New Science, Same Old Social Problems
21 May 2013 - Impact Hub

Last Thursday evening I heard one of my long-time heroes speak at LSE: Professor James Hansen, climatologist and till this year, leader of NASA’s Goddard Institute.  Over the last decade he has been a vanguard for the climate movement, testifying to congress in 1988 on the evidence for climate change, calling out the media for misrepresentation and advocating in support of climate campaigners.
Hanson’s recent book Storms of My Grandchildren, explains the journey he has taken from quiet scientist to a frontline activist, familiar with being put in handcuffs and currently launching a law suit against the US Government on behalf of future generations.
In his lecture Hansen shared some of the latest terrifying research showing both the extremity of climate feedback mechanisms, and also the formidable amount of un-burnt fossil fuels we currently have on the books in reserve (see the work of the Carbon Tracker Initiative for more information).
What struck me from his talk was not the science but the questions contributed by the audience.  I heard the familiar pang of anxious despair in queries about the usefulness of protest, about the role of the media, about communicating science, about engaging wider audiences, about personal responsibility… ultimately the same old social questions we’ve been stuck on for the last three decades!
Despite being at the forefront of both the science and climate activism, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed about Hansen’s responses to some of these wider system change questions.  Of course my disappointment is totally unfair, because you can’t expect a scientist to also be a social change expert.  But if Hansen’s UK tour was any longer, I would have loved to invite him over to the HUB to meet some of the bubbling social innovation projects that are already creating that change: Carbon Culture, LOCO2 and The People Who Share just to mention a few of our favourites.
I would also have loved to share our fledgling work on sustainability at HUB Islington.  As I have witnessed over the last couple of years, some of the most profound change happens not in the political arena or by personal sacrifice, but at an organisational level where positive cultures can be developed and shared purpose realised.
These social solutions are still fairly hidden amongst the mix of climate tools, which is a shame as we seem to keep rehearsing similar tired political and personal responsibility discussions.  But as the social entrepreneur movement grows, I am excited to see the flourishing of a diverse and new set of answers to questions like “how do we reach broader audiences on climate change?”