Climate science, the human side

Published Tuesday, October 14, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

Science is a profession of discipline and process.  Scientists live in a world of constant questioning: they observe, analyze, theorize and test, and then do it all over again.  Guided by facts and data, they strive to drill through uncertainty and draw solid, evidence-based conclusions.

That’s why a blog I discovered recently is so interesting: it asks climate scientists to step outside of their professions, and speak as mothers, fathers, grandparents and children – in short, as humans.

The blog is called Is This How You Feel and it’s the project of an Australian graduate student named Joe Duggan.

Earlier this year, Duggan invited climate scientists across Australia to answer a simple question: how do they really feel about climate change?  Their answers, most of them handwritten, are personal, passionate and emotional.  Here’s a sampling, edited for space (with emphasis added by me).

From Kevin Walsh, Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne: “I wish that climate change were not real.  Life would be so much simpler if climate change didn’t exist.  But as scientists, we don’t have the luxury of pretending.”

From Dr Sarah Perkins, Climate Scientist at the University of New South Wales:  “I wish I didn’t have to acknowledge it, but everything I have feared is happening. I’ve tried to highlight these changes time and time again, but no one has paid attention. Is it easier to pretend there’s no illness, hoping it will go away?”

From Associate Professor Katrin Meissner, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales: “I see a group of people sitting in a boat, happily waving, taking pictures on the way, not knowing that this boat is floating right into a powerful and deadly waterfall.”

From Anthony J. Richardson, Climate Change Ecologist at the University of Queensland: “I feel a maelstrom of emotions.  Exasperated no one is listening.  Perplexed that the urgency is not appreciated.  Annoyed with the media’s portrayal of the science.  Angry that vested interests bias the debate.  But most of all I am apprehensive about our children’s future.”

From Dr Ailie Gallant, School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University: “I get angry at the invalid opinions that are all-pervasive in this age of indiscriminate information, where evidence seems to play second fiddle to whomever can shout the loudest.  I often feel like shouting…  But would that really help?  After all, we’ve been shouting for years.”

From Dr Alex Sen Gupta, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales: “I feel betrayed by our leaders who show no leadership and who place ideology above evidence - leaders who are at best negligent and at worst complicit in allowing this to happen with full knowledge of likely consequences.”

From Professor Steven Sherwood, Chief Investigator, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science: “The main things I feel about this are deep disappointment and anger.  Global warming doesn’t bother me as much as what it is revealing about humans.”

From Adjunct Professor Will Steffen, Australian National University: “It is ultimately a question of core values.  Can we change our core values rapidly enough – and decisively enough – to halt our slide towards collapse?  That is humanity’s most important question in the 21st century!”

And from Professor Nathan Bindoff, Research Program Leader - Climate Change and Ocean Processes, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, a message of hope: “My dream is that the picture will be different: not the catastrophe that is so frequently forecast, but a world where the pressing problems are circumvented with human ingenuity and mobilised collaborative effort. That is what I imagine we can achieve.”

Personal, passionate and emotional thoughts from people who work in a scientific world but live, as we all do, in a human world.  

To read more and see the handwritten notes, visit