Friday, November 8, 2019

Climate scientists - respect, but don't be afraid of policy

Sou | 11:16 PM Go to the first of 15 comments. Add a comment
There has been some discussion in the Twittersphere about how or whether climate scientists should wade in on climate policy. I'm guessing that this is of most concern to early to mid-career scientists and/or academics who have not had much, if any, exposure to policy development. Some scientists at a senior level do get involved in providing policy input and advice, either through advancement (e.g. job promotion in a government agency) or by being co-opted onto one or more government advisory committees (e.g. senior academics).

Thought I'd add my two bobs worth since I've had some experience in the policy area.

The tweet that started the thread was from climate scientist Kate Marvel (and another here).

Policy development can be overwhelming, at first

While there's nothing wrong, in my view, with asking a climate scientist to comment on policy, I can understand that some scientists would feel reluctant to respond, and maybe a bit overwhelmed.

I've observed senior scientists brought in from research stations into policy roles as part of a job rotation program to foster career development. Their first reaction can be one of shock at the myriad issues passing across their desk, the volume and complexity of the work and how little time they have to cover it all.

Policy work is different in many ways from scientific research. It is messy, involves talking to people (that dreaded word "stakeholders"), sorting through and managing conflicting positions (usually involving influential players within and outside of government), and will often end up as regulation. It is frequently a response to a crisis, or it can, on occasion, be a result of a new government wanting to make its mark. It's challenging, absorbing, can be exciting, and in the main is very rewarding work. It requires a detailed knowledge of the whole of government, political systems, community engagement and how to tap into expert advice; and more. (It's not for the faint-hearted.)

Scientists have a responsibility to call for action

I don't plan on going into all the ins and outs of policy development. What I was going to say is that there's no reason scientists should not have an opinion on particular policies, and nor should they be afraid of voicing that opinion, or of saying they don't have the expertise to offer an opinion if that's how they feel.

It's important to point out the distinction between experts calling for action if they see a problem, and experts advocating a particular solution to that problem.

Experts are expected to do the former. They are expected, as part of their role, to call for action and alert the right people when they see a problem. If climate scientists didn't call for action would anyone have recognised the problems of climate change?

Scientists can express opinions on particular policies

There is not the same expectation that experts will come up with detailed policies to address the problem. As Kate Marvel implied, that will require expertise from many different disciplines (economists, sociologists, political experts, legal experts and more). After they've called for action, climate experts will probably be called upon to help with specialist input but the responsibility for developing the policy rests with the technocrats, bureaucrats, politicians and governments.

Any member of the public can and (in my view) should be active in promoting action and policy if they feel strongly about it and think they have something to offer. A scientist is no different. If they feel strongly about a particular policy they should be unafraid to express their opinion. As with any matter, if their opinion is strongly based on their expertise they can say how and why. If it's based on personal or political views more than their scientific expertise, then they should say that too.

I wrote about this some years ago in response to an article by a scientist who thought scientists shouldn't be advocates. I didn't agree with that view then and I still don't. Climate scientists have an obligation as scientists to warn us of the dangers of climate change. As scientists, and as members of the public, they are entitled to express their opinions on the merits or otherwise of policy solutions.

Further reading from HotWhopper archives


  1. ... Any member of the public can and (in my view) should be active in promoting action and policy if they feel strongly about it and think they have something to offer. ...

    Glad we agree on something for once.


  2. I'm no fan of Scott Morrison's handling of water security and climate issues, I mean I saw Morrison as the lesser of two evils at the last election, but he didn't inspire me with much enthusiasm.

    I watched a speech by Tony Abbott the other day in which he admitted one of his biggest regrets is not giving enough attention to water security.

    Britain has a different set of issues, one of the reasons for the breakdown of the relationship between Britain and the EU is the EU is widely blamed for heavy handed regulations which exacerbated flood risk.

    1. I know you promote rubbish from the populist press whether you believe it or not, Eric. It's what disinformers and authoritarian followers do. You'd be better off reading and citing more informed sources than the gutter press. Try some science.

      Routine dredging for flood risk management was discontinued in the 1990s for good reason and, although there are local exceptions, there is no scientific basis for its general resumption. In the recent public debate over dredging it was pretty well impossible to find a river engineer or scientist who thought that widespread dredging should be resumed, yet that is exactly what the government decided to do in Somerset, at least in the immediate aftermath of the winter floods.

      There's more:
      The decision to stop routine dredging is widely attributed to increasingly stringent environmental regulation, especially under the EU Habitat and Water Framework Directives. In fact, most dredging ceased because financial stringencies and low benefit–cost ratios that showed it to be uneconomic and a poor use of available funding, as well as environmentally damaging. While dredging treats the symptoms of excessive sedimentation (e.g. reduced flood conveyance capacity in the channel), it fails to treat the cause of the problem, ...


      If science is too much, try this brochure:


    2. From your brochure link:

      Q Does dredging ever reduce flood water levels?
      A Dredging can help reduce flood risk in some situations.

      Seems like the EU critics might be right.

      Even if anthropogenic CO2 does cause more flooding and drought, which I doubt, it makes more sense to dredge a few rivers, than to install 50° North solar panels and hope China stops building new coal plants.

