As a scientist, when reading the “Scientists For Future” statement supporting the Fridays for Future protest marches, my initial response was disappointment. The statement uses an extremely basic language to summarize the demands of the Paris Agreement, and the key steps necessary to avoid the most perilous climate change hazards. There is nothing innovative, provocative or unexpected about this statement. Thus, I was very doubtful about its effectiveness.
However, one has to consider the political message behind this petition, which now has 23,000 signatories in German-speaking countries alone. Until recently, scientists have kept quietly in their laboratories or behind their computer models, delivering the data which screamed for immediate action against climate change. However, as soon as this data was handed over to politics, the scientists retracted, and felt that their job was done. I routinely imagine Donald Trump’s office, in which climate data spreadsheets are used as scrap paper for cost calculations of the infamous wall to Mexico.
This discontinuity between scientific advice and political response hit a peak with the IPCC’s publication of the Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Whilst scientists had demonstrated that reaching even the 2°C was highly optimistic and unrealistic, the IPCC was asked to research an even more utopian target. Call me cynical, but the scientists were silenced by being told to play with their numbers a bit more, while international politicians were busy trying to find excuses not to reduce emissions. By condemning scientists to stick to their classical role of pure researchers with no political voice, it was easy to justify mitigation inaction with the fact that the scientists were still working on exact numbers, and that the uncertainties were too high to take any definitive action.
Scientists have completed their role as researchers. They have delivered the numbers, and they have been ignored. It is high time that scientists assume their role as concerned citizens. With this petition, scientists are no longer hiding behind numbers and big data. Their message is clear. The simplicity of the statement is indeed its greatest strength.
This blogpost is part of our series about current protest movements for more climate protection – see a list of all posts here.