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Climate is what we do; weather is what they get……[i]

“Climate scientist, are you?”…and an inquisitive look later,…”so what do you really do?”

Hmm, so what do I do?..What do I say?” I’m a modeller” hmmm….what does that mean?……. “I’m a climate impacts person” ……..“huh?”

So we say this….”Well I study the climate to identify patterns and gather information to help us understand how the climate might be in the future…..”.   Or “I take the output from scientific climate models and communicate this information in a useful way to ….er…..users”

However we would like to be seen from the outside, we know what we can do best, we know what we enjoy doing, whether or not it includes something we don’t always prefer, like the drudge-work of sorting data, marking papers, answering enquiries or submitting project proposals. By finding a niche in our daily work and, by extension, in our medium to longer term aims and, ultimately, careers, we seek satisfaction, meaning and fulfilment in our roles, accepting that sometimes (or often) we have tasks and responsibilities that we are either unsuited for, or just dislike. And when people ask, we give an answer that probably describes what they will understand, rather than what we do…

Naturally, with a very diverse array of personalities, capabilities, preferences and personal world views, this makes for an interesting mix of climate scientists and specialists in CSAG. While we are ostensibly a group with a degree of common academic interests, we also have very distinct roles and skills.

Which brings me to the CSAG and society bit….do we want to make a difference to people’s lives, in whichever obscure or obvious way we may be able? Assuming the answer is, at least, a drawn out or hesitant “yes”, then, are we able to measure or assess that difference? It’s one thing giving a talk to impressionable young school learners about the climate or a career in environmental science, but it’s another writing C+ code for a very complicate sub-routine (and yes, you can probably tell I’m not a modeller)to design a way for a climate change model to behave so that it can add to our knowledge and therefore prepare us for the future. So, how do we best serve our community, our fellow-human (and/or our god) in our chosen career?

Some would say that just by doing our job well and diligently, surely we are fulfilling that service role. Others may say that some sort of community outreach is necessary (whether it’s part of our work, or outside work is another question) and that we should be communicating what we know to others or through our research, assist others to make their lives just a little (or a lot) better.

Whichever opinion you may hold, it is clear that most people know a little about the weather and, inevitably, wish they knew a bit more, especially when it affects their daily lives. Whether (and the pun is obviously inevitable!) the information that they seek is critical to their existence or just preferable in their routine, whether it’s about daily weather forecasts or longer term outlooks, is clearly an indicator of the social responsiveness it should invoke within us.

If we understand the physics, the chemistry and the behaviour of the climate, albeit through the glass darkly[ii] then we are surely able to use our knowledge and skills, honed into a relative ‘wisdom’[iii] to spread that light or disperse that salt into the bigger mix of people we meet and rub shoulders with beyond the siloed (Ok, I made that word up) confines of the university?

Is CSAG capable of (or even authorised to) facilitating this? Do we do this as individuals, keeping our good deeds hidden, if we prefer, or do we make a concerted effort as a group (small or large) to construct a way of reaching out to our community?

I believe we should do both. Each of us, in our way, can be reaching out by being available to help with public requests, high- or low-profile as we please, and by, perhaps, extending ourselves a little to assist with our time and efforts. As a group, maybe we need to structure activities that are aimed specifically at outreach. I believe (the data isn’t in yet) that our efforts at Dwesa will do that, and I’m sure there are other activities are happening of which many of us are not yet aware. And if we can’t immediately see a need, then I don’t think we’re looking hard enough.

Weather we do, or weather we don’t, is up to us.




Meteorological quiz question: What is a derecho?………


Answer here:

[i] Michael Kent first raised this in his “what do you do?” blog

[ii] A Biblical phrase from 1 Corinthians 13:12

[iii] Hewitson, 2010. Numerous slide presentations.




One Response to “Climate is what we do; weather is what they get……”

  1. peter

    I’ll make the first comment as I came across this quote in the Geology Building yesterday:
    We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.
    Marie Curie, Lecture at Vassar College, May 14, 1921
    French (Polish-born) chemist & physicist (1867 – 1934)