Why Are Graduates Shunning a Career in Climate Change?

REUTERS/British Antarctic Survey/Handout
REUTERS/British Antarctic Survey/Handout

Climate science is suffering a dearth of recent graduates joining the field, as young physicists are instead turning to cosmology or astrophysics. Practicing climate researchers have suggested that younger people are being turned off as they think the science is already settled, but climate change sceptics have asked whether the intolerance shown for difference of opinion is the more likely reason. (h/t WUWT)

The phenomenon was noted most recently by Govindasamy Bala, a professor of climate science who was helping to organise a conference at the Divecha Centre for Climate Change, at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. The conference organisers received too few quality abstracts to be able to put on a full program.

Professor Bala at first assumed that this was a uniquely Indian problem, until he read an article in Nature which questioned why there was a shortage of upcoming climate scientists worldwide. “I was surprised to learn that shortage of good climate scientists is a global problem,” he said.

Indeed, Nature was reporting on a group of climate scientists at the Laboratory of Dynamic Meteorology in Paris who had recently published summaries of some of the field’s foremost challenges as a way of driving up interest in the subject.

Sandrine Bony, a member of the team, said that there was a misconception that the major questions in the field of physical climate change are settled; something that Bony said was “absolutely not true,” adding “In fact, essential physical aspects of climate change are poorly understood.”

Just 49 PhD’s were awarded in atmospheric chemistry and climatology in the United States in 2013, according to the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. By comparison, 303 were awarded for astronomy and almost 2,000 each for physics and mathematics.

“Very few, and rarely the best, choose to do a master thesis in climatology,” says Thierry Fichefet, a physicist and climate modeler at the French-speaking Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. “Talented physicists commonly go into more glamorous fields such as astronomy, cosmology or particle physics.”

Bjorn Stevens, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany said that the need to present the science on climate change as settled for political reasons leads to the field being made to sound boring. “We too quickly turn to the policy implications of our work and forget the basic science,” he said.

But Eric Worrall at climate blog Watts Up With That postulated another reason for a lack of applicants: “If you are a talented graduate, bursting with intellectual potential, would you like to work in an intolerant field of research, where new ideas are punished by name calling, ostracism and financial hardship, or would you prefer to apply your talents to a field where new ideas are welcome, and innovation is rewarded?” he asked.


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