Reply From Chris Rapley Regarding His Nature Article

I invited Chris Rapley to reply to my post

A Comment On The Nature Article – “Time To Raft Up- Climate Scientists Should Learn From The Naysayers And Pull Together To Get Their Message Across, Says Chris Rapley”

He has graciously responded and, with his permission, I am posting below.

Dear Roger,

I am thankfully somewhat recovered. I am still on overseas travel, though (and will be for a couple of weeks), and not able to access the references you cite in your blog, which I will read with interest on my return. In the meantime, I would make the following observations:

(i) I agree completely that human greenhouse gas emissions are only part of the climate change story, and that climate change is only a subset of the broader issue of human disturbance of the Earth system. The paper by Rockstrom et al “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity” attempts to explore these issues. Similarly, global average near-surface temperature (which is in any case a physically meaningless variable) is only one part of the story of the Earth’s energy imbalance . And so I agree that as a community, by seeking to simplify, and hence by focussing attention on CO2 emissions and surface temperatures at the expense of a more balanced narrative, we have (i) left ourselves in the awkward position should policy makers address and deal with CO2 emissions of then having to say – “oh and by the way, there are these other issues too”, which is understandably unwelcome and unlikely to engender confidence and trust. And (ii) opened up a flank to be exploited by those with ill!

-intent to play games over detail – about surface temperature issues or the un-amplified impact of CO2 emissions, to knowingly draw debate into fruitless cul-de-sacs.

(ii) You argue that this has hindered progress in persuading policy makers to define and execute policy measures. You may well be right (though see below). But in my view, the main reason that decarbonising humanity hasn’t progressed very well is that it is really hard to achieve! We essentially have a global civilisation of 7bn people supported by infrastructure and processes based (unwittingly) on a false assumption … that we can extract and burn fossil-fuels limitlessly without consequence! So we have landed ourselves with 100y of investment in what is turning out to be a stranded asset. That would be tough enough, though not impossible, to deal with. But layered on top, as an obstacle to even begin a serious attempt to move forward, are the misunderstandings / rejections / dismissals / deliberate misleadings / ideological and political polarisations that I was writing about in my article. And my experience is that those barriers to progress are getting higher, as res!

ult of a combination the actions of a well-organised “dismissive” campaign, and an inept response from the climate community. Hence my thoughts and rallying cry.

(iii) In my article I say: “We climate scientists ? from disciplines both natural and social ? need to align our purpose, re-establish our legitimacy, identify and understand our target audiences and decide how best to express our message. ” In an earlier draft, I am pretty sure I also had “need to … agree our message ….” – and in the light of your criticism, I regret that somehow that dropped out. I see this exchange as a key part of that process – addressing the questions “What is our message? What should we focus on? How best should we frame it?”

(iv) Finally, an anecdote. Nearly twenty years ago, when I was Executive Director of IGBP, I complained to a very senior official inn the European Commission that framing the issue as “Climate Change” was too narrow, and that we should adopt “Global Change” as more appropriate. He had been very successful at engaging political interest and attention to the issue, and was alarmed at the prospect. He said: “it’s taken me years to get the politicians to respond to the phrase “climate change” – but now they do. If you change it to “Global Change” it will sow confusion and undermine all that good work. The use of “global change” never took off!

Feel free to use extracts from the above (or all of it) on your blog if you think it would be helpful.

Best regards,


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