Thursday 16 April 2020

Climate Science & Ecosocialism - the changing of public perception

Written by Malcolm Bailey

Extreme weather patterns, fires across Australia, ocean and air pollution, decimation of the rain forests, plastic waste, melting of polar ice, loss of species diversity and other environmental degradations have recently shocked the public imagination, especially the young. Human caused climate change and global warming now meet growing public understanding and recognition of impending catastrophe.

The public mood is changing. Climate and environmental science is respected, in contrast to distrust of politicians and anger at ‘fake news’. President Trump and anti-science lobbies are seen as mistaken whilst recognition of climate change is founded on evidence from decades of research by scientists. Our confidence in what is happening to the global climate is testimony to the power of scientific methodology.

This positive view of science has spread beyond environmental science. This evidence-based view is of intrinsic benefit. Public interest in nuclear and particle physics has waned despite the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson discovery, but enthusiasm, excitement and wonder at amazing planetary exploration and merging black holes is growing. Advances in biology and medicine yield new approaches to treating disease.

Inevitably there are areas of disquiet, conspiracy theorists are still active. New 5G networks generate health fears which are not supported by adequate scientific evidence commanding scientific consensus, however, surveillance issues go mostly unchallenged, and AI and robotics concern many. Some still distrust vaccines but the importance of facts, rigorous science and evidence-based policies is widespread and growing.

Applied science and technology can be a scourge or boon for humankind, and it’s important to recognise the difference between them. Scientific theories must be falsifiable, and scientists accept that favoured theories may be wrong. Science is the organised attempt by humankind to discover how things work. Waddington [1] has defined the scientific attitude of mind as an interest in such questions. Science is not neutral. Scientists have a social and ethical responsibility to speak out on human behaviour.

Climate science has moved forward driven and coordinated internationally since 1988 by the work of the United Nations agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The remit of the IPCC is to report on the ‘scientific and technical information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation’ [2].  Thousands of scientists contribute to IPCC reports,

Professor Myles Allen, lead author of the recent IPCC ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C’ has explained [3] what the 12 year scenario means: there is between a 1-in-2 and 2-in-3 chance of keeping global warming below 1.5° C if emissions are reduced to around half their present (2018) level by 2030: ‘Climate change is not so much an emergency as a festering injustice: it means we have to act now, and even if we do, success is not guaranteed’.

The New Scientist [4] comments that ’thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg, public acceptance of the basic science of climate change, and awareness of the dangers it poses, has, of late, grown hugely across the globe, even in parts that were previously resistant, such as the US ….  the world seems to be waking up to the need for radical action on this and other serious environmental challenges.’

Yet there is failure to act on climate change and progress the Paris Agreement of 2015. There are obstacles and struggles, shown internationally by the tortuous progress of the annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP) meetings, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which receives the IPCC science reports.

The latest COP25, last December, emphasised the difficulties. The 27,000 delegates conferred for a record two weeks plus, but there was no overall consensus. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, ‘the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis’. Even the latest IPCC science reports were merely ‘noted’ rather than ‘welcomed’ – a feeble response. Greta Thunberg told the plenary session that COP25 ‘seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes’.

The New Scientist [4] states ‘Even when it comes to climate change, undoubtedly the defining issue of the coming decade, there are grounds for cautious optimism that we can pull together to stave off catastrophe’. But where? The present global economic system depends on endless growth. Governments appear to act with a misplaced confidence in the capacity of a greener capitalism to solve the climate and social justice crises. It’s an unconvincing prescription of greenwash, techno-fix and ecomodernism.

Ecosocialism identifies and indicts capitalism as the enemy of nature (5), bringing together social justice and environment crises, linked and interacting. The fundamental significance of this linkage must be recognised, based on analysis underpinned by a scientific, evidence-based approach, forming the foundation of a rational response to the crises. Sometimes the current economic system appears impregnable and permanent, but it has intrinsic stresses which will become ever more tested under the deepening global environmental and social justice crises. 


1          Waddington, C.H., 1941, The Scientific Attitude, Pelican

2          IPCC,

4          New Scientist, 2019

5          Joel Kovel:  The Enemy of Nature, Zed Books, 2007

Malcolm Bailey is a member of Luton and Bedfordshire Green party and the Chair of Green Left

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