UQBS Professor Härtel joins in call to change mindset

17 Aug 2010
People can't wait for scientists to find a climate change solution, but need to look differently at themselves, their aspirations and beliefs, a leading thinker says. Renowned climate and energy futures scientist Dr Graeme Pearman says people have created a "non-sustainable condition" which small technological advances will not change. People could not wait for scientists to fix the problem, but instead needed to embrace a new direction aimed at ensuring a more sustainable future, Dr Pearman said. "This involves fundamental ideas about how we view ourselves, our aspirations and ideas of success" he said. "(It involves) the nature of governments and institutions, religious and cultural beliefs and so on." Dr Pearman has joined forces with The University of Queensland's social scientist Professor Charmine Härtel in calling for an urgent change of mindset. Professor Härtel said no one single branch of science could come up with all the answers to combat climate change, so scientists needed to work together. Social scientists needed physical scientists to come up with the technology and breakthroughs to assist in countering climate change issues in a range of areas, she said. In turn, physical scientists needed social scientists to help explain the relevance of their work to the public and ensure their findings helped government, business and environmental groups, she said. Dr Pearman said both sides had solutions for countering climate change, success would only be ensured with co-operation between experts and help from people around the world. "Behavioural science already has substantial knowledge that would help us understand why we are in the predicament and how to get out of it. "Social and behavioural scientists have a role to play in understanding what causes greenhouse gas emissions and how behavioural and institutional change can be encouraged. "What physical scientists such as myself can offer is very limited. "Physical scientists will continue to fail to induce responses in the wider community that are commensurate with the urgency and seriousness of the issue." Professor Härtel said physical scientists needed to overcome their scepticism and work alongside social scientists. Scientists were used to declaring they "know" about a subject only when there was about a 99 per cent certainty of a predicted outcome, she said. But by the time this level of certainty was reached, the effects of climate change would be irreversible, she said. "It is about doing something versus not doing something. We have to respond, even without 99 per cent certainty. "It is about getting scientists and the community to think a different way and making decisions around this information." Climate change was a complex and problematic issue, similar to poverty and war, Professor Hartel said. "There are things, as a human society, we are not adequately prepared to deal with. "We get shell-shocked and overwhelmed. With things like wars, you get too much information and you don't want to hear any more. "With climate change, people are overwhelmed by it. We don't want people to ignore it. We have to find ways forward." Media: Charmine Härtel (3346 3486)