An open letter to all climate scientists

Time to tell it like it is

OK. Let's not beat about the bush. While our world has been going to hell in a handcart, many of you studying and recording its demise have had nothing to say on the subject and have remained deep in the shadows, when what has been needed is for you to hog the limelight. The cod justification you have used is always the same, muttered excuses about the need for objectivity, about how you shouldn't become involved in politics, about how you are merely faithful recorders of facts; a silo mentality that shields you from having to make difficult decisions or engage with others outside your comfort zones. You know who you are.

In truth, the reason you have never liked to stick your head above the parapet is for fear of being shot at by your peers. As a fellow scientist I understand that – I really do. There is nothing worse than being ridiculed within your own community. It can, I know, mean loss of prestige, a squeeze on funding, and a closing down of opportunities for advancement. I understand, therefore, why you continue to play down anything that might draw attention, why you lie low, tow the party line. I know, too, what you really think and feel about climate change, because I have talked to many of you in private, and the response – without exception – has been that the true situation is far worse than you are prepared to admit in public. So, behind the facade, I know that you are torn between speaking out and holding back, that you are as desperate as anyone for the measures to be taken that the science demands. Most of all, I know that you fear, as much as anybody else, for your children's future in the world of climate chaos they will be forced to inhabit.

So, what to do. I don't need to tell you that the chasm between what is needed to tackle the climate emergency, and what measures are actually being taken, flags the extraordinary scale of the uphill battle we face. If we are not to bequeath to our descendents a desiccated, lifeless, hothouse, then we need your help, your support. Now. Today. The time to worry about what your colleagues think of you is long gone. Prestige will mean nothing in the world to come, academic advancement won't alter the fate of your children and grandchildren one iota. So, speak out, tell it like it is. Force those who need to know to listen. Welcome any flack and hurl it back ten-fold. Come down off the fence and choose the path you know, in your heart of hearts, is the right one.

Bill McGuire is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL and was a contributor to the IPCC 2012 SREX report on Climate Change & Extreme Events and Disasters. His novel, Skyseed - an ecothriller about climate engineering gone wrong - is published by The Book Guild.