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‘The time has never been more urgent’: at the world’s largest Earth science event

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Scientists hold signs during a rally in conjunction with the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP   View full article here

…But few of the 20,000 Earth and climate scientists meeting in San Francisco this week had much to say about the president-elect, Donald Trump – though his incoming administration loomed over much of the conference.

For some, the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) – the largest Earth and space science gathering in the world – was a call to action. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, addressed the scientists on Wednesday morning, telling them, “the time has never been more urgent or your work ever more important. The danger is definitely rising.”

“We’re facing …big financial structures that are at odds with the survivability of our world. It’s up to you as truth tellers, truth seekers, to mobilize all your efforts to fight back.

Brown compared the struggle to the campaigns waged by the tobacco industry, noting that health science and the law eventually curtailed its power. “Some people need a heart attack to stop smoking,” he said. “Maybe we just got our heart attack.”…

…Not far away, a team of lawyers with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund met with scientists to discuss the threats ahead. The group helps defend scientists from harassment and suits over climate change research, most prominently a case brought by a climate change-denying organization to obtain emails and research of scientist Michael Mann. At the AGU table, attorneys handed out guides to “handling political harassment and legal intimidation”.

Some scientists are taking action on their own, including Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has started one of several “guerrilla archiving” efforts to preserve public climate data on non-government servers. Holthaus and others fear that a Trump administration could take down the data, as former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper tried to silence scientists.

Sally Jewell, the outgoing secretary of the interior, tried to reassure scientists that the Trump administration could not quickly gut federal research. Science would be “foundational” to government, she told attendees: “We have a president-elect that likes to win, and we can’t win without science.”

Jewell argued that scientists should stress the benefits of science to industry, saying they should start speaking “in the language of business, perhaps, to translate” for the Trump administration.

…Other scientists stressed that the world is already changing in dramatic, unpredictable ways. Donald Perovich, a professor at Dartmouth University, said that the Arctic in 2016 looked “as though part of the United States has melted”, a region comparable to all the states east of the Mississippi plus the midwest and North Dakota.

When the researchers began doing a yearly report card in the mid-2000s, Perovich said, “you kind of had to listen closely, because the Arctic was whispering change.”

Now it’s not whispering anymore,” he said. “It’s shouting.

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