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The Conversation: Moratorium on Climate Research until Governments Take Action


Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Climate scientists Bruce GlavovicIain White and Tim Smith have called for tools down on future IPCC climate assessments and a refusal to accept more public funding, until governments recognise they must do what they are told.

Scientists call for a moratorium on climate change research until governments take real action

January 11, 2022 6.12am AEDT

Bruce Glavovic Professor, Massey University

Iain White Professor of Environmental Planning, University of Waikato

Tim Smith Professor and ARC Future Fellow, University of the Sunshine Coast

Decades of scientific evidence demonstrate unequivocally that human activities jeopardise life on Earth. Dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system compounds many other drivers of global change. 

Governments concur: the science is settled. But governments have failed to act at the scale and pace required. What should climate change scientists do?

Where to from here for climate change scientists?

The first option is to collect more evidence and hope for action. Continue the IPCC process that stays politically neutral and abstains from policy prescriptions. A recent editorial in Nature called on scientists to do just that: stay engaged to support future climate COPs. 

The second option is more intensive social science research and climate change advocacy. As Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes recently observed, the work of the IPCC’s Working Group I (WGI, on the physical science basis of climate change) is complete and should be closed down. Attention needs to focus on translating this understanding into action, which is the realm of WGII (on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability) and WGIII (on mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions).

Halt on IPCC work until governments do their part

The third option is much more radical, but unpalatable. We call for a moratorium on climate change research that does little more than document global warming and maladaptation. 

Attention needs to focus on exposing and re-negotiating the broken science-society contract. Given the rupture to the contract outlined here, we call for a halt on all further IPCC assessments until governments are willing to fulfil their responsibilities in good faith and mobilise action to secure a safe level of global warming. This option is the only way to overcome the tragedy of climate change science.

Readers might agree with our framing of this tragedy but disagree with our assessment of options. Some may want greater detail on what a moratorium could encompass or worry it may damage the credibility and objectivity of the scientific community. 

However, we question whether it is our “duty” to use public funds to continue to refine the state of climate change knowledge (which is unlikely to lead to the actions required), or whether a more radical approach will serve society better. 

We have reached a critical juncture for humanity and the planet. Given the unfolding tragedy, a moratorium on climate change research is the only responsible option for revealing and then restoring the broken science-society contract. The other two options are seductive but offer false hope.

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I believe the government funded climate scientists calling for a climate strike have completely misunderstood their social contract. In my opinion the true purpose of government funded research is to help politicians win elections. Politicians actually acting on the research “product” of the scientists whose work they fund was never part of the deal.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” – H. L. Mencken.

I doubt the climate scientists will go ahead with this strike. A commitment to refuse government funding is unlikely to fly with their colleagues – unless I have misread, and they plan to keep taking the money anyway. But I’d love to see them try. The experience would be educational.

via Watts Up With That?

January 12, 2022

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