A report from Copenhagen

March 18, 2009

ReslienceScience has a nice link to the impressions of a scientist in Copenhagen last week, which we have covered previously here, here and here.

The brief dispatch provides an interesting insight into the gap between science and public understanding.  This was one of the main issues which emerged from our Climate Science / Public Policy Futures Group (covered here).

Reflecting on this, one climate scientist wrote:


Being a climate scientist these days is not for the faint of heart, as arguably no other area of research yields a sharper contrast between “eureka!” moments, and the sometimes terrifying implications of those discoveries for the future of the planet.

“Science is exciting when you make such findings,” said Konrad Steffen, who heads the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado.

“But if you stop and look at the implications of what is coming down the road for humanity, it is rather scary. I have kids in college — what do they have to look forward to in 50 years?”

And that’s not the worst of it, said top researchers gathered here last week for a climate change conference which heard, among other bits of bad news, that global sea levels are set to rise at least twice as fast over the next century as previously thought, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk.

What haunts scientists most, many said, is the feeling that — despite an overwhelming consensus on the science — they are not able to convey to a wider public just how close Earth is to climate catastrophe.

That audience includes world leaders who have pledged to craft, by year’s end, a global climate treaty to slash the world’s output of dangerous greenhouse gases.

It’s as if scientists know a bomb will go off, but can’t find the right words to warn the people who might be able to defuse it.