Friday, September 20, 2013

There’s no such thing as a climate scientist

     Here in Australia, the new Coalition government, which won office on a head-in-the-sand approach to climate change, is busy dismantling all of the federal early warning and advisory bodies on climate.  There are snide gloating remarks floating around the internet to the effect that the climate scientists have been exposed, and that the conservatives need to cut the dole before these fake scientists can get any more government money. However, these ungracious comments also suffer from factual deficits.  There are no climate scientists; there are only earth scientists who study climate.
     A person who understands the physical and chemical tools that allow us to understand the Earth system can apply those tools to whatever knowledge suits their fancy.  I know el Niño experts who started out on gold mines, and frakkers who stared out studying el Niño.  I know isotope specialists and paleontologists who have applied their skills to both ocean heat uptake and oil & gas exploration.  Even Tim Flannery, the recently sacked chief of the climate commission, had a career in vertebrate paleontology. 
       So you don’t need to worry- or gloat- that the end of climate funding will mean these climate scientists will have nowhere else to go.  Sure, they will be disruptions, but the same skills that make them good at climate will let them pursue other Earth Science goals, or other careers that value the ability to constrain complex systems with limited and unusual data.  Many of these folks may even stay in climate, generating predictions that inform insurance companies who to raise rates on, or hedge funds who to divest out of.

    So the recent shuttering of government climate organizations will not mean the end of climate scientists, or even of climate science.  It simply means that Australians as a whole will no longer be the beneficiaries of their immense talents.

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