The New Climate Strike – What a Good Idea • Watts Up With That?

Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen – 1 March 2022

There has been a new idea proposed in the Climate Science (CliSci) world.  I want to go on record publicly, right here and right now, making it clear that I am 100% on board with this idea.  Not only that, I think it is long overdue.

Your friend and mine, The New York Times, gives us the good news in an article titled:  These Climate Scientists Are Fed Up….”.  It tells us that Bruce C. Glavovic, a very prolific working scientist who works out of Massey University in New Zealand and is the co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal Ocean & Coastal Management.  ”He was Coordinating Lead Author of the sea-level rise chapter in the IPCC’s 2019 Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and is a Lead Author and Cross-Chapter Paper Lead in the IPCC’s Working Group II contribution to AR6.”  [see Notes on Contributors ]

Glavovic, Timothy F. Smith and  Iain White are mad and sad.  They are so sad and so mad that they published a comment [note: a “Comment is an opinion piece on a topic of broad interest”] in the journal Climate and Development last December (apparently, news travels from New Zealand to New York slowly) which is featured in the Times piece:  the comment is simply titled: The tragedy of climate change science

In the abstract they say:

“The science-society contract is broken.”

We explore three options for the climate change science community. We find that two options are untenable and one is unpalatable. Given the urgency and criticality of climate change, we argue the time has come for scientists to agree to a moratorium on climate change research as a means to first expose, then renegotiate, the broken science-society contract.”

I love it when I can agree with people I probably would otherwise disagree with.  

However, Glavovic’s entire argument pivots on what he deems the “science-society contract”.  What does he think that contract is?  Glavovic refers to Jane Lubchenco’s  1998 essay “Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science”.  Lubchenco proposed:

“I propose that the scientific community formulate a new Social Contract for science. … This contract represents a commitment on the part of all scientists to devote their energies and talents to the most pressing problems of the day, in proportion to their importance, in exchange for public funding. …. The Contract should be predicated upon the assumptions that scientists will (i) address the most urgent needs of society, in proportion to their importance; (ii) communicate their knowledge and understanding widely in order to inform decisions of individuals and institutions; and (iii) exercise good judgment, wisdom, and humility.”

And what is needed for there to be a valid contract between two parties?

Most contracts only need to contain two elements to be legally valid:    1.   All parties must be in agreement (after an offer has been made by one party and accepted by the other).     2.   Something of value must be exchanged – such as cash, services, or goods …  for something else of value.        [source]                                                                 

Lubchenco proposes that scientists (as an enterprise) “commit to devote their energies and talents to the most pressing problems of the day, in proportion to their importance, in exchange for public funding.” 

That is already the general system under which science is funded – though who supplies the funding is far more diversified than that simple statement implies – governments, foundations, industry, individuals, corporations all fund science.    At issue is who decides what the most pressing issues of the day might be and who should be funded to do the work.  The Lubchenco’s contract is an idealization, of course.  Scientists are not puzzle pieces or interchangeable resources that can be allocated to this or that.  But I think we can agree, with some latitude, that the public supports science in exchange for better understandings that help solve the problems of today and make possible advances for the public good. 

So, if present society is generally keeping Lubchenco’s science-society contract (albeit loosely), why does Glavovic say it is broken?  His explanation is quite long but can be paraphrased as “we scientists did our work, told you what was wrong, complied evidence of the great harms being done by climate change and even after all the science was in and settled,  society still isn’t doing what we told them to do.” Somehow, Glavovic came to think that it was the job of science to tell society what it must do and then see that society did it – supplying the knowledge, the preferred policy solution, and the enforcement of that  policy. 

You may not agree with my interpretation of his point, but that’s pretty close.

Glavovic, Smith and White propose three options for the climate change science community which they characterize as “two options are untenable and one is unpalatable.”

1.  “The first is continuation of climate change science as usual. We carry on. Deliver more science. Collect more evidence of deleterious impacts……Given that climate change science is ‘settled’, and has been for decades, we argue that this course runs counter to our own scientific training of collecting and reflecting upon the evidence. The evidence shows that the science-society contract is broken. The first option is therefore not tenable.”

2.  “The second option is intensified social science research and advocacy on climate change. It focuses on better understanding why action has not occurred, and how to enable the behavioural and institutional changes required to contain global warming and climate change impacts…..  There is no evidence that more social science research and traditional forms of advocacy will lead to transformative action within the timeframes required to avert dire climate change consequences. The second option is therefore also not tenable.

3.  “The third option is much more radical. Climate change science is settled to the point of global consensus. We have fulfilled our responsibility to provide robust knowledge. We now need to stop research in those areas where we are simply documenting global warming and maladaptation, and focus instead on exposing and renegotiating the broken science-society contract. … We call for a moratorium on climate change research until governments are willing to fulfil their responsibilities in good faith and urgently mobilize coordinated action from the local to global levels. This third option is the only effective way to arrest the tragedy of climate change science.

Now I know that opinions will vary, as they must, but I think Glavovic et al. mischaracterize the science-society contract.  Luchenco certainly didn’t include public policy formulation and execution on the science side of the contract.  That is on the society side.  The science society contract is not broken, rather, Glavovic is trying to add a new clause to the contract, one that requires society to comply with the opinions of science on what public policies should be formulated and what actions  —  governmental/societal/individual – must follow.

Society’s lawyer needs to show the contract to Glavovic and explain, in simple non-lawyer English – “Sorry, that ain’t in the contract!”

And while I disagree with Glavovic about the contents of the contract, I do agree with his ultimate solution and think it would be a great benefit to all.  So, I join Glavovic’s call for climate scientists to:

STRIKE STRIKE STRIKE !

Climate scientists (and their politicized commissions, agencies, and organizations)  “need to stop research in those areas where we are simply documenting global warming and maladaptation” and do something useful instead

Stop “collecting more evidence of deleterious impacts”

Stop pumping out endless reams of reports falsely predicting doom and destruction! 

Stop trying to dictate to society what values they should favor when facing the problems of the world.

It never being good so emphasize the only the negative, I suggest these following activities to keep them busy during the coming decades of inactivity during their strike:  

1.  Continue with and concentrate on research on how the climate system of Earth really works. The causes and effects and interrelationships of forces.

2.  Increase research into the effects of solar cycles and changing outputs on the Earth climate system.  The sun being the source of all the energy coming into our climate system. 

3.  Follow interesting lines of inquiry into what happens to all that incoming energy and find ways to harness more of it so that less efficient energy sources can be abandoned. 

4.  As certain geophysical forces are not going to stop or slow down at our command, research to discover the best no-regrets adaptation solutions for problems that are inevitable.

5.  Research how the positive effects of changing climate can be turned even further to our advantage – for both humanity and for the rest of the living environment.

So, hit the picket lines!  And when you are tired of marching – do something far more useful. 

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Author’s Comment:

I wish Glavovic and his pals good luck with the strike.  I hope they make more announcements so I have something more to write about.

Happy to hear from all of you about 1)  The contract  2) Glavovic’s solutions.

Please indicate if you will be joining the Strike!

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