- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Bridging Science and Societies

| Spring 2018

Climate contrarians continue to undermine the urgency of immediate climate action, particularly in the United States, despite increasing evidence of the devastating impacts of global climate change, John P. Holdren, co-director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program and former science advisor to President Obama, said in a keynote address to the 10th World Conference of Science Journalists 2017. The late fall conference attracted nearly 1,400 science journalists from 74 countries, the largest such gathering of its kind.

Holdren identified three classes of contrarians—deniers, wafflers, and advocates of surrender. The wafflers are the most dangerous, he said, because they seem the least unreasonable. They admit climate change is occurring but say it’s unclear how much of it is due to human influences; that the damage is modest; that it may even be good for us; and that there is plenty of time of adapt.

These arguments are wrong on all counts, Holdren said. But such rhetoric can raise doubt and impede actions essential to mitigating climate change and adapting to its extreme impacts, which range from increasingly severe storms, floods, droughts, and diseases to rapid ice melt and seawater rise, loss of species, and reduced productivity of farms, fisheries, and forests.

“We have three options—mitigation, adaptation, and suffering,” Holdren said. “The amount of suffering in that mix can only be reduced by doing both a lot of mitigation and a lot of adaptation, and doing it starting now.” Virtually all reputable studies, he added, “suggest that the economic damages from not adequately addressing climate change would far exceed the costs of adequately addressing it.” (A video, story, and Holdren’s PPT are available on the conference site.)

Holdren’s comments underscored the important role the media can play in providing accurate and clear reporting on climate change and other critical science-related issues that can impact citizens regardless of where on earth they live. Holdren was invited to the global science journalists’ gathering by Cristine Russell, co-chair of the international organizing committee for the conference and a Senior Fellow with the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program.

“Science journalists help societies understand and respond to natural and human-caused disasters, environmental changes and challenges, epidemics and pandemics, and technological disruptions—and that’s why it’s essential they do their jobs well,” said Russell.

Under the theme “Bridging Science and Societies,” the conference exposed participants to some of the world’s top science journalists and practicing scientists, building take-home skills and knowledge to help ensure that news about science is intelligently conveyed to a global public no matter what barriers of culture, language, education, and politics stand in the way.

A long-time science journalist whose work with the Belfer Center focuses on improving media coverage of controversial scientific issues, Russell began working with the organizing committee three years ago to plan the six-day global conference, hosted by the United States for the first time. It was sponsored by the U.S. National Association of Science Writers and Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, working with the World Federation of Science Journalists and host campuses, the University of California, San Francisco, and UC Berkeley.

One of the most popular events was a luncheon for 600 attendees featuring three global women leaders in science and technology who offered personal and professional perspectives on the crucial role of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Moderated by Russell, the session, “Who Will Do Science? International Perspectives from Women in STEM Leadership,” included presentations by The Honorable Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan, president of the Royal Scientific Society and a UNESCO Special Envoy for Science for Peace, and Miyoko O. Watanabe, Deputy Executive Director, Japan Science and Technology Agency. A video of the event is available.

For more information on the conference, see: http://wcsj2017.org

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

“Bridging Science and Societies.” Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).


John P. Holdren