Saturday, November 5, 2011

Climate science, desperate.

The latest calculations of the US Department of Energy show a sharp rise in CO2 emissions. In a new spiegel-online article, we hear the lament of Jochem Marotzke, "Germany's top climate researcher", who is on his way to Berlin, where he will prepare  Germany's politicians for the next World Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa. According to the spiegel journalists G. Traufetter and C. Schwägerl,
He almost sounds as if his audience of politicians and ministers had never heard of climate change, as though thousands of them hadn't thronged together at more than a dozen World Climate Conferences over the last two decades.
The article contains all elements of a climate narrative, which is all too familiar to us. It comes year after year, season after season, summit after summit, with generations growing up with its fierce imagery. The stage is set, the staff is familiar, the roles never change. Just the numbers presented are higher each performance. Strange thing that we neither can get rid of the problem nor the story.

Again, more alarming numbers; more politicians who have things more important to do than to take care of the climate; another desperate scientist who shows new slides; more illustrations from the spiegel with polar bears, corals, and smoking factories in China; more warnings that there is less time left to reach the 2 degree climate goal; less time to prevent the worst, the tipping points, when the Gulf Stream will collapse, the glaciers will melt, when.... And Jochem Marotzke is the tragic hero of this depressive narrative; he is the desperate scientist who preaches but no one listens; who wanders through an empty world which is already vanishing; just like a modern hero who does not believe in the power of reason anymore but can't help from doing the right thing. Which means presenting more numbers, more slides, more "grim facts", more speaking truth to power.  But even this spiegel-online article, which made headline yesterday, can't escape reality: today, you already have to scroll down through politics, economy, society, culture and sports etc to finally find it as third article in the rubric "science". Maybe tomorrow it will be already in the archive - until Durban.
Strangely enough, this is not a theater performance just like Beckett's Endgame or Waiting for Godot; it seems to be the real world.


Freddy Schenk said...

Well written, Werner. I got the very same impression when reading the article about a forgotten hero of climate rescue - ehm research. And it is really over and over again the same story, both regarding the facts and also how the media reports about it.

There was a talk of Axel Bojanowski (Wissenschaftsjournalist of Spiegel) at the Climate Service Center (CSC) in Hamburg about "Abstieg des Klimathemas: Was Medien an der Klimaforschung noch interessiert". He concluded that "climate change is a looser topic" - people are not reading it anymore i.e. if scientific phenomena/findings - in which people are still very much interested in - are mixed with "politician/scientist XY warns...". This is nothing new (maybe good to know that people still read articles about pure scientific results). But Bojanowski also claimed that we (scientists) have to gain back our topics (the pure science, not the mixture with politics or a wagging finger and a moral sermon).

This is a funny claim - it is exactly the media (and Bojanowski et al.) who select scientists and topics accordingly. OK, in turn, some scientist may have changed their attitude also to make post-scientific statements to get attention in the media.

The best example was the CO2-article above - why is Spiegel showing here a large figure of a polar bear when talking about CO2? I thought Spiegel knows that this combination turns the article finally to a complete looser topic?

Harry Dale Huffman said...

("loser", not "looser")

Anonymous said...

Hi Werner,

remember our discussion about Bojanowski's articles about sea level rise. I commented, that Bojanowski's Nature Geoscience version of his article is so much better than his original SPIEGEL-version.
Why this strange hints, why this loading with emotions?

Freddy has the answer - see #1.
Science pure has got a loser topic in media.



Werner Krauss said...

Thanks for your comments, Andreas & Freddy.
My intention was not to criticize or to make suggestions how to improve science communication; instead, I suggest to see the spiegel article as a cultural document. The article presents not only scientific information; mostly, it transports a state of mind, of being in the world or better, of being lost in the world.

That's why I did not post another graph with a rising CO2 curve, for example. Instead, we have to find cultural comparisons instead of endlessly fighting about numbers and graphs. We have to look at the backsides of the graphs, of pure science - and we find the guy anxiously looking out of the garbage can. The article transports this feeling very well. It's about the feeling when you endlessly repeat something and nobody is listening; it's about (male) fear and loneliness.

Hans von Storch said...

The question, which is not addressed is: why is there the "feeling of fatigue"? What has happened in the past 20, or more years - has climate science possibly squandered its authority as a social institution whose explanations of a complex world are believed by the public and policymakers?