An interview with Thomas Stocker, chair of Working Group 1 of the IPCC

On June 7th I had the pleasure to interview one of the world’s leading climatologists, Dr. Thomas Stocker. We spoke about how climate science is taught at institutions like UBC.  Of particular interest to the Terry Project are Dr. Stocker’s views on the narrow disciplinary focus of university departments. If we wish to tackle this multifaceted issue, we need to properly appreciate the interplay between the sciences and the humanities. The article appears in this week’s Ubyssey, and is shown below:

On Tuesday June 7, the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions—an initiative spearheaded by the University of Victoria in collaboration with UBC, Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern British Colubmia—hosted Dr Thomas Stocker for a lecture on the science of climate change at the SFU Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver.

Stocker, billed “the world’s leading authority on climate change,” is co-chair of Working Group 1 of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leading a team of over 250 of the world’s most respected climatologists.

The lecture, entitled ‘Climate Change: Why do we know that we know,’ gave a comprehensive account of how the scientific community came to a consensus on the fundamental science of climate change. Echoing the landmark 2007 IPCC study, Stocker said that the science is clear, and “warming in the climate system is unequivocal.”

Other interests have skewed the debate. Stocker decried those who highlight small segments of data to hide the larger trend in global temperature rise.

When asked about how well the general public understands the science, Stocker claimed that the natural sciences are under-appreciated from early childhood through university. “There is a tendency in this society to devaluate or depreciate the value of the natural sciences at a very early age,” argued Stocker. “Natural sciences are not very popular subjects if you compare them to others like economics or law.”

Stocker lamented how the narrow “strongly disciplinary thinking” of each faculty in the education system makes it “very difficult” to properly understand the interplay between the science and the politics of climate change.

He suggested that one way to bridge the gap between natural sciences and humanities is to think in terms of dollar signs: “If we can associate our decisions with clear numbers of what it costs and what it will cost in the future, the situation will be different.”

Stocker also expressed his deep disappointment with the Alberta tar sands.

“For a country like Canada, with the potential that you have, with the technological opportunities that you have…you could have done much much more, you could have actually shown the way. You’ve failed,” he said, before adding, “so far.”

He hesitated to call Canada “the bad guy,” but he argued that the country had missed an opportunity to invest in renewable energies that could induce a technological revolution.

On how to push for change, Stocker urged the crowd not to wait for politicians to act. He claimed that students of both the humanities and the natural sciences will have important roles to play as ambassadors for the scientific consensus.

“In a democratic country like Canada, it’s in your hands.”

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Gordon Katic (@gordonkatic) has been student coordinator for the Terry Project for over two years, and in that time started BARtalk, and the Terry Project on CiTR 101.9FM. A former Ubyssey columnist, and now a student at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, Gordon is trying to use journalism to tell important stories about global issues.