    3. If cherry-picking is your only refuge Eric, then it's little wonder you and your fellow disinformers are turning more and more people away from science denial and toward the reality of science-based evidence.

      Climate change is real and harmful. Isn't it time you gave up trying to prevent the world from reducing the harm? Or do you get such goulish pleasure from watching Australia dry up and burn, then have whatever soil is left washed away by horrific floods, that you want to see more of it.

      (There are too many evil people in the world as it is.)

    4. I think its a bit harsh calling my response "cherry picking" Sou, given that the impact of dredging on floods is central to the argument of whether EU regulatory changes might have made the situation worse.

      And I think you jump too quickly to ascribing "evil" motives to people who disagree with you.

      Try to put yourself in my shoes, try to imagine what it is like to be convinced climate change is not a serious issue.

      From this perspective, imposing regressive carbon taxes and other increased costs on people who can't afford higher costs is a wicked thing to do.

      From the Guardian: Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis

      The only justification for causing such present day harm is to avert far greater harm in the future; and this justification hinges on whether climate change is a serious issue, and whether imposing higher costs on poor people is the only available solution.

    5. I don't believe you, Eric. It would be impossible for anyone who has been writing about climate change for years, as you have, to not come to the conclusion that it is real and dangerous.

      Just as you deliberately cherry pick quotes from brochures and leave out the relevant parts (that contradict your claim), you have for years been promoting the falsehood that worsening fires, floods, drought and sea level rise are "nothing to worry about", even though all the evidence shows otherwise. And all this while you're neighbours are trapped by bushfires.

      Anyone who constantly tries to disinform the public about the dangers of carbon emissions is doing evil. You know it and I know it.

      Oh, and quit pretending you care about poor people. That's just another lie. You want them to suffer health problems from smog and pollution, just as your fellow "bring back smog" deniers do. You can't bear to see any less developed country leapfrog to modern tech or avoid the perils of climate change.

      Disinformers are beneath contempt.

    6. Which relevant parts did I leave out? Happy to discuss.

      If I was the monster you describe, I would not be promoting fossil fuel, I would be backing biofuel.

      The secret report discussed by The Guardian link I provided above suggests biofuel has a horrendous impact on poor people and the environment. A monster would surely support the most harmful option, yes?

    7. You do support the "most harmful option".

      Don't kid yourself. You're no monster, you're merely a monster fan. I see you as just one of the foolish little disinformers writing what you think are "funny" articles for a conspiracy theory blog. A pathetic, weak, silly little person who dismisses knowledge as something to be scorned and who gets his kicks from siding with the evil in the world.

    8. I'm glad you don't think I'm a monster Sou. But my point stands.

    9. Your point that you want to worsen fires, drought and floods and you revel in disasters? I got that.

      If you've come to HotWhopper seeking absolution then you're deluded. I don't believe that either. It's more likely you're just looking for attention.

      Are you bored at WUWT? Not surprising. It's not the most entertaining conspiracy blog and the commenters are thick as two planks. It can't be satisfying.

      No more comments from you today, Eric. I've had enough of your whining that disinformation isn't given the "respect" you think it deserves. Twaddle.

    10. Eric's ignorance on climate change is mirrored by his ignorance on the EU. The EU is - at the moment - unable to impose anything on the UK: the UK can and does veto any EU legislation it does not like.

      In reality, there are a number of causes of the UK floods. There's increased precipitation at certain times of the year as predicted by the IPCC. Large areas of our uplands are stripped bare - and therefore do not absorb rainfall - because rich people desperately need to shoot grouse for laughs. In our urban areas, people pave over their gardens for various bad reasons so, again, rainfall is not absorbed.

  3. Hahaha! Sorry, but listening to Worrall prattle on is hilarious. He's just trying to gain attention and traction to his losing arguments.

    Narcissistic behavior? Don't know the man, don't want to. Disinformers are definitely NOT worthy of engagement or contempt - ignoring them is more productive for everyone.

    Good job. I come here (still) to see if there is any more news and information to catch up on. The deck chairs continue to be rearranged, but not much action on mitigation or adaption to the non-emergency some are so convinced isn't unfolding.

    I and many others know otherwise, we're eye-witnesses in our home towns how things are rapidly and dangerously changing.

    With respect to your post - I've long believed climate scientists are the real experts and should be telling it like it is, and refuse to be silent. We know that under the Trump Administration they have been severely muzzled. Bravery is called for here imo. It is a critical time for humanity, those who "know" should do the right thing. Just because we have a incompetent President doesn't mean our science is incompetent or should follow lock-step in his delusions.

    Policy redirection does not seem to be forthcoming in the US, just the opposite is presently true. It will take many years to undue the damage from Trump & Company, needing to replace many officials and enacted policies as rapidly as possible just to get back to where we were. For that, I hold little real hope or optimism. Therefore, the alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear from all aspects of climate science that knows and understand where this is all going - the survivalist of our species due to dangerous climate change. ~Survival Acres~

  4. This doesn't mean that scientist can save us again, but it does mean that scientists should be SHOUTING the warnings: https://dissidentvoice.org/2019/11/ignoring-climate-catastrophes/


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