It’s 12 June, the main day of the year – and there really ought to be more than one – when we stop to thank climate scientists for their often thankless work.
If you’re a little late to Thank a Climate Scientist Day, it’s a tradition that began in 2011 as Hug a Climate Scientist Day, launched by one of our favourite cartoons, First Dog on the Moon, which regularly appears in the Guardian – today’s edition of which marks the 10th anniversary.
How did it all start?
“I’m always looking around for things to do cartoons about and climate change was a hot topic in 2010,” First Dog told Cosmos. “We were at the peak of the denialism, and I think what inspired that cartoon was death threats to a scientist, if I remember correctly. Something like that anyway.
“Climate scientists were being attacked by trolls and getting death threats – which we just take for granted now, it’s just normal, but back then it was a little shocking and so I did a cartoon about that. But I also decided that it needed to be more than ‘but this is outrageous’ – [it needed to] do something practical and helpful – or something that would at least be funny – and, who knows, maybe climate scientists might get a hug out of it?”
Climate scientists are close to unanimous – at least based on our less-than-10 sample size – in acknowledging First Dog’s efforts.
“I think we all really appreciate the gesture,” says Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick from UNSW Canberra and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.
“I remember seeing the [first] cartoon up on the fridge in the kitchen at work and thinking, ‘this is really nice’. Everyone had a giggle because it was kind of a really dark time when we weren’t being believed… It was a bit of a shining light.”
Peter Macreadie from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab, on the other hand, admits he hasn’t actually heard of the day before.
“But it sounds wonderful,” he says. “What we do can be pretty depressing, so any form of encouragement (pat on the back, a hug, etc) is a great way to know that the public cares. It will throw some ‘wind in the sails’ of very tired scientists, and is timely given the growing anti-intellectualism culture.”
University of Melbourne-based Linden Ashcroft – winner of 2020 Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Science Outreach Award – says that it’s appreciated “particularly right now in Lockdown 4.0 for us”, though she always thought the hug was for moral and emotional support rather than cheers.
“We often celebrate with a morning tea, sending hugs via Twitter, and, if we’re lucky, analysing some data that don’t have a statistically significant trend,” Ashcroft adds.
Other climate scientists want to spread the joy.
“I think I would be happy to pay forward the virtual hugs…to epidemiologists, virologists and everyone working on COVID-19,” says Angela Maharaj, president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.
“Not just because of the hard work they are doing right now to keep us all safe, but also because the medical community has given so much moral support to climate scientists and provided much-needed advocacy around climate change from a community of scientists that the general public knows, trusts and understands.”
Not all climate scientists want hugs – some just want a break. Hannah Marley, a researcher at the University of Auckland, says: “I think my ‘hug’ would be someone taking me on a long bushwalk that ends in a picnic dinner on a clifftop as the sun sets over the ocean below.”
ANU’s Caitlin Howlett has another novel idea to mark the day: “How about volunteering as little as 20 minutes to help climate scientists gather historical data for a globally recognised climate change ‘hot spot’, Perth?”
You could also mark the day by writing to the UN and urging it to add Thank/Hug a Climate Scientist Day to its list of International Days and Weeks. (It’ll have to share 12 June with World Day against Child Labour, which seems about right given the proportion of climate change pain today’s children will have to bear.)
“It’s not an officially recognised United Nations day, but it damn well should be,” says First Dog. “It’s typical of the United Nations approach to the doom that’s heading toward us. But anyway, that’s a cartoon for another time.”
First Dog admits to being pleased that the day has “gone beyond just being something I try to make money out of by putting on T shirts. It’s actually turned into a ‘thing’, which is great.”
And this year’s Hug day cartoon?
“I might have a look at how well climate scientists have progressed the argument over the 10 years and how effective Hug a Climate Scientist Day has been in helping to put a stop to climate change – which, of course: not at all,” says First Dog.
“The whole thing has been a huge failure. But that’s not really our fault. So I don’t want it to be too depressing, but it kind of kind of sheets home the point that it’s not up to the climate scientists to actually do it.
“I used to make jokes about how terrible scientists were at science communication, and that it was their fault that climate change had gotten out of hand and we hadn’t been able to stop it. But then that just became ‘no, this is just too cruel’. Because scientists may not always be good at science communication, but just because they can’t go on the telly and mount an argument against burning fossil fuels, doesn’t mean that we should hold them responsible for the fact that it isn’t stopping.”
Ian Connellan is editor-in-chief of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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