In a remarkably candid column last month, climate scientist Tamsin Edwards argued that her profession would be better served focusing exclusively on what they are qualified to comment on: climate science. Climate policy, Edwards says, is better left to the politicians. From the Guardian:
I believe advocacy by climate scientists has damaged trust in the science. We risk our credibility, our reputation for objectivity, if we are not absolutely neutral. At the very least, it leaves us open to criticism. I find much climate scepticism is driven by a belief that environmental activism has influenced how scientists gather and interpret evidence. So I’ve found my hardline approach successful in taking the politics and therefore – pun intended – the heat out of climate science discussions. […]But it’s not just about improving trust. In this highly politicised arena, climate scientists have a moral obligation to strive for impartiality. We have a platform we must not abuse. For a start, we rarely have the necessary expertise. […]There are many ways to try to minimise climate change (with mitigation or geoengineering) or its impacts (adaptation) and, given a pot of money, we must decide what we most want to protect. How do we weigh up economic growth against ecosystem change? Should we prioritise the lives and lifestyles of people today or in the future? Try to limit changes in temperature or rainfall? These questions cannot be answered with scientific evidence alone. To me, then, it is simple: scientists misuse their authority if they publicise their preferred policy options.
If you missed this appeal when it originally ran two weeks ago, do yourself a favor and read it now. Edwards reminds her colleagues—and the public—what falls under the purview of science, and what does not.Greens often assume their policy suggestions to be unassailable because they have science on their side. This isn’t nearly as true as they think—recent evidence suggests, for example, that the world isn’t warming nearly as fast as most climate models predicted. But even when the science is solid, the people with the best understanding of science have an extremely poor track record of designing workable and politically practicable solutions to the problems they diagnose, with the global climate treaty as exhibit A. While those with the scientific chops work to understand why warming has plateaued over the last decade, a different group of people with a very different skill set should be working to set agendas, informed but not bullied by the former group.[Earth image courtesy of NASA ESA]