It won’t matter unless and until physical scientists leverage expertise outside of their silos and stop executing failed strategies. In addition to summary after summary of government sanctioned peer-reviewed scientific conclusions, scientists now think they need to report on the perceived consensus on individual bases of those conclusions in order to spur the public to action. Regardless of their personal political leanings, scientists are very conservative job actors. They have long-held traditions that are upheld at every turn, which reduces the urgency of their statements. As an analogy, think of a bunch of people sitting down who think for long time periods before any action is ever taken. First, they calmly say there is a situation that requires near-immediate action. Then they say it a little louder. Then a handful start yelling because you’re not responding to their carefully crafted words and they think that you just didn’t hear them or you just aren’t smart enough to understand those carefully crafted words. Then they start screaming because they’re convinced you’re an idiot and screaming will definitely work where yelling and saying those words didn’t work before.
Well, the screaming isn’t helping, is it? You’re not an idiot. The volume of words isn’t the issue. The issue is you are motivated by things outside of the climate realm – things like having a job; a job that pays a living wage so you can pay for your mortgage and car payment and keep your children educated and happy. An existence in an affluent world that allows you the time and energy to think of complex problems beyond your perceived immediate needs. If those needs aren’t met – if you have insecure affluence – you place climate change and the environment far down on a list of priorities – just like a majority of other Americans.
But the newly released “American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society with a membership of 121,200 scientists and “science supporters” globally” report won’t change this dynamic. While it is important that the AAAS engages scientists and the society it serves, this report is unfortunately just the latest effort by a group of physical scientists that ignores science results outside of their discipline to try to convince Americans that immediate and drastic action is necessary. Like previous efforts, this one will not spur people to action, mostly because the actions listed are about limits, stopping, restricting, reversing, preventing, and regulating. The conceptual model from which these words arise works in direct contrast to the fundamentals of American culture. We are a people who are imaginative, who innovate, who invest.
As I have written before, there is no way we will achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions without substantial investment into innovation of new technologies that we research, develop, and deploy at scale. There is nothing limiting or restrictive about this framework. It it the opposite of those things. This framework recognizes and sets out to achieve opportunities; it allows for personal and cultural growth; it is in sync with the underlying cultural fabric of this country. It directly addresses people’s perception of the security of their affluence in the same way that developing countries’ economic growth allows people to move beyond basic material needs to higher order needs.
The reality of insecure affluence among many Americans today might be an indirect outcome of the 1%’s efforts to increase wealth disparity, but it is real. We have to address that disparity first in order to address the real, valid perceptions of insecure affluence. Only after Americans feel their personal wealth is secure will they have the resources to devote to higher order needs such as global climate change. That can happen with concerted focus on investing and innovating a post-carbon economy. But you won’t see that at the top of any policy prescription from the majority of climate scientists.