from: Mike Hulme <m.hulmeatXYZxyz.ac.uk>
subject: letter to prepare
Please prepare this letter for Dr Doug Parr or Greenpeace - we should have his address.
Thanks for your letter of 29 May and the copy of your 'transforming science' tract. I enjoyed reading it. Forgive me if I make a comment solely from my specific position at the heart of research on climate change and its policy repercussions.
In regard to climate change, one can argue that the problem is not the conduct of science but the conduct of the public. Many of us actually lead the public in terms of radicalism, for example in emphasising that 60% reductions in emissions are necessary (cf. the fuel protest of 2000) and in demonstrating the viability of a range of renewable technologies that, often, the public don't want (cf. wind turbines always in the 'wrong' places). The problem here is not a problem of distrust in science and scientists, but apathy, conservatism and lack of vision on the part of our public. Now here of course is the call for leadership, whether from scientists, but actually it really calls for leadership from politicians to convince our public that there is a vision of a sustainable future that is achievable and equitable and that there best interests are served by it. The analogy, as someone commented, is with the US space programme in the 1960s - within a decade Kennedy said an American would be on the moon and he ensured society (and science) was mobilised to deliver on this goal. Similar political vision and commitment is needed now.
Related to this is the problem that Blair's speech last month still had a narrow view of science - there was nothing in his speech to my recollection about the role of social science, or of understanding human behaviour and risk perceptions.
In the end the danger of advocating that citizens direct the science agenda is that we may end up with a much more conservative environmental science - at least regarding climate change - than we have now, making our (and your) task of minimising climate risks much harder. I certainly agree with the thrust of your tract, but simply point out that such a course of action may in some areas have perverse outcomes.
Dr Mike Hulme