Dr Emma Fieldhouse, Environmental Manager, University of Leicester:
Actually we’re not. I’m certainly not. However, people presume I should understand all aspects of climate science because of my active role in environmental management. The science of climate change is for scientists to debate, not for me to debate when I’m no climate specialist. How humans should respond to climate change is a different matter. I can be quite opinionated on that – just ask anyone who works with me.
It seems that everyone – i.e. ‘Joe Public’ – has an opinion on climate change which in most cases is formed by the choice of newspaper furnishing their desk/home/pub table (delete as applicable) or the TV they watch. Of course those newspapers with a larger readership can form popular public opinion and we know which have the greatest readership in the UK. You can just hear the roar from public houses across the country: “climate change – it’s a load of old rubbish” (said with crisp packet and pint in hand).
I’ve found a more positive way of considering climate change. How about if all of ‘us’ unqualified millions (apart from the qualified climate change scientists) stop asking “is it caused by humans?” or “is it happening at all?” and start asking a more pragmatic and risk-based question instead, such as “what’s the most sensible thing to do?”.
Before I continue there is an important thing to consider. As any scientist worth their salt knows (and that includes social as well as hard scientists), the very nature of science means that it is never completed or certain. So if you are waiting for a definitive answer about whether human-induced climate change is real or not, then you will be waiting a very long time.
We are in a post-Copenhagen and -Climategate lull. By waiting for the scientific ‘facts’ to be agreed before we choose to respond to potential climatic changes, we are removing any element of choice as we’ve automatically chosen inaction over action. Is that the most sensible thing to do?
Greg Craven (a geeky American high school science teacher – his description not mine) has shown through his far reaching U-tube exploits that we literally need to frame the debate differently by risk assessing whether it is more or less sensible to positively act on climate change whilst we’re still debating the science. There are also strategies emerging for how to tackle climate change and decarbonise the economy. Who knows we might even create a better world whilst the scientific debate continues. In the meantime you can start by switching things off before you leave work. Opinionated? Me?
Dr Emma Fieldhouse is the Environmental Manager at the University of Leicester.
For more information about the university’s carbon footprint go to www.le.ac.uk/environment.
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