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A recent headline in The Guardian stated that 11,000 scientists are warning of unprecedented suffering as a result of climate change. In fact, since the year 2000, a total of 260,000 scientific articles have been published about climate change. Science is urging us to act now, but little is being done with this knowledge. How should scientists react to this?

Federico Savini works as an Environmental Planner at the University of Amsterdam. On 11 December, at the SPUI25 in Amsterdam, he is organising a debate on the meaning of academic practices in times of ecological crisis. Why has this topic been chosen?

260,000 scientific articles

An analysis of Web of Science, an international database containing nearly all scientific articles published worldwide, shows just how much knowledge we already have access to. Since the year 2000, a total of 260,000 scientific articles have been published on topics around climate change.

The first publication on global warming even dates back to more than 250 years ago. As early as 1820, the famous French physicist Joseph Fourier made the connection between why the earth was so warm and the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities.

The social sciences percentage

Of this total number of articles, around 2% comes from geography and social sciences: a clear minority, in other words. At the same time, knowledge about topics such as ethical issues, human behaviour, legal aspects and social justice is crucial to the ecological problem, and comes largely from these fields. ‘But two per cent is still 5,200 articles. That’s quite a lot’, Savini says.

The theme is also a major item on funding agendas

In addition to the wealth of scientific knowledge we already have, large research funders such as the European Commission are increasingly including the themes of climate and sustainability in their programmes. Also governments themselves are investing in initiatives like round-table climate discussions and think tanks to generate new knowledge and facts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, a United Nations organisation, is paid by governments to evaluate the risks of climate change. For its 2013 report alone, the IPCC involved 830 lead authors, 1,000 scientific contributors and 2,000 expert reviewers.

‘We have a tremendous amount of knowledge on the topic’

Savini therefore states that one thing is very clear: we have a tremendous amount of knowledge on the topic. But then, why do policymakers barely use any of this knowledge?

A debate on the role of social scientists

Taking a critical look at scientists’ own practice as well, Savini wonders how they can best respond to the inadequate use of their knowledge: does it make sense to keep adding knowledge in the same form and through the same channels, or do we need to drastically change our methods?

‘The climate will not wait for us’

Savini is therefore organising a debate on 11 December that will focus on three questions:

  1. Do we as scientists, and social scientists in particular, need to make a radical change, or do we need to get better at what we're doing?
  2. If we need to make a drastic change, how should we approach that? If 'all' we need to do is improve, how will we do that?
  3. How fast does this have to happen? ‘The climate is certainly not waiting for us’, Savini says.

Debate participants

The debate participants are:

  • Albert Faber, senior policy adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy.
  • Bert Metz, Dutch expert on climate policy and former co-chair of the IPCC.
  • Joyeeta Gupta, professor of Environment and Development in the Global South at the University of Amsterdam.
  • Miriam Meissner, sociologist at Maastricht University and environmental activist.
  • Ernst Jan Kuiper, earth scientist at Utrecht University and member of Extinction Rebellion.

The general public is also invited to participate in the discussion.

We will issue a report on the debate shortly after 11 December.

dr. F. (Federico) Savini

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

GPIO : Urban Planning