Hot potato session on “The tragedy of climate change science”

“The science-society contract is broken.” is the opening of the latest article by Bruce C. Glavovic, Timothy F. Smith and Iain White and it invited us at researchers desk this week to pause and think together with the authors: What kind of scientific activity is meaningful to enable human society to learn, adapt and transform human activities as the climate crisis becomes recognizable today, and when looking at the full picture – Earth? It is indeed a fully-fledged, global tragedy we are talking about: Against better knowledge (IPCC reporting), humanity is driving the crisis, meaning that the most powerful actions you could expect (e.g. covid recovery funds) are accelerating on the same old path (bouncing back) rather than turning around (rebuild and regenerate human relations to our shared environment).

So, if the above-mentioned contract works as a metaphor for the science-society interface, this means that researchers are paid by tax money to think freely and develop the best possible science around the questions they are appointed for by the governments in the world. In return, researchers could expect that this knowledge is acted upon. What if, as with climate science, this exploding knowledge on our climate system and scientific support for the society is ending “in the void” for decades?

Where and how can we re-politicize science and address not only the failure to act and explanations for why this happen but also demonstrate where the seeds are for an alternative course of action? What kind of moratorium would invite sufficiently powerful groups to rethink and engage with the discourse and transition towards a sustainable pathway?

This is an invitation for everyone to engage with us, with each other, and question the share of responsibilities we all have to learn and transform our lifestyles. This is about renegotiating the contracts we are embedded in with policy, business and culture. Today we leave this discussion (recording is online) with a few threads for the inspired ones:

While more science does not lead necessarily to more action – there are still several scientific avenues which are promising to focus on leverage points for change:

  • The IPCC report on mitigation is based on conventional assumptions and models like social welfare being dependent on a eternally growing market – which are proven to reinforce inequality rather than sustainable well-being. Mitigation based on post-growth economy is possible and rather a question of will and power redistribution (see article by Hickel et al. 2021).
  • The need and opportunities for an incremental but radically different development of how we institutionalize values, which are underlying to all our societal functions, become apparent in the book by Maja Göpel “The great mindshift”.
  • No single person is deliberately destroying our planet’s climate – but humans are bound to act on much smaller spatial and temporal scales than the technology is providing access to few people (through cars, planes, cement, plastics). When seeing Earth as a system where human health is dependent on a healthy environment, we begin to grasp that there is no deliberate, collective, and global governance which is taking care of this human-environmental relationship at the core. Another way looking at this big picture is like watching a flock of starlings who group in amazingly beautiful formations – with no single bird driving it. While there is no single entity able to drive humanities course of action, at the same time everyone has influence to shape actions. This is called self organization in a complex adaptive system. In the discussion about the climate crisis is now the tragedy emerging or flooding over us – how do we collaborate under this ‘flood’, embrace a more humble, systemic view and ’walk the talk’ of sustainable and globally equitable lifestyle?

In conclusion for today: We agree to disagree where we see the next steps. Some of us doubt that there is this one attainable vision but there are tangible tools for sustainability we know how they work. Others see the vision of sustainability future more clearly, just barriers and opportunities on the way. Let’s go, at least the direction is clear (not the highway …).

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