Activists and Scientists

I’m back from PowerShift, and I had a fantastic time. I attended many workshops – including one on paleoclimatology from Dr Michael Pisaric, in which I had the joys of learning about pack rat middens – but also had time to do a lot of touring and walking. Ontario in the autumn is absolutely beautiful; the bright colours of the oaks and maples are a real novelty to someone like me from the aspen parkland. I visited Parliament Hill several times, took a tour of the central block, and visited the parliamentary cats. I played Irish flute on the U of Ottawa campus.

My one complaint about the conference was that there was too much activism and too little science for my liking. The three science-based workshops that I had starred in my program were all at the same time, so I had to choose only one. And far too many workshops were about learning how to lobby, rather than learning about climate change.

Don’t get me wrong – I am adamant that the Canadian government needs to do more about climate change. However, I feel that I can create more intelligent, respectful, and effective arguments through writing letters or talking to politicians (that is, if they answer my requests for meetings…..) rather than marching around with signs. Dressing up like a polar bear and singing the national anthems of low-lying nations in front of Parliament just isn’t my style. I watched from a distance and petted the cats instead.

I understand that a lot of people immediately realize that climate change is a problem, that it needs to be dealt with, and that our government is not dealing with it (as much as they’d like us to believe that they are). They’re immediately content to start lobbying based on what they know. I prefer to continue to analyse the issue as I urge for action in a more logical and intellectual way.

I think I would enjoy science conferences, rather than activism conferences, regarding climate change. How do you get into those if you’re not a scientist?

Luckily, the reason I came to PowerShift – to give a presentation – was just what I’d hoped for. All the people who liked to lobby went to the “how to protest” workshops, while the people who were more interested in credibility, education, and analysis came to mine. (There were a few people there with green face paint and “Shut Down the Tar Sands” hard hats, but they slunk out partway through.)

Infinite thanks to the regular ClimateSight readers who came to my workshop, and to everyone else in the audience of ~15. The audience was fantastic; everybody there was deeply interested in the issues I covered, and we had a great discussion at the end. And deep thanks to the gentleman who came in at the very end to compliment me on my blog and apologize for having to miss the presentation.

Even if it wasn’t perfectly suited to my interests, PowerShift certainly has inspired a lot of future blog posts, and now that my presentation is over, I’ll have a lot more time on my hands to write. Keep your eyes open for these topics in the coming weeks:

-finding an appropriate name for conservative think tanks

-Canadian climate change politics

-choosing the right course of study


6 thoughts on “Activists and Scientists

  1. ” think I would enjoy science conferences, rather than activism conferences, regarding climate change. How do you get into those if you’re not a scientist?”

    Students can attend AGU events. Example:

    You can also attend the Heartland Institute conference, but it’s required that you demonstrate that you believe global warming is a hoax. The only debates that go on there is over what non-human-induced cause is responsible for most recent global warming – Sun, ocean cycles, benthic bacteria, aliens, Al Gore speeches – anything is viewed as more plausible than human activities.

  2. “And deep thanks to the gentleman who came in at the very end to compliment me on my blog and apologize for having to miss the presentation.”

    That was me — I realized, after I left, that I hadn’t introduced myself! So to rectify: I’m Jorge Aranda, a PhD student in Computer Science at the University of Toronto. My advisor is Steve Easterbrook–he’s the one who mentioned your blog to me, initially– and I work with Jon Pipitone, who has been in touch with you as well.

    Anyway. I noticed the activist bent on Powershift as well, though I think that was the purpose of the conference. I didn’t mind that, but I did mind the trivialization of the issues (via polar bear costumes, kiddie dances and the like), which I think undermines the cause.

    Congratulations again on your talk, and I look forward to the video!

  3. My feeling is that scientists are, generally, horrible communicators. I can count the number of good science communicators from my days at Dal on one hand — although the knowledge they imparted is with me still — but I loved studying journalism at King’s.

    If we have to rely on logic and powerpoint presentations to effect political change, then all is lost.

    I don’t think polar bear suits are the way to go, but I’m absolutely convinced that we need to artists to help spread the message, with scientists providing the supporting arguments.

    And the pressure we need to exert on politicians needs to be relentless.

    Glad your talk was such a success!

  4. The problem with activism is that there are activists for almost every social issue. If people see climate change as a political activist issue more than a scientific issue, then the message is weaker.

    But we need activists to communicate the message, as long a science is part of the message.

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