Robert Watson, then and now: the former chair of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change who was removed by President George W. Bush in 2001
In May 2012 , Professor Sir Robert Watson FRS gave a very informative lecture at Oxford University, entitled:
Climate change and biodiversity loss – the importance of scientific assessments to national and international policy formation
The talk was sponsored by the Biodiversity Institute (which hosted me during my sabbatical time at Oxford this year), one of the interdisciplinary Oxford Martin Schools. It was important for several reasons.
First and foremost, Robert (Bob) Watson is an excellent example of a scientist who is actually well versed in the ways of anti-science politics. He gave a detailed explanation in his lecture of how evidence-based policy ought to be formulated. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment, of which he was co-chair provided a case study.
I was excited to be able to ask him my current standard question for colleagues in the science community:
“What can Canadian scientists based in Universities do to bring attention to the current anti-climate change science and anti-peer-reviewed research policies of the Harper government?”
Who is better placed to be asked this question than the man who was was pushed out of IPCC by George W. Bush in response to pressure from Big Oil? Was Robert Watson demoralized by his experience? Absolutely not – he’s dynamic, positive and inspirational. This makes him an important public voice in advocating for evidence-based policy. He has continued to serve in a series of high-level science-policy roles as well as being a professor at the University of East Anglia.
In responding to my question, Prof. Watson indicated that he is very up-to-date on the Harper government’s track record on Kyoto. He is also well aware of its gutting of Statistics Canada and of the political ideology driving this and other cuts. Why wouldn’t he be? He was, himself a victim of political ideology.
In a nutshell, he advised that scientists MUST go directly to the public to advocate for the importance of peer-reviewed research. So, scientists must invest in learning to not “be such a scientist” outside of their labs and field sites. (For most of my colleagues in the natural and physical sciences, I immediately thought “well, good luck with that – I really don’t see it happening!”).
I will end this post with the text of his 2000 speech to the COP 6 of the UNFCCC. I have bored many second year Ecology students (BIOL 2050) by reading chunks of it out loud during lectures, when I was teaching this course from 2000-2006….
It might be boring but it’s important – so much of it is coming to pass – WE WERE WARNED BY SCIENTISTS…
OK – on balance, perhaps it’s more fun to listen to Robert Watson in person, Dawn Bazely