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Joe Duggan/Is This How You Feel?

These Handwritten Letters Show How Scientists REALLY Feel About Climate Change

They're heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.

FIONA MACDONALD
7 OCT 2014

When we talk about putting a human face on climate change, most people think about the populations around the world who will be affected by rising oceans or prolonged drought.

And while those images are extremely powerful, Joe Duggan, a Masters student at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) in Canberra, has taken a different approach - he’s decided to show the world the face of the scientists who are at the forefront of the (losing) battle against climate change.

 

As part of his Masters project at CPAS, Duggan asked Australia’s top climate scientists to handwrite him letters on how they felt about climate change. The result is 20 beautiful and heartbreaking letters that clearly display the frustration, guilt, anxiety and anger that plagues the researchers who have access to all the data, but can't make people listen to their warnings.

“What follows are the words of real scientists. Researchers that understand climate change,” writes Duggan, on the website.

In her letter, Dr Jennie Mallela from the Australian National University in Canberra shows that scientists aren't just "faceless experts", but real people who have as much to lose as the rest of us: “In the last year I’ve become a mum and I’ve found myself looking at my son and wondering how I will justify the loss of so much beauty and diversity to him,” she writes.

While this is a sentiment many of us are familiar with, the letters also show that there's a guilt that's very specific to the scientists who are hired to stop climate change. “I feel guilty about not achieving more to solve the problem and helplessness to know what more to do,” writes Dr Wenju Cal from Australia’s national science organisation CSIRO.

But in some of the letters, there are glimmers of hope. Dr Ailie Gallant from Monash Universty in Melbourne writes:

“I get worried and anxious, but also a little curious. The curiosity is a strange, paradoxical feeling that I sometimes feel guilty about. After all, this is the future of the people I love …  I will be optimistic that we will do something about this, collectively. I live in hope that the climate changes on the graphs that I stare into every day wont be as bad as my data tells me, because we worked together to find a solution.”

So how do climate scientists really feel? Maybe it's best summed up by the closing sentiment from a letter by Kevin Walsh from the University of Melbourne: "Life would be so much simpler if climate change didn’t exist. But as scientists, we don’t have the luxury of pretending."

Here are a few of our favourite letters. You can read more over at Is This How You Feel?

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Are you interested in exploring new ways to communicate science with the world? Find out more about the research projects and courses available at CPAS.

UPDATE: Duggan's handwritten letters will be on display in Melbourne from 18-29 August 2015 as part of National Science Week. You'll also have the chance to write your own letter on how you feel about climate change. Don't miss it.