18 Scientists On What They Actually Think About Climate Change

Science communicator Joe Duggan asked several researchers working in climate science how they really felt about climate change. These quotes are excerpted from their answers.

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Professor Steven Sherwood, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science:


We face a problem that could be addressed with relatively minor shared sacrifices, but instead there is a mass effort to ignore, defer, deny, and lie. Knowing that it will fall mostly on our own children, and their kids. On the part of people – of a generation – who are farther from hardship than almost any in history.

Global warming doesn’t bother me as much as what it is revealing about humans. Maybe I need to just grow up and get over it!

But that won’t help my kids any.

Dr Alex Sen Gupta, University of New South Wales:


I feel frustrated. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. We know what’s going on, we know why it’s happening, we know how serious things are going to get and still after so many years, we are still doing practically nothing to stop it.

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Dr Jim Salinger, University of Auckland:


Having been on this journey now into my fifth decade it has been fascinating to see it develop from an academic study to be highly politicised. Leaders and politicians of countries ‘don’t get it’. It is now time for all of those who care to speak up and out to make a difference so that we change our ways for the future and those that can not yet speak.

I am always hopeful – but 4 to 5 degrees Celsius of change will be a challenge to survive.

Professor Gabi Hegerl, University of Edinburgh:


I am both fascinated by and frustrated by climate change. A lot of my working life is about studying climate change, and the way the climate system works is really fascinating to me. Understanding a little bit more over time is thrilling.

Then I look at my children and think about what I know is coming their way and I worry how it will affect them.

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Dr Helen McGregor, Australian National University:


I feel astonished that some would accuse me of being part of some global conspiracy to get more money – if I was in it for the money I would have stayed working as a geologist in the mining industry. No, I do climate research because I find climate so very interesting, global warming or not.

I feel both exasperation and despair in equal measure, that perhaps there really is nothing I can do. I feel vulnerable, that perhaps by writing this letter I expose myself to trolling and vitriol – perhaps I’m better off just keeping quiet.

Professor Mat Collins, Exeter University:


My research is concerned with making projections of climate change using complex climate models. I used to think that this research was somewhat hypothetical. We are answering questions like ‘What will the climate of the Earth be like if we follow this scenario of greenhouse gas emissions?’ I used to joke with my colleagues that we could publish our results in the ‘Journal of Unverifiable Science’.

It seems to me now that we are following these scenarios of ever-increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. Our projections of hypothetical scenarios might actually be tested.

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Professor David Griggs, Monash University:


I feel confused that many people seem unable to see what seems so obvious to me, that we need to act urgently on climate change.

I feel frustrated that those with the power to affect the transformation we need seem oblivious to the need to act.

I feel occasionally optimistic when I see progress in renewables or companies embracing sustainable practice.

I more often feel depressed when I think how much we need to do and how little time we have to tackle climate change.

I feel guilty about not achieving more to solve the problem and helplessness to know what more to do.

I feel a great sense of loss for the species that have become extinct on our watch and the many more we are set to lose.

I feel privileged to have worked with so many intelligent, hard working, ethical and thoroughly nice people who have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place.

But most of all I feel so very sorry for my children’s and my (hypothetical) grandchildren’s generation, for all the beautiful things in the world that they will miss.

Professor Corey Bradshaw, University of Adelaide:


My overwhelming emotion is anger; anger that is fuelled not so much by ignorance, but by greed and profiteering at the expense of future generations.

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Associate Professor Kevin Walsh, University of Melbourne:


I wish that climate change were not real.

This seems like a strange thing for a climate scientist to say, but it’s true.
If climate change were not real, we would not have to be concerned about it. We wouldn’t have to worry about the future of our water resources, already strained by over population. We wouldn’t have to worry about sea level rise increasing the flooding of our coastal cities and of low–lying, densely–populated areas of poor countries. Above all, we wouldn’t have to worry about climate change being yet another source of conflict in an already tense world.

Life would be so much simpler if climate change didn’t exist. But as scientists, we don’t have the luxury of pretending.

Dr Jennie Mallela, Australian National University:


In the last year I’ve become a mum and I’ve found myself looking at my son and wondering how I will justify the loss of so much beauty and diversity to him. My generation has the power to stop and even reverse this environmental demise, yet it is the next generation, my sons generation, who will bear the brunt of our choices and face the environmental and social consequences.

Professor Pramod Aggarwal, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security:


India, my home country, is home to nearly 20 percent of the world’s population, including 40 percent of the world’s poor. A key reason for this widespread poverty is that most parts of the country are very prone to climatic extremes, which regularly impact agricultural production and farmers’ livelihood. It is painful to see such a large number of our people, especially children, going hungry to bed for several days.

What is ironic that although these poor people are not contributing to climate change, they are the ones most affected by it.

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Dr Ailie Gallant, Monash University:


I feel nervous. I get worried and anxious, but also a little curious. The curiosity is a strange, paradoxical feeling that I sometimes feel guilty about. After all, this is the future of the people I love.

I get frustrated a lot; by the knowns, the unknowns, and the lack of action. I get angry at the invalid opinions that are all-pervasive in this age of indiscriminant information, where evidence seems to play second fiddle to whomever can shout the loudest. I often feel like shouting…

Associate Professor Katrin Meissner, University of New South Wales:


It makes me feel sick. Looking at my children and realizing that they won’t have the same quality of life we had. Far from it. That they will live in a world facing severe water and food shortages, a world marked by wars caused by the consequences of climate change.

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Dr Will Hobbs, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science:


The reality is that climate change is, almost certainly, not going to cause a Hollywood-style sudden apocalypse. It is best thought of as a ubiquitous, insidious process that will influence almost everything, sometimes in ways that are not at all obvious.

We need to stop thinking about the Doomsday and think instead of the Everyday.

Professor Andrew Pitman, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science:


In equal measure, climate change makes me feel frustrates that my community cannot overcome ignorance and apathy. I feel scared that I cannot trigger action. I feel scared about what the future brings. But most of all, to be honest, I feel challenged by the science, I feel invigorated by how bright my group is and I feel very lucky that each day brings new challenges to confront and sometimes to overcome.

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Emeritus Professor Tony McMichael, Australian National University:


It’s hard to imagine that people are doing so much damage to the natural world. It’s sad when a society like ours can’t see further than its bank balance and stumbles blindly into a future when children won’t be able to enjoy the flowing rivers, mountain snow, coloured birds and bush animals. Don’t we have any responsibility for other creatures, forests and rivers? I’m rather ashamed of our behaviour.

Professor Peter Cox, University of Exeter:


As an optimist, I am hopeful that we can solve the climate problem. It is a huge challenge because it requires international collaboration, and for people to act on behalf of others. But that also means that tacking climate change could be a catalyst to develop a much better relationship between humans and the environment, and a more just and connected global humanity.

Professor Michael E. Mann, Pennsylvania State University:


Well that’s tough. You see, I feel several conflicting emotions. I feel concern, bemusement, frustration, disgust, anger, and hope. Yes, most of all, I feel hope.

How do you feel? Share your own letter on Twitter and follow @ITHYF_Letters to see others.

See the full handwritten letters from scientists here.

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Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
 
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