Science and politics are often quoted in history as having a strained relationship. There are countless examples of great scientists being questioned on the legitimacy of their findings by the Church or by their form of government because it did not coincide with the prevailing thought of their respective state. But science and politics nonetheless share a very important relationship because one is nothing without the other. I would like to explore the relationship between science and politics in the area of modern-day climate science.
A lot of similarities can be drawn between the struggles of Reverend William Buckland and modern-day climatologists. Both tried to espouse pro-development and science rhetoric which was ignored by a subset of people. In the case of Rev. Buckland, he “was active in trying to reform the University, and sought to bring about more teaching of science. Later he became discouraged, feeling that there was little hope that any improvement would be brought about” (Laidler 205). Rev. Buckland tried to bridge the gap between science and God through “The Bridgewater Treatises” but his thoughts seemed to have fallen largely on deaf ears.
A similar argument could be made about present-day climatologists and how their findings are sometimes disregarded by politicians and even misconstrued by the media. It is first important to understand the fundamentals of what scientists mean by a “changing climate.” Climate change is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures.There are several pieces of evidence that temperatures on Earth are rising, but the top 3 are higher average temperature trends, changing rainfall patterns and receding ice glaciers.
Some evidence for higher temperatures were provided by MetClimate UK, a government entity in the UK, in which they say that “Scientific research shows that the climate – that is, the average temperature of the planet’s surface – has risen by 0.89 °C from 1901 to 2012. Compared with climate change patterns throughout Earth’s history, the rate of temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution is extremely high” (MetClimate). Another major piece of evidence for climate change are changing rainfall patterns and MetClimate says that “There have been observed changes in precipitation, but not all areas have data over long periods. Rainfall has increased in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere since the beginning of the 20th century. There are also changes between seasons in different regions. For example, the UK’s summer rainfall is decreasing on average, while winter rainfall is increasing. There is also evidence that heavy rainfall events have become more intensive, especially over North America” (MetClimate).
The following are temperature maps of the UK, provided by MetClimate. You can see that over time in South England and Wales, there is a definite increase in mean maximum temperature values in just a 40 year time span. Now it would be interesting to consider how much this average has grown from the early 1900s and it is scary to consider how much it could grow moving forward 40 years!
Here is a link to a gif demonstrating how glaciers have also been receding in nearby Iceland:
I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the amount of evidence there is for climate change. But at the same time, I feel there is no need to panic and start a “Green Movement.” Yet I feel that legislators, whether on Capitol Hill or Westminister, need to pay closer attention to what scientists say about climate change.
Legislators in the UK have made substantial efforts to combat climate change. The most famous and controversial piece of legislation passed is the Climate Change Act of 2008. This act states that “it is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline” (Legislation UK). But I came across this article at the Bodelian the other day and was able to find it on the internet. It was an excerpt from a research paper written by a student from UC Boulder commenting on the shortcomings of the 2008 Act. This student says that the UK is completely behind on its goal and that the “rate of decarbonization of -0.9% per year. This is far less than would be needed to hit the targets of the UK Climate Change Act” (Energy Collective).
I also saw a green protest rally in front of the Sheldonian and Bodelian demonstrating on the fact that the UK is not where it should be on the “2050 path.” Unfortunately I was not able to take a picture of the proceedings, but it was the first organized rally I have seen on campus.
I think that science and politics share a strained yet important relationship. Politics rely on science in the sense that all legislation is predicated on scientific polling, research and logic (well for the most part). In the same way, science relies on politics because legislation dictates the type of research you can do and how society reacts to your findings. In the case of climate change legislation, I feel the UK has not done enough to address the problem as evidenced by the chart above and the paper written by the Boulder student. Yet the UK has taken a significant step towards combating climate change that perhaps the United States has not.
In the United States, legislation on this magnitude was not created due to political gridlock coming from opposition from the Right. I feel that scientists need to lobby more in Congress and push their agenda more. Although I am not trying to take a political stance and advocate for the Green party, I definitely feel that all of the facts are not reaching the committee tables on Capitol Hill.
Climate change is one of the many examples of the strained relationship between science and politics. Even though this relationship will continued to be strained it will indeed carry on into the future as both science and politics inevitable need each other in order to sustain a civilized society.
Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2259012/Global-warming-Met-Office-releases-revised-global-temperature-predictions.html
Legislation UK: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/part/1/crossheading/the-target-for-2050
Energy Collective: http://theenergycollective.com/roger-pielke-jr/465606/failure-uk-climate-change-act