It is of course always nice when your topic get more attention. But in terms of funding and the way we can work, I cannot say it is positive. The positive effect has been earlier—20-30 years ago when people first became interested in the climate question. But during the last 10 years, research has become more and more scheduled, even from the science foundations. There is less room for fundamental research—but this is not only the case for climate science. Compared to 30 years ago, there is more mistrust from the side of politics, that scientists would not do things that are useful for society. The views, the way society looks at science in general, have really narrowed (this holds for culture as well, by the way).
During the last years, climate research has moved extremely into the focus of politics. Decisions of huge impact are made. Nicholas Stern (London School of Economics) has estimated that reaching even moderate goals for the reduction of CO2 emission will cost at least 1% of the global Gross National Product.
How does the transfer from knowledge and assessments from science to politics happen? What is your experience?
My personal experience is not too good. I was in fact involved in the IPCC assessments from the beginning, I participated in the first three reports (1990-2001). It started with fairly direct connections from scientists to politicians, but then there came what I call "Climatogracy": There are large groups, even at universities, that specialize in translating the scientific results of climate research for the policy makers. And then they summarize and they summarize the summaries. I thinks this happens in a time in which we anyhow have got a ''consulting culture'' in politics. When politicians need advice on some topic, they go to a consulting bureau and pay them a lot of money.
And is it worth the money? Are your results transferred correctly to the politicians?
No, not at all. I think the IPCC is still the best we have. It has been criticized a lot, sometimes with reason. But there is no organization like that, that could work without criticism. The IPCC is still fairly unique. But all the initiatives on the more national and local scales are completely useless. We have some groups here in the Netherlands that claim the IPCC reports are too conservative about the sea level rise, a statement based on only a few publications on glaciers and Greenland. So they say: well, lets do it our self and they established this Delta commission and so on. This is useless, rubbish.
Many people are involved, it a huge machine. But the number of scientists that look at fundamental processes in the climate system is very small compared to the number of people that do something with their results. Its a pyramid upside down. Once, I talked about that to our minister and said: Why are you asking these consulting bureaus for advice about climate problems? If you are worried about the Greenland ice sheet—we are working there, we have a good track record. If you need information, phone me and within a week I will write down in 2 pages, what I think is the state of scientific knowledge. And you do not even have to pay me since you are already paying me.
Would you go as far as saying that politicians are receiving wrong information about climate science?
It is not a question of right or wrong, it is the color. Once, I had people here from the USA, asking for scientific results, I call that ''shopping''. The asked me for data about glaciers. I gave them results on 200 glaciers and they selected the 20 glaciers that did not retreat and made a story out of that. They knew from the beginning what they wanted, they were just collecting suitable arguments.
All these groups from the advisory and consulting business have a lot of influence. But they do not produce anything useful. It would be the responsibility of politics to recognize this and go back to the more direct lines. I think on the global scale this is the central problem of climate science. Science has a minor role, the consulting bureaus select results the like.
But I do not fight against this anymore, you cannot win and it takes all your time. I try to write decent scientific publications. When politics do not check the quality of the people they ask for advice—then it is over.
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