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Dr Rashmi Misra: Labour's failure to explain the science of climate change is to blame for public scepticism on the issue

Picture 23 Dr Rashmi Misra is a scientist and senior manager at a multinational blue-chip company where she received its 2009 Strategic Business Impact Award for promoting new business lines. She holds six international patents in telecoms and is the Director of the Cheltenham Conservative Business Forum and on the approved list of Conservative parliamentary candidates.

The past few weeks have undoubtedly been terrible for those working for positive change in man’s actions towards our planet and pretty awful on scientists and our opinion of them too. However, it is worth putting the "Climate-gate" incident into context.

Whatever the motives and real actions of these researchers (and we will only learn of the truth after the current enquiries), we must remember that this is one research programme out of thousands across the globe. The evidence for climatic change, global warming and the significance of man’s direct connection to it has been prolific and well-analysed by countless studies from all parts of the world ranging from atmospheric data, rising sea-levels to analysis of varied human illnesses and rogue weather formations. A lot of the data has covered specific parts of the holistic system looking at several variables and relying on experienced scientific and mathematical extrapolation to the entire system dynamic. Other studies have depended on collaboration from similar studies being performed at distinct locations in the world.

In all worthy cases, the research is scrutinised and reviewed by reputable peer groups before publication.  Climate change science is very robust whichever way you look at it. This research has been available for journalists, pressure groups, charities and governments, amongst others, to grasp, understand and translate in order to promote awareness of the difficult issues, provide forums for debate and to action positive change.

Note, importantly, that the policies should not come from the scientists, journalists and bloggers but in fact should come from government once it has substantiated the research, consulted with public opinion and translated it to a vision of the community, society and its future.

It therefore disappoints me that following the fiasco at the University of East Anglia, not only have those who obviously benefit from the removal of the prominence of green agenda - for example oil and gas companies and Saudi Arabia - come forward with their strong arguments of climate change denial, but more worryingly that up to 40% of the UK do not believe that man is causing a large proportion of the climate change occurring in our world today (according to the latest Populus poll). We cannot simply cast blame on this segment of society that does not believe. We must look instead to the dialogue, or more importantly to the lack of inclusive dialogue, in UK society on this important topic. 

For the past decade, despite its prominence on the world stage, calls from the poorer nations of the world, the UN and even David Cameron’s push on this topic since the Spring of 2006, this Government has chosen to ignore this important topic in British life, choosing to deal with it on a more international level where perhaps they felt they would benefit from divided opinion. Percentages of carbon intensity and emissions combined with pledges that are several years out may seem in many ways the easier part of government obligation.

More challenging is the domestic conversation of how climate change research, conversation and obligations translate to a vision of life in ten or twenty years for British households - real lives that count and those that will ultimately make the difference. Put together with other very closely related issues of food and energy security, this is a very complex area and all segments of society should be included in this conversation. Our Government has chosen to avoid this debate, hoping that it can drive changes through the direct application of science to legislation. That leaves us open to a situation where one single set of disputed data is able to sway vast swathes of people to ignore the irrefutable trends and turn into climate sceptics.

Let’s leave researchers to their science please and let’s have government drawing the multifarious strands of this complex debate together, translating the impact of socio-economic factors and using the debate to help the average household to see pragmatic, affordable methods of making a difference and becoming part of the new green economy. While there is a wages, taxes and services squeeze, the importance of a meaningful and inclusive narrative around climate change has never been greater in order to engage the public. Without this we will inevitably see the climate change debate being a privilege for the green apostles whilst increasing numbers of people claim to be sceptics or remain at the fringes of the climate debate.

Ultimately, whether the word “trick” was used by the East Anglian researchers as commonly used scientific jargon for a mathematical challenge, or was used to denote a malicious deception, we cannot currently tell. But we cannot just blame the scientists or the average citizen who is a sceptic. Government needs to run the debate, government needs to keep a pulse on the science, and most importantly government needs to set the policy. At best, science can only mould the political agenda. If translating science is too tricky, Mr Brown and the Labour Government should take the blame themselves for not being able to convey the meaningful arguments and for not providing this country with an honest, inclusive climate debate.

Hopefully, a future Conservative government will strive to bridge the widening gap between the increasingly complex scientific understanding and its awareness both within the parliament itself and the general population.


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