In Praise of Public Scientists

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So there I was in a seminar last spring sitting a few feet behind Al Gore as one eminent scientist after another lectured on our evolving global climate crisis. And even as I listened as carefully as I could to the presentations on the newest scientific research — on how seriously, for example, the climate crisis would impact on human health. I couldn’t help watching Gore himself, by all rights just another student in the seminar taking notes and reflecting on how little people understood Al Gore’s actual role in the effort to stave off the worst of man made climate change a role his enemies think as of as the untrained climate change theorist. Rather than his real role –the one I watched so closely that day as the best known spokesperson of the international climate science community.

And it’s not surprising that Gore has played that role because for too long the bulk of the scientific community has disdained any significant responsibility for disseminating their findings to the larger public. Even when those findings –like the impact of anthropogenic –man made climate change required immediate action at the highest levels of government and society.

Which is of course one of the reasons why Al Gore took on the task of distilling the essence of those alarming research reports into manageable public statements on climate change and more recently, in his book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, the various technologies we must employ to defang the climate crisis.

But not every scientist has followed their professions predilection to stay out of the political fray and the 40th anniversary of Earth Day seems is a particularly good time to honor two scientists who have challenged the conventions of their profession; two Physicists James Hansen and Joseph Romm who have dedicated their lives to becoming the best sorts of public scientists each of whom has just produced a wonderfully readable book:

Dr. James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our last Chance to Save Humanity

And Dr. Joseph Romm’s Strait up America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians and Clean Energy Solutions

Hansen for his part writes movingly about his early study of how greenhouse gases turned the planet Venus into the hell hole we know it to be today and how he eventually refocused his work on the evolution of the earth’s atmosphere. Working anonymously in his lab until that hot day more than twenty years ago when he famously told the United States Senate of the growing threat of man made climate change and then went back to his academic work only occasionally venturing out to explain his findings to larger and larger audiences until the Second Bush administration famously tried to silence him.

And complementing Hansen work is Doctor Joe Romm’s ever so different book

Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians and Clean Energy Solutions

Because unlike Dr. Hansen, Joe Romm’s career, after this doctoral studies at MIT and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, moved quickly into the policy arena by serving as an administrator for the US Department of Energy.

And more recently as the author of the wonderfully readable

Hell and High Water: Global Warming–the Solution and the Politics–and What We Should Do.
And then more recently Dr. Romm, recognizing the failures of the mainstream media and his own scientist colleagues, to engage the public at the level the climate crisis demands has taken on the task of authoring the enormously popular blog Climate Progress

Which covers the entire gamut of climate change issues from science to governmental policy, an effort which has seen Romm proclaimed the most influential climate blogger by Time Magazine and the climate change go to guy for both of the New York Times superstar commentators Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman.

So given the commitment of these two wonderfully committed public scientists

It seems altogether fitting their that their works be honored on this the 40th anniversary of Earth Day


About Steven Leibo

This entry was posted in The Climate Crisis, Uncategorized, WAMC Northeast Public Radio Commentaries. Bookmark the permalink.

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