BAMN Call to Action on the Environmental Crisis

The following statement was distributed at the December 2010 Convention of the American Geophysical Union at which BAMN member and astrophysicist Benjamin Lynch presented a workshop.

A Call to Action to the Scientists of the AGU

  • Stand on the Truth!

  • Arm the American People and the People of the World with the Plain Truth of Climate Change and Global Warming!

  • Break the Paralysis of Inaction – Demand that National and International Policies that can Prevent Global Catastrophe Be Enacted Now!

  • Build a New, Independent, Mass Environmental Movement of and for the Oppressed to Defend Our Science and to Fight for the Real Political Action Necessary to Solve the Environmental Crisis!

The science of climate change is in the grips of crisis. To defend the truth of science – which establishes well beyond any reasonable doubt that we are hurling our planet into a man?made disaster of epic proportion – we must become the champions of our own scientific research.No American who watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and, from the clear presentation of our science, understood that climate change and global warming are real phenomena that must be addressed, is suddenly convinced otherwise by some charlatan on Fox News who claims that global warming is a myth invented by the liberals to further their political agenda.

What is raising popular doubt about the severity, urgency, and consequences of climate change and global warming, has been our own ambivalence, hesitation, and incapacity to act as though we believe in the truth of our own scientific findings.

We must fundamentally transform ourselves and our understanding of what our contribution to society can and should be. We must become the boldest, most courageous, and most outspoken advocates and proponents for the social and political policies that can actually prevent the impending disaster.

We must become leaders. Monday’s Science and Policy Union Lecture entitled, Scientists, Science Advice, and Science Policy in the Obama Administration, defined the Obama administration’s commitment to science as appointing some reasonable number of prominent scientists to political positions in relevant federal agencies. Given the actual national and international policies being pursued by the Obama administration and the complete inability of these policies to address the climate change and the environmental crisis in any substantive or meaningful way, this supposed commitment to science amounts to nothing more than “hey, at least we’re not Creationists.” But we can draw some important lessons from the Creationists.

Faced with a similar Earth-changing cataclysm based on the arrogant unwillingness of human beings to change their behavior, Noah had the good sense to know that his most powerful argument in defense of his prediction was his own self-action. Unlike us, Noah could not defend his end-of-the world prediction of forty days and nights of rain by utilizing the scientific method, but he could act on the logic of what he needed to do to preserve Earth as he knew it. Noah built the Ark. He had his family gather up the pairs of animals. Noah led by example. He stood on what he knew to be true and acted on his beliefs.

When we stood up to the derision and threats from a Republican President and administration in Washington, the general public knew we were standing on principle. Since the Democrats have been in power, it now appears that we are thoroughly incapable of proceeding with the construction of a rowboat, let alone an Ark. The support we imagined existed among the rich and powerful turned out to be an illusion. This simple fact cannot be the reason to turn our backs on our science or to trade in our dignity for cynicism and despair.

When we first became scientists, we all dreamed of making that one incredibly brilliant scientific breakthrough or bold new discovery. Over the years, however, most of us have learned to settle for a comfortable life of modest discovery. Now, each and every one of us has the opportunity to become that revolutionary scientist. We do not need to discover or create some new and elaborate theory; we just need to arm a new movement with what it needs to save our planet. We have the opportunity to make a societal contribution of world-historic proportion.

We need to be who we were when chose science, people brave enough to seek the truth and bold enough to stake our lives on its dissemination.

Our science shows that if we maintain our current level of dependence on coal and other fossil fuels and refuse to implement broad and sweeping changes in our national and international climate change policies to curb CO2 emission, then millions of people – especially those who live in the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world – will perish.

We have beautiful and colorful maps and sophisticated numerical models to make this case very persuasively to the public. Too often we undercut the power of our own findings by pulling punches, sounding equivocal about outcomes that we know are certain and being too defensive. Instead of going on the offensive against the cynical, free-market ideologues and scientific-falsifiers who are paid by big business interests to lie to the American people, too many of us are weakening our own credibility by treating their “findings” as scientific work or legitimate criticism.

