Pollution, Politics And Practicality: Where Do The Scientists Fit In?

Wind turbine (small).jpg It’s a big distance from the mythical Northlands of Noggin the Nog, to the brutal facts of global warming, but Noggin’s creator, Oliver Postgate, is doing his bit to help. The next step is to try to understand the realities of the complex connections between science, politics and people. Then we really shall begin to see how to establish sustainable living, and how to deliver on the ground what we know in theory is required.
Oliver Postgate is a name which takes me back many years….. it turns out because he’s the author of the wonderful Sagas of Noggin the Nog which were so enjoyed by us all at a point where little bedtime stories featured large in our lives.

But now Mr Postgate is appearing in another guise, in The Guardian advertisements (the latest on 16 October), bringing news of potential environmental doom for our planet.
Good for Oliver Postgate. He has seen how urgent is the task of acting to control (or hopefully reverse) environmental damage, and he is doing something about it. This position may be a very long way from the gentle Northlands of Noggin the Nog, but, in the real world we actually live in, where Oliver Postgate now finds himself is an extremely apposite and important place to be. If Al Gore can go there, why not, I ask quite sincerely, also Oliver Postgate?
Science and politics
I’m one hundred percent with Mr Postgate in his assertion that:
As nobody can pretend to know for certain what is going to happen to the climate, the only safe and sensible thing to do is to deal with it now.
But I’m not sure Oliver Postgate is also correct when he tells us that:
The present government has been making a show of tackling [environmental issues], but the task it has given to its scientists is not simply to find a way to end global warming – they could do that at once – but to do so “without cuttimg either our economic growth or our living standards”.
As these are the two main causes of global warming, this task does, as they say: ‘present some difficulties’ in that, from among the many different specultaive predictions on offer, the scientists are being expected to seek and select, as definitive, the most ‘politically practical’.

A confusion somewhere?

To unpick all the understandings in these two brief statements would take some while. Questions of scientific direction, funding, feasibility, cost, the connections between science and government and, ultimately, political deliverability would all need to be examined in a way which is beyond even a detailed weblog posting. Each of these is an enormous topic in its own right.
Perhaps we shall return to these themes in the future.
Political reality
But there a few matters which we can address immediately. These are:
1. Scientists advise government, on the basis of the best available evidence. Their reputations depend on giving guidance which will withstand the scrutiny of both their colleagues and wider stakeholders. It is important to accept and endorse scientists’ professional independence.

2. What is done by government with scientific advice is a political, not a scientific, matter. The grim reality is that politicians can only take forward policies which, even after they have factored in leadership, example, costs and so forth, still seem to have a chance of success, of being accepted by the voting public.
3. We can all, therefore, help the Government by letting them know we really and truly want to see global warming reversed (or at least arrested) and, critically, that we are also genuinely willing both to take the consequences, and to argue the toss with others who resist this challenge to their routine and expectations.
4. To do this we would have to stop just cynically criticising politicians who want to do more but believe it would be political suicide, and start having the courage to praise them for what they are already doing right. Not a cool thing to do, but nonetheless essential if we sincerely want to see real progress.
What to do now?

So who’s up for it? The spirit of Oliver Postgate’s Noggin the Nog, a good and cheerful childhood example for anyonel, will surely be with us if we choose positively to help bring about the difficult political changes required.
In the meantime we need to remember that scientists have shown change is incremental. We may not be doing absolutely everything right in our own eco-lives, but doing what we can to reverse damage keeps the issues very much alive, and is a lot better than doing nothing.
As one significant, successful but not always best loved trader keeps reminding us, Every Little does indeed Help.

Posted on October 28, 2006, in Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Science Politics And Policy, Sustainability As If People Mattered. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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