Science on the precipice
Ten years ago, when I’d ask researchers why they didn’t speak out publicly about the climate crisis, they’d usually reply, “I don’t want to be seen as an activist.” They also told me it could be damaging to their scientific careers. I’d counter by asking, “Why would it be scary or activist to say you’re concerned on the basis of your scientific knowledge?” I must say there’s been a partial change in attitudes since then. Many leading scientists around the world are now speaking out about the danger of disruptive climate change, and some have even joined movements like Extinction Rebellion. I think everyone who understands the issues should speak out and raise major concerns. That also goes for the University as an institution. You can do that while you’re also working to develop solutions. We’ll have to push harder for change, because the political system and the government’s regulatory and legal machinery tend to be extremely slow and inert. It often takes a real disaster to force a breakthrough. For example, the Netherlands built the Delta Works after the 1953 flood disaster. Last year, we built an LNG terminal for imported liquefied natural gas in Groningen in less than a year. It normally takes six to eight years just to get a permit. We also need that kind of urgency when it comes to climate change. We need to follow the science and get things done now, rather than just sitting around waiting for disasters to happen.
Director of the Urgenda Foundation.
She received the first Alumnus of the Year Award in 2016 and is chair of the jury for this year’s award.