We need to make definitive statements on both the prognosis and what is required for successful treatment. If our science tells us that we need to drastically reduce  greenhouse gas emissions and the only realistic way to do this is a massive, world-wide transition away from fossil-fuel based energy toward renewable and sustainable energy sources that needed to be started yesterday, then we need to say that. If the only way to successfully implement this perspective requires a huge reallocation of resources – essentially a new global Marshall Plan – toward the development and construction of large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy systems and their infrastructure, and a new, unprecedented level of international cooperation, then that is what we need to be saying and that is what we need to be fighting for. Instead of adapting our solutions to what is currently palatable to the politicians and their corporate backers, we need to stick to our guns by always telling the simple truth.

Just because some of our funders remain convinced that if we produce better graphs, figures, or more elaborate models we can convince other rich and powerful elements that action is needed, there is no reason we must also adopt this view. The truth is we won the debate years ago. Our problem is that in the face of the economic crisis, the whole American ruling elite is united on the wrong, and in fact, insane, policy decision that it is too costly to fix the problem. The only way we can stop the destruction and devastation we all know is preventable is to turn away from our futile efforts to rationally persuade the elements in our society committed to irrationality and instead use our tremendous authority as scientists to empower the vast majority of the world’s people to fight for and win the rational policies needed to save our planet.

Our aim must be to depart from our ordinary practices and become builders and leaders of a new independent mass environmental movement. To win, this movement must be a real movement of the oppressed – those who have the greatest incentive to fight to stop the devastating effects of climate change.

It should be completely obvious to anybody who has seen a world map of projected climate change impacts for various emission scenarios that “business-as-usual” is a fundamentally racist policy that guarantees the black, Latina/o, Asian, and indigenous peoples of the world in Africa, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands will bear the full weight of the inevitable social and economic catastrophe.

Our movement must be anti-racist and should be modeled after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. What distinguished Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a leader was his unwavering commitment to telling the truth about racism and fighting for equality regardless of the political shifts that occurred in the nation or whether his political positions garnered more or less favor with the liberal elites of his time.

Our movement must be prepared to place the needs of humanity as a whole before the interests of any nation, class, or sector of the world.

The impact and consequences of man-made climate change are becoming an increasingly urgent part of the day-to-day experience of the vast majority of the world’s population. The occurrence of every natural disaster, every recordbreaking heat wave or cold snap, every major drought, new flood, or massive forest-fire raises the opportunity to tell the truth about climate change. The basic premise of our scientific profession is that there is truth and we can understand it. Our duty as scientists is to use our expertise to advance humanity’s knowledge and understanding of the world that we live in. We have an audience and that audience is desperately looking for answers.

The challenge posed to us is to make our science available and accessible to the general public, not just the American people but to the peoples of the entire world. We do not have to turn our scientific results into a “story” by dumbingdown the ideas or misrepresenting inherent model uncertainties. But we do have to de-mystify the science, avoid unnecessary jargon, and teach people how to think as scientists in order to elevate the value of the science itself.

We will need to shake off the commonly held belief, that in order to be good scientists, we must be politically “neutral”. Science has been political ever since Galileo was tried for speaking the truth. Every decision, from what research will be funded to what issues deserve investigation to which sectors of science grow or contract, is a political decision.

If we are committed to our science and using our science to empower the people who are most ready to act, then we can build an environmental movement strong enough and broad enough to smash through all the political impasse, deadlock, and the universal opposition of the ruling elite. Our individual contributions to the movement, as modest as they may be, can and will be the decisive factor.

There will be no shortage of mass struggle in the next period of history. If these struggles are armed with the understanding of the fundamental causes of global warming and the climate change crisis and a political program based firmly on what is needed to be done to save the planet, then not only will our movement be able to define which way forward for humanity’s continued development, but we will usher in an entirely new era of greater scientific freedom, technological innovation, and social progress.

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