. “
In an ideal world, scientists would provide research to governments, and governments would act. The ozone hole, the CFC, and the Montreal Protocol are good examples where this is more or less the case.
But today, once again in the eyes of the world, the rule of law underpins the very industries driving climate change, says Professor Glavovic.
He argues that continuing the IPCC’s reporting in its current form helps maintain a pretense — more or less business as usual, doing things while the polluting and extractive industries continue. It creates the illusion that you are being
“Our institutional architecture is organized around the short-term interests of privileged wealthy and powerful people at the expense of the global South and the majority of the world population,” he says. .
“So how do you change that?”
Shared frustration and hostile reactions
The researchers are not asking the IPCC to declare a blank slate of strikes. Each author has their own take on how science should proceed. In that “broken contract” context.
The reaction to their paper has been mixed.
Report co-author Tim Smith, a human geographer and professor of sustainability at the University of the Sunshine Coast, has been approached personally by researchers who share their frustrations and are looking for better ways to move forward. said he received it.
“More and more people are saying, ‘I share this frustration and we need to talk about it,'” says Professor Smith.
But they also had their criticisms. When the paper was first published, it caused an uproar on Twitter.
“There [have been] Some very hostile and negative reactions. Many of them were from the scientific community,” says Professor Smith.
“But as I said, this [paper] It was not an attack on the scientific community or the amazing research they have done. Unfortunately, I think people grab the headlines. “
While praising their “courage to ignite this very important debate,” In a follow-up paper in the same journal, other scientists countered that more research was needed to “address these power structures.”
“The contract between science and society has been broken and we do not agree that a moratorium on climate change research is a sustainable or meaningful solution.”
IPCC suspension will be a ‘significant loss’
Mark Howden, Director, Australian National University The Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions is another critic of the paper.
Professor Howden has been with the IPCC since 1991.
“I’ve been involved in second, third, fourth, fifth and now sixth. [IPCC] It’s an evaluation report,” he says.
“I think I’m the only living person who’s actually done all of that, or stopped it altogether.”
Professor Howden said there is very important science being done, especially around climate impact and adaptation, reducing emissions, sustainable and equitable development, and building robust energy systems.
He says it would be a “grave loss” if the research was stopped.
“The possibility of scientists going on strike because we are not being listened to is not a great idea.
“I think the argument that past scientific strikes have been largely ignored by governments is pretty clear.”
But he’s also not quick to ignore the scientists’ frustrations.
Instead, the way forward, he says, is for scientists to engage more with policy makers and figure out how they can intervene in “constructive ways.”
“Being a scientist and a communicator is a very complex role these days, especially when you are also involved in policy,” he says.
“Similarly, high-level policymakers dealing with climate change … it’s a very complex role, especially when you have a highly interventionist political environment.
“So I think understanding and respect are essential to have a more productive relationship.”
“What options are left?”
However, Professor Smith argues that this approach involves done.
“People have said, ‘We need a better partnership between government and society,’ and we tried. So what are the options?”
The IPCC reporting process changes cyclically. We are at the end of the 6th cycle, likely ending in early 2023.
Professor Smith understands that the idea of a strike is unacceptable and hopes that someone will come up with a better idea, but there is no time to wait and see what happens.
“Do you want a seventh? [assessment cycle]Are you going to wait another seven years to hear again about how bad things are?
“We don’t have time for that. Radical and transformative action is needed now.
“We have to pause what we’re doing. We haven’t tried it before. It might not work, but it might work.”
Professor Howden said he is not against scientists becoming activists, as long as they clearly indicate that they are activists.
But he believes that climate scientists and the IPCC have already achieved great things, and that more can be achieved by continuing to provide data in a “policy-agnostic” way.
“I think some scientists have a big role to play in getting involved in the public and the political process, but as trusted advisors.
“I don’t think the scientific community should engage in lobbying unless they are deliberately labeled as lobbyists.”
But Professor Glavovic says that the idea that science is an entirely objective endeavor untainted by values is a myth.
“Science is an attempt to make choices about the problems to explore and the methodologies to use,” he says.
“It can advance socially relevant and meaningful science based on passion and commitment in a robust, reproducible and meaningful way…that does not diminish the merit and value of science.”
The authors do not intend to completely shut down the IPCC. Instead, they say their paper was meant to be a “provocation,” starting a conversation to rethink how the IPCC can have the greatest impact.
In terms of starting a dialogue, it’s been almost a year since their paper was published, but it’s fair to say they were successful and the dialogue continues.
But Gravovic says radical action from the scientific community will be needed to make the big changes needed to convince policymakers.
“I have no illusions. It doesn’t take three white men to make a difference in this. There is none.
“We want women and men from the global South and diverse backgrounds to lead a charge that will really mobilize the critical mass of the climate change science community.”
As for getting climate change under control, he says it will take radical action from everyone.
“There will be some outstanding and pivotal moments that will require mobilization and action on multiple fronts and will only be realized with the benefit of hindsight.
“It’s Rosa Parks who refuses to get out of her seat on the bus.”