Source: BBC Radio 4: Today Programme
Date: 09/11/2011
Event: David Norman, Campaigns Director at WWF-UK, on science and advocacy

  • Evan Davis: Presenter, BBC Radio 4: Today Programme
  • David Norman: Director of Campaigns, WWF-UK

Evan Davis: There'll be a gathering of scientists and others at the Royal Society today. They're going to be discussing climate change and its effect on wildlife and ecology. This is about three weeks ahead of the next big global summit on the subject, in Durban. David Norman is Campaigns Director at WWF, and is with us. Good morning.

David Norman: Good morning.

Evan Davis: You're Campaign Director. Is this a campaigning thing you've concocted at the Royal Society, or is it a scientific symposium of some kind?

David Norman: It's very much scientific, but I think the link between science and policy is absolute, on this one. The point of the conference today is that we're getting very strong early warning signs from nature, and that links very closely into what we need politicians to do about it. Perhaps if I can talk about those warning signs, a couple of things?

Evan Davis: Do a little bit of the campaigning then, go on.

David Norman: Thank you very much. So - there's a lot of time lag in the system, but the two good examples of where we're seeing direct signs from nature are the summer sea ice - we had a series of very high melting of the sea ice on the Arctic sea each summer, this season was the second highest amount of melting ever recorded, again very close attribution to climate change there. And the really important one for WWF, as well, is coral reefs. Coral reefs are incredibly important, they're the nurseries of the sea, very hot spots of biodiversity. A hundred million people depend on the Coral Triangle, where we work - WWF works near the Philippines - but they're also a kind of early warning system. When they get stressed, they have what's called coral bleaching, where the animals that are the corals lose their relationship with the algae that make up the reef-building corals. And that's potentially terribly damaging for them.

Evan Davis: Do you worry though, David, that when the scientists become campaigners, and they, sort of, blur the distinction between the science and the campaigning, that the debate can become skewed, and you'll start getting people taking positions that are more complicated than the position that they publicly take, so to speak? So, in other words, they become campaigners rather than scientists?

David Norman: I think scientists are very cautious, actually, about becoming campaigners. That's a different role. 

Evan Davis: Right.

David Norman: But there are important roles that cross the boundary, that showcase the science in order to make policy. 

Evan Davis: Are you worried that politicians now are having so many problems on their plate, in the world economy, that they're turning away from worrying about climate change? 

David Norman: Yes, I am. I think that the big issue here is this not about losing a few species or a few important places. We're talking about the life systems of Planet Earth. I think those of us who live in cities, you and I perhaps, lose touch with the fact that we're as dependent on nature as a family living in the remotest parts of the Amazon. And this is about management of risk. You know, if you were on a runway in an aeroplane, and the pilot announced he's got a red warning light, "but we'll press on anyway, to get you home on time", that would be crazy management of risk. And yet we're not seeing politicians rise to the urgency of the science, in terms of the early warning systems that we're getting here.

Evan Davis: All right. David Norman, thank you very much indeed. 

David Norman: Thank you.