As Climate Change Worsens, Scientists Feel Increasing Pressure to Speak Out

As Climate Change Worsens, Scientists Feel Increasing Pressure to Speak Out

At a recent conference, scientists debate how far they should go in expressing their concerns about the world’s response to global warming.

By Elizabeth Grossman, InsideClimate News

Factors contributing to climate change are moving faster than predicted and pushing us toward planetary conditions unlike any humans have ever known—this was one of the salient themes to emerge from this month’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest gathering of earth and space scientists. Some scientists think we’ve already crossed that boundary and are, as Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment, said, “in a very different world than we have ever seen before.”

What scientists are now witnessing as the earth responds to increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases presents many of them with a dilemma: How far should they go in expressing their concerns about how government and society are responding to climate change? This question is particularly charged given that efforts to undermine climate science have become part of the political debate on these issues.

Running through the meeting’s scientific presentations were formal and informal discussions about the scientist’s role in guiding society’s response to climate change, including how to effectively communicate the certainties and uncertainties of the science—and how to respond to what Don Wuebbles, University of Illinois professor of atmospheric science and chair of the organization’s Global Environmental Change committee, called the “confusionists.”

After the meeting, InsideClimate News interviewed several leading climate scientists and a renowned science historian to get a sense of how they are navigating this difficult terrain. All of them have testified before Congress and several were contributing authors on the 2007 report of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), so all understand the challenges of working in the public spotlight.

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