GREEN

Here's What Happened When A Climate Scientist Went To A Pub To Argue With Deniers

Something magical happens when people see a human rather than a scientist.

20/06/2017 2:28 PM AEST | Updated 23/06/2017 8:18 AM AEST
YouTube

So a climate scientist walks into a pub...

It sounds like the first line of a bad joke. But it's not. It's reality. Dr Tamsin Edwards has actually been to the pub to engage with climate science sceptics on numerous occasions.

Why?

Because Edwards, a British climate modeller and lecturer in environmental sciences, believes that "it's so much harder to demonise and dismiss someone when you understand that they're going through the same kind of things as a human, the same struggles".

"They might find it hard to get out of bed in the morning, they might not feel confident in their job, they might be an insomniac like I am, they might like doing the same sports as you do," she says.

Her point being: if you find a little common ground, it's a lot easier to talk about, well, anything.

Edwards is the fifth climate scientist in HuffPost Australia's Breaking The Ice series -- in which we profile the people behind the climate science -- and to be frank, we couldn't wait to get hold of her.

Our series is all about humanising the climate scientists. It's about saying hey, before you blindly dismiss their work, understand who they are as people.

"And of course it goes both ways," she told HuffPost Australia on the podcast.

"It's been incredibly powerful for me to go and have a beer or a cup of tea with climate sceptics, to find out what they're like as humans, just so you can then bring the conversation to a more normal level, less of a mudslinging bun fight aggressive sort of thing.

"I've found it's incredibly powerful just to listen a bit, and usually there's something really powerful in making people feel heard."

Edwards attended a talk recently where research was tabled showing that the further away someone is from the group, the more the brain sees that person as an object.

"You literally dehumanise them," she says.

There's a strong argument that's exactly what some people do when they label scientists "warmists" or "alarmists". It's easy to create an "us and them" narrative when the "them" are not personally known to you.

But when people actually meet a climate scientist, and when they discover that the research is not being done to cash in on exorbitant grants, and that scientists are genuinely worried about the liveability of planet earth, they often change their tune.

As a climate modeller, Edwards deals with the side of climate science which is most difficult to sell -- namely, its downstream effects.

That humans are causing warming at an unprecedent rate is disputed only by those with an ideological anti-science barrow to push. But no one knows for sure what happens next.

How much do oceans rise? Exactly how fast is the world warming? What else is happening in the incredibly complicated interface between the land, the atmosphere and the oceans that could threaten our cities and towns, our food security and our very ability to live?

That's where people like Edwards come in.

YouTube

"Climate is all about probability," she says. "By definition you cannot pin it down to a single number. But on the balance of things, it's more of a risk than it's going to be a benefit."

Unlike some of the scientists in our series like Michael Mann -- who in episode 1 urged Donald Trump to take renewable energy policy seriously -- Edwards stops short of prescribing action for politicians in the face of climate change.

She's all about tabling the facts, rather than telling people what to do about them.

"As scientists, we cannot determine the values of society," she says. "We can only talk about our expertise and feed that into the conversation."

Tamsin Edwards has the knack of feeding conversations on both the global and individual scale -- more often that not, washed down with a lovely pint of British ale.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST AUSTRALIA

More On This Topic