Foreign Policy Blogs

The Changing Reputation of Climate Science

Easy to reduce, reuse, recycle?The March 1st issue of Newsweek magazine has a good article outlining how climate science has become a bruised, intensely politicized issue that is negatively impacting public support for environmental causes.

“The battle between “alarmists” and “deniers” has taken a huge toll, not just on [scientists].  It has also damaged the credibility of climate science itself, and threatened more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to engineer a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions…Indeed, the climate project bears a striking resemblance to health care reform in the United States – stalled by a combination of political resistance and hubris.”

The article goes on to suggest ways that the climate science community can get its reputation back on track, emphasizing greater data transparency and collaboration.  Failure to realign means that necessary support for climate science will begin to lose ground:

“The climate woes will make it harder for the West to push Beijing to curb emissions when the two sit down at the negotiation table in Cancun, Mexico [this] December.  China isn’t likely to commit to any big cuts unless the U.S. agrees to follow suit…What’s needed is a Plan B: promoting new energy technologies, helping poor countries adapt to a warmer world, developing aerosols that could lower temperatures should warming go haywire.

The article rightly mentions that billions of dollars are riding on policy decisions based on the outcome of the “next big study.” As such, maintaining scientific objectivity is challenging.  This is compounded by the number of voices weighing in, from politicians to amateur bloggers to institutional advisers.

Increasingly, clear, calm scientific communication is becoming the environment’s most valuable commodity.

Cartoon: Robert Thompson via Prospect Magazine