Duality in climate science | Kevin Anderson

Anderson, Kevin (2015): Duality in Climate Science. In: Nature Geoscience, 12 October 2015. The economic and political paradigm in which our democracy operates inhibits climate scientists, so they have to tone down the dangers ahead.

Image: courtesy of Jenny Tañedo / flickr.com (CC BY-NC-ND by 2.0)

In his commentary Duality in climate science, Kevin Anderson – Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester – reflects on the reluctance of fellow scientists to accept and communicate the revolutionary implications of their own findings for the sake of politically palatable outcomes.

He demonstrates the “endemic bias prevalent amongst many of those developing emission scenarios to severely underplay the scale of the 2°C mitigation challenge”, and argues “that in several important respects the modelling community is self-censoring its research in order to conform to the dominant political and economic paradigm.”

The value of science is undermined when we adopt questionable assumptions and fine-tune our analysis to conform to dominant political and economic sensibilities. The pervasive inclusion of speculative negative emission technologies to deliver politically palatable 2°C mitigation is but one such example. Society needs scientists to make transparent and reasoned assumptions, however uncomfortable the subsequent conclusions may be for the politics of the day.

“Explicit and quantitative carbon budgets provide a firm foundation on which policy makers and civil society can build a genuinely low-carbon society”, he concludes, “but the job of scientists remains pivotal. It is incumbent on our community to be vigilant in guiding the policy process within the climate goals established by civil society; to draw attention to inconsistencies, misunderstandings and deliberate abuse of the scientific research. It is not our job to be politically expedient with our analysis or to curry favour with our funders.”

The essay was published in Nature Geoscience (Oct. 2015), and can be found here.

Related links

  • Professor Nico Stehr shares a related experience in his essay Climate Policy: Democracy is not an inconvenience, in which he describes climate scientists who are not only expressing their impatience with Western democracies, but openly practise their sympathy for authoritarian political approaches.