The Program on Climate Change: Moving Forward

by Miriam Bertram, LuAnne Thompson and Greg Quetin

LuAnne Thompson opened our PCC-sponsored gathering “Where do we go from here?”  on Thursday, Nov. 17 with a quote by Winston Churchill: “It’s not always enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.” John Kerry shared that call to arms the day before, as part of his remarks at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Greg Quetin, one of our graduate student representatives, stated that he and other graduate students needed perspective, support, and a way to move forward individually and as a community.

There were more than 50 concerned students, both undergraduate and graduate, postdocs, faculty and staff—from Atmospheric Sciences, Oceanography, Earth and Space Sciences, the Jackson School, Evans School, APL, etc. gathered in the familiar Ocean Sciences Seminar room.  We were there to consider ways to move forward as a community and as academics, amid fears that funding for science, respect for science, work towards preserving the planet for future generations, as well as individual rights and civility, will be at risk.

As a community, we have learned a great deal over the last 10 years about the best ways to educate and inform the public about climate change.  We need to continue to challenge the idea that more detailed knowledge will convince people that climate change is happening and that humans are the cause. Although this ‘information deficit model of communication’ approach is the one that we are most comfortable with, we have to learn new ways to engage with people outside of the academy or climate science will continue to be politicized.  To this end, the Program on Climate Change will continue to support and foster each of your interests in research and communicating beyond your discipline and academia. We will continue to be a resource to help each of you become more informed and more connected. Whether as part of a capstone project or independent interest, we will do our best to help you collaborate with others to develop meaningful science communications. In addition, we would like to acknowledge that pursuing excellent science, and developing expertise is a powerful contribution. As David Battisti noted from his experience being called upon as a scientific expert in addressing societal issues, it takes expertise across multiple people in a broad range of topics to fully address something as broadly impactful as climate change.

Career prospects clearly are in question, an uncertainty felt by all in the room and especially for graduate students and postdocs.  Charlie Eriksen reminded us that President Reagan defunded science in the past, but reversed course when it was recognized that science could be commercially useful. Charlie suggested that we should participate in the scientific enterprise because we find it fulfilling, and that we should acknowledge that it is a privilege to study the workings of nature.

The rhetoric of the President-elect’s campaign threatened many communities beyond that of climate scientists. We are stronger as a community and the PCC’s commitment to supporting each other, both as scientists and people, will help us in this uncertain time.

Steps Forward

Our Nov 17th gathering is imagined as only the first of many small and large group conversations that will occur in response to the recent elections. In the mean time, here are a few action items that were discussed as things you can do.

  • Be an ambassador of science and equality; be a partner with others rather than presenting yourself as the expert.
  • Contribute to “The White Paper Initiative”, an effort that is currently evolving out of the Graduate Professional Senate. Michael Diamond (Atmos grad student) will send out an email to the PCC listserves when the details become finalized.   To learn more now contact Grant Williamson grantwil@uw.edu.
  • Write op-eds with your peers; write about what you know, while broadening the scope of the piece by engaging someone from another discipline.
  • Personal conversations; be prepared to engage respectfully about the anthropogenic role in climate, as well as the broader idea of trust in science and scientists; be prepared to engage on broader issues with those who have different world views. Sit down with people and acknowledge that we all have different stakes in the problem, and that we likely all care but for different reasons. Treat people as equal partners in finding solutions.  “Bring light not heat to the argument”
  • Talk to local policy makers—there is a team of graduate students currently working with Jay Inslee’s team as a science resource.
  • Avoid overstating your scientific results when interpreting data.
  • Be prepared for attempts to discredit you as a scientist, know that there is a well-funded effort by denialists to discredit you.