Scientists Speak Out for Climate Action

Neuroscientist Shruti Muralidhar and microbiologist Abhishek Chari at a rally in Boston. Image: Steven Senne/AP

Historically, scientists have gone out of their way not to make political statements. After all, their job is to provide facts, not suggest policy prescriptions that can often be complicated to implement.

But now, a growing number of climate scientists are deciding to buck tradition and speak up for the urgency of climate action. As scientist Steve Ghan told the LA Times, “We naively thought, ‘Well, OK, we’ve done our job, now the politicians are going to make decisions. But that’s not the way it worked.

Driven by the lack of climate action, they are marching in the streets, signing on to manifestos and even getting arrested — all in the name of avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

The History of Scientists Activism: The LA Times explained that scientists’ aversion to activism dates all the way back to the philosopher David Hume, who in 1739 argued that one could not get an ought from an is. In other words, facts alone can never tell us what we should do.

  • That belief became a fundamental tenet of science, informing bedrock principles like the importance of objectivity. Advocacy, many researchers believed, undermined their ability to do impartial and unbiased work.

Researchers have understood for more than 40 years that human activities such as burning fossil fuels were heating the planet. But only a handful spoke out about the consequences. That’s changing as scientists are beginning to see climate issues become irrationally politicized–the truth needs to be heard by all.

A Striking Spirit: Scientist activism broke into the mainstream during the 2017 March for Science. The event called for many things but in essence, asked people to believe in and value science.

Why This Matters: Not only have scientists been marching and calling for action themselves, but they’ve been encouraging of their students joining climate strikes as well. Prominent climate scientists like Texas Tech’s Katharine Hayhoe have started using their platforms to inform and encourage people to talk about science and for lawmakers to take action (Hayhoe even has a TED Talk about how to talk to anyone about climate change). As Helen Amanda Fricker, a glaciologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego put it, “If we aren’t the ones to speak up about it, then who will?”

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