The tragedy of climate change science | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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The tragedy of climate change science

Why did we undertake this study?

Science has demonstrated the climate is changing, governments agree that the science is settled, yet concerted action to mitigate and adapt to climate change is lacking. As a result, adverse global climate changes increase each year in the form of floods, heatwaves and sea-level rise. This study brought a spotlight to this conundrum, arguing for a change in scientific practice that might lead to concerted climate action.

How was it done?

We explored three options for the climate change science community: (i) deliver more science, collect more evidence of deleterious impacts and hope for policy change; (ii) more social science research and advocacy on climate change to better understand why action has not occurred, and how to enable the changes required; or (iii) stop research that simply documents global warming and maladaptation, and focus instead on exposing and renegotiating the broken science-society contract.

What did we find?


A critical juncture has now been reached for human and planetary well-being. Given the tragedy of climate change science, a moratorium offers the only real prospect for restoring the science-society contract. Other options are seductive but offer false hope.

Learn more

The full paper is available from:

Citation: Bruce C. Glavovic, Timothy F. Smith & Iain White (2021) The tragedy of climate change science, Climate and Development, DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2021.2008855 

You can download a pdf version of this summary.


This research was supported by the Earthquake Commission in New Zealand, Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment in New Zealand through the National Science Challenge: Resilience to Nature's Challenges, and the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council Discovery Projects Funding Scheme (Project FT180100652). This work contributes to Future Earth Coasts, a Global Research Project of Future Earth. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the governments of New Zealand or Australia, the Earthquake Commission, the Australian Research Council, or Future Earth Coasts.