Over the past couple of decades, governments around the world have spent $Billions researching past and present climate variability and change, its impact to our environment, and likely future climate scenarios. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its 4th Assessment Report, proclaiming that, “The warming of the climate system is unequivocal”, stating with ‘very high confidence’ that human activity has contributed significantly to the observed changes. A recent poll indicated that well over 90% of climate scientists agree with findings of anthropogenic global warming. As robust debates continue within the scientific community concerning the magnitude of human influence, the rate of, and likely future impacts of climate change, public opinion - across all demographics - about the certainty of global warming and humanity’s role in climate change has decreased significantly over the past two years. The ‘Climategate’ controversy has raised additional questions not just about the legitimacy of climate science, but about the credibility of climate scientists themselves. A growing segment of the American population now believes that warnings about climate change are part of an elaborate hoax. To some observers, the climate change science community has failed in its public relations efforts. To others, the climate change science community has not been active enough in politics.
The purpose of this forum is to examine why such a contradiction between growing scientific certainty and decreasing public belief in climate science exists. In particular we wish to explore some of the following themes:
Have scientists become ‘too political’ in their advocacy of particular climate change mitigation and adaptation policies? Do the benefits of engaging in political advocacy outweigh the risks of losing their credibility as scientists?
What role has the media, including the blogosphere and the Internet, played in this growing contradiction? How has the media shaped the way that climate science is debated, disputed, and created? Is there a ‘better’ way for climate scientists to work with the media?
Moving forward, is there a better role for climate scientists in political and policy debates, and if so, what would it look like?