Climatologists the next geologists?

Over the last decade or so, hard rock geologists have done rather poorly in science, because they have become unfashionable, and are overshadowed by the popularity of climate change. Some of them become bitter and twisted and prominent septics.

Which brings me on to Copenhagen Congress: why the biased reporting? from Nurture, which reports on Mike Hulme’s letter to Science complaining about the reporting of the Copenhagen conference: Hulme et al. point out that the dominant mode of media reporting after the event was of impending doom which is no great surprise, because that was what the organisers wanted.

Hulme et al. say that Of the 593 research papers orally presented, only about 25% dealt with observed or modeled behavior of the Earth system. Nearly 50% of the papers were from scholars from the social sciences and humanities–geographers, philosophers, political scientists, anthropologists, economists, sociologists, and environmental historians–offering new insights about governance, adaptation, communication, behavior, resilience, innovation, and culture. These insights suggest that it is possible to avoid the catastrophic outcomes foreseen by biogeophysical scientists, particularly if climate change is addressed as part of the much larger societal transformations that are necessary to foster both equity and sustainability. However, little of this new research on climate change from the social sciences and humanities has been reported or recognized in mainstream media reporting from the event.

Mind you Hulme isn’t a modeller, so what does he know?

He continues: The key messages of the conference were not, and could not be, the “consistent” message of some 2000 scientists. The conference messages indeed constitute an important call to action. They would have been more inspiring, however, if they had taken note of the depth of insight that emerged from the research about the motives, forms, scales, and processes of possible actions. There is a large and growing body of research about climate change from the social sciences and humanities, which offers new ways of framing the phenomenon, of opening up discourses between peoples and political actors, of elaborating potential solutions that can be sustainable, and of linking such solutions to other key social, economic, and environmental phenomena. These are all insights that are more engaging, empowering, and fruitful than a discourse of catastrophe, and it is important that they are given much more prominence in climate change science-policy interactions and in media reporting.

[Thanks to AW for the pdf from Science]

19 thoughts on “Climatologists the next geologists?”

  1. We need to resolve growing question surrounding climate drivers before addressing social issues, which, to date, have been confined to a warming world. What if the planet continues to cool?

    [Then you are in luck, because there are people prepared to bet that the planet won’t cool! How much would you like to bet? -W]


  2. hard rock geologists have done rather poorly in science

    We have???

    [That is certainly how it looks from here. BAS, where I used to work, dumped a whole load of them. Of course, that is a rather local perspective – W]


  3. One recalls the true blue cussedness with which some hard rock diehards persevered in disbelieving the KT impact theory , or on the flip side, tried to keep the cold air from leaking out of the Nuclear Winter balloon as the evidence came in on both issues and the models grew more realistic .

    Last time it was grasping at eruptions and seeking natural analogs for non-existent phenomena.


  4. Hulme is beginning to sound a little like RP Sr.

    Ray, what if the laws of physics themselves turn out to be wrong? Now *that* would be cool!

    [Be a little careful here. “Hulme the next hate figure” was an alternative title for this post. Hulme is a sensible chap, don’t try to dismiss his views by comparing him to someone whose views you don’t like -W]


  5. I don’t see a clear connection to geologists… Seems more like the way media treats all news today?

    [I wasn’t being very clear was I? It is a thought that has been floating around for a bit though, and others have said it or implied it: that physical climatology has done most of what it can do. That adaption and mitigation is the future. I’m not asserting this is true, mind you: just pointing it out for discussion -W]


  6. Perhaps in a UK-centric world hard rock geologists have fallen on hard times… in the US at least, they still get the majority of the NSF EAR (solid Earth sciences) funding, and solid Earth sciences doesn’t lag too far behind atmospheric in terms of overall funding (USD 156, vs. 229 for atmospheres; oceans leaves them both in the dust.

    [Careful, you’re using hard numbers there, which is against all the rules of the blogosphere, where only innuendo and rumour is allowed.

    I don’t know the corresponding UK numbers. Do you know the oceans number, and why it is bigger? I do know that some of the “climatology get $Xbn” values are badly distorted by the huge amounts going into satellites -W]


  7. Re: #6, oceans is 310 – I forgot to add the “million” to the above- yes, the NSF has more than a few hundred dollars :). Dunno why oceans gets so much – best guess as to why they’d need it would be all the taking ships around the world, dropping expensive stuff off of them, and drilling big holes in the sea floor. At any rate, I’m guessing that it’s not the theorists that are burning through the cash.

    Personally, I can see no good reason for a hard rock geologist to deny global warming. Think of all that yucky ice leaving Antarctica to allow some good mapping of the missing piece in tectonic reconstructions.


  8. I take that back… if I were a hard rock geologist who would live long enough to see the ice sheets to collapse and be able to map the bedrock, I would definitely deny global warming just to make sure that that happened: job security.


  9. I think I got that… However, the mess with ocean heat… tropical troposphere, local impacts, clouds… Not sure really where the edge goes for physical climatology?

    Still you have a point… that this is not where the journalist will find new interesting stuff… Getting that picture across will not be easy though…?

    [I’m not saying that we are anywhere close to solving all problems (nor are we in hard rock). Just that the remaining stuff looks like tidying up of marginal policy relevance (err, as some physicists were saying just before relativity / QM came along 🙂 -W]


  10. hard rock geologists have done rather poorly in science, because they have become unfashionable

    Taken out of context, it sounds as though the problem with geologists is that we wear fleece, hiking boots, and silly hats.

    Geology employment has been on an upswing after the tough times of the 90’s, though. (Of course, a great deal of that is in industries that are part of the climate problem.) I don’t really believe the American Geological Institute’s extremely optimistic projections for employment, but the situation seems no worse than in any other field right now.


  11. William, that’s why I said “a little,” referring to tone rather than substance. It’s very similar to RP Sr.’s land use bugaboo.


  12. The University of St Andrews is shutting its geology department, because of money or something stupid like that. The university was already going downhill when I was there, but it sounds like its getting worse.


  13. It may well be that Einstein’s GR is going to be found wrong in that there is no frame dragging; Gravity Probe 2 doesn’t seem to have found any.

    I doubt this has the slightest effect on climatology or even hard rock geology.

    [Where is Lumos when you need him? Anyway, I would be astonished if anything predicted by GR didn’t show up. And says they have seen FD. But I admit I haven’t been paying attention. Wiki says that it is in the noise at the moment -W]


  14. Your argument cuts two ways. If losing grant money makes you skeptical of the more fashionable science then those who are favoured with grant money are guaranteed to be the most fervent believers in the fashionable, funded view.


  15. It may be hard times for hard rock geologists in the academic/govt research world but here in Australia there has been a mining boom to the extent that a CSIRO colleague had real trouble hiring geologists for post-doc position when they could earn so much more in the mining areas (they could earn more in the mining area by just driving trucks let alone by doing geology).Maybe the financial crisis will change all that.

    One problem here (and Australia is big on mining) is that the industry is so cyclical. In the boom time geologists are like gold-dust, yet the companies doesn’t hang onto their geologists in the lean times making for very erratic career prospects for budding geologists (many leaving the field altogether). As a result the field is less popular to study and then when the next boom comes the companies are wondering why they can’t find any geologists.

    [I thought things got pretty grim for mining in Australia and indeed elsewhere after the bust ~1 year ago. But maybe they are picking up again. Of course life is about more than just money: who, after all, would swap the calm andpeaceful life of a pampered truck cab for the screaming hurly-burly of trying to teach students? -W]


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