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Is scientists’ approach to climate change collective madness?
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  • Is scientists’ approach to climate change collective madness?

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20/11/13

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[WARSAW] According to Albert Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This raises the question of whether this 20th century giant would see the scientific community’s current approach to the climate change conversation as collective madness.
 
I say this not to detract from the huge achievements of scientists to further our understanding of climate change — the 2,000-page tome that is the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is testament to this success.
 

“Scientists are first and foremost citizens, and so should be able to advocate for climate action without feeling they are undermining their professional objectivity.”

Jan Piotrowski

But the tendency of scientists to remain impartial with the belief that it is necessary to protect the objective integrity of their work is misguided and clearly not working.
 
To expect that more evidence will be enough to convince policymakers to take action, is naïve when you consider the limited change that has occurred in the six years since the previous fact-packed IPPC report made a compelling case for the need for urgent action.
 
If this did little to change politicians’ minds, then a new report with similar conclusions is unlikely to either.
 
With this in mind, scientists, as those with the greatest understanding of the consequences of climate change, must get better at communicating not just the results of their studies, but their recommendations for action.
 
I must agree with an attendee of the climate summit in Warsaw, Poland, who believed the idea that a scientist’s job ends at the laboratory bench is a dangerous one. Scientists are first and foremost citizens, and so should be able to advocate for climate action without feeling they are undermining their professional objectivity.
 
Critics of this approach will point to the dangers of scientists eroding the public’s trust in science by using their privileged platform to enter a policy environment that they often have little understanding of.
 
This is a valid concern, but with science even less present in climate negotiations than before, is it safer to continue along Einstein’s path towards insanity, or to try something different?
 
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