Scientists’ climate gap is narrowing

Nearly a third of respondents are opting not to have children. Image: By Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

LONDON, Nov. 19, 2019 – There’s evidence that a scientists’ climate gap − a hesitation to reflect their findings in their personal lives − is diminishing, with significant changes under way in individuals’ behaviour.

The world’s climate scientists spend their working lives establishing what is happening as the world heats up. They tell the rest of us the facts they discover so that we can decide how to respond. But how they respond themselves is a telling indicator of how concerned they are − and how worried we should be.

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A poll of scientists − many working in fields related to the climate emergency – reveals a gap between awareness of international climate goals, and action to change lifestyles so as to reflect them. But there are signs that science professionals are starting to make radical shifts in their behaviour.

The poll, detailed in a new briefing, Scientists Behaving Responsibly, was published to mark a conference on 16 November in London, Scientists behaving responsibly: should science walk the talk on climate breakdown?, organised by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)..

SGR acknowledges that it was a small exercise, a straw poll disseminated to specialist scientific audiences including its own membership and those who follow the international climate negotiations. There were 153 responses.

“Be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it”

The poll found that nearly one in three respondents are choosing not to have children. More than one in three already reject flying, with that number pledged to increase to nearly half (48%).

While 87% of respondents said they had considered the implications of the climate goals for their own lives, only around half (52%), thought their lives were aligned with the goals. 71% thought the response of the sector in which they work on the climate emergency was either unsatisfactory, or highly unsatisfactory

Over one in three (38%) do not own a car and rarely use one, and the number planning to take “very serious” steps to reduce the impact of their car use is rising “dramatically”.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they are adopting largely plant-based diets, and 13% are vegans. 76% say they are turning their backs on new consumer goods, choosing fewer items and second-hand ones and long-term repair options instead.

Systemic change needed

“Meeting agreed international emissions targets and preventing climate breakdown needs systemic and behavioural change”, says Andrew Simms, assistant director of SGR. “Nearly two-thirds of the changes needed to meet the UK national zero carbon target have been officially recognised as involving societal and behavioural change.

“This poll shows scientists starting to make big life changes to walk the talk on climate breakdown, including getting involved in protest.

“Research on behaviour change shows that seeing people act differently matters. It is hugely influential in persuading others to make changes, creating a positive ‘social contagion’ effect.

“However, many behaviour changes are shaped by the energy, food and transport systems we live within, and the lack of easily available low carbon alternatives was cited as the biggest obstacle to change.”

Lobbyists’ billions

One of the speakers at the London conference was Farhana Yamin, an international climate change lawyer. She tweeted: “So many climate initiatives fail because of the vast lobbying power of vested interests. The oil majors spent US$1billion since the Paris climate talks [in 2015] on greenwash and lobbying. That’s why I broke the law and glued myself to Shell.”

Another speaker was Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. In a recent blog, An alarmist’s guide to climate change, he called for “some healthy and realistic alarmism”.

He ended: “Be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it.

”Drastically change your lifestyle; become an activist; vote into power a government that will walk the walk on climate change, not just talk the talk. Or – preferably – all three.” − ClimateNewsNetwork.net

Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.