Interview with Andreas Schmidt, September 2012

Andreas Schmidt has been a research associate in the CliSAP Research Group "Media Constructions of Climate Change" at Universität Hamburg since 2010. Within the CliSAP graduate school SICSS he is doing his doctorate about media debates on climate change

What have been the major steps in your professional life so far?
I started to work in the research group "Media Constructions of Climate Change" about two years ago. Before that I did a Bachelor’s degree in policy management and a Master’s degree in Sociology   European Societies. During my studies I had several jobs as a student assistant. So actually it comes down to two steps: firstly, successful completion of my degrees and secondly getting started in the interdisciplinary research field I’m in now.

What is your main contribution to CliSAP?
Together with several but not too many other people in CliSAP I try to shed light on the societal side of climate change. Specifically, I analyze in how far climate change has become established as a social problem in need of political action and what demands are put forward by different societal actors with respect to climate policies and the political process.

Vice versa, in what way(s) has CLiSAP helped you most?
CliSAP and the graduate school SICSS (School of Integrated Climate System Sciences) have mainly helped me in acquiring an understanding of the natural science base behind climate change and in getting an – albeit incomplete - overview over climate research. Not least of all, CliSAP also helps in financial terms, e.g. by providing funds to participate in conferences.

How would you describe yourself – are you a cultural or social scientist? Are there differences to natural scientists in terms of what science deals with, the type of knowledge constructed, and how this knowledge is used?
I’m a social scientist, a sociologist who is currently mainly interested in the interface between social values, the social forces advancing them and politics. Sociologists produce knowledge that can be used by society to reflect on itself. For example, does our lifestyle comply with idea of responsibility for future generations? Or what are the factors that lead to the adoption of a certain policy? Ultimately, sociology tries to explain social action, social structure and the interaction between the two. The natural environment has so far not been a core issue of this discipline. But I think that sociology can contribute much to the understanding of interactions between society and nature.

Do you have the impression that social/cultural sciences are taken seriously by natural scientists, or does it happen that natural scientists express a certain sense of superiority?
I have not experienced any natural scientists expressing feelings of superiority. In most of the interactions with natural scientists I had the impression they are very interested in social science climate research and that they appreciate the contribution of social scientists in understanding the recursive interactions between the environment and the anthroposphere.

Are there key questions relating to the boundaries of geophysical climate, the definition of climate and the social implications which are not dealt with by CLiSAP in sufficient depth?
I am not in a position to assess in how far the relevant natural science issues are addressed sufficiently. With respect to the social sciences, I think that the (explanation of) climate politics should receive more attention.

How could the transdisciplinary cooperation between social/cultural and natural sciences be strengthened within CLISAP?
Transdisciplinary cooperation particularly makes sense when the aim is to contribute to the solution of a real world problem. Under normal conditions in science, incentives to deal with issues beyond the disciplinary boundaries are limited (this is at least what I hear quite often) because careers still tend to be disciplinary ones. So I guess, in order to strengthen transdisciplinary cooperation you ideally need someone (maybe from outside science) advancing a problem perspective rather than a disciplinary one, calling for and financing the production of holistic scientific treatment of the issue.

What do you consider the most significant achievement in your career?
As stated above, I’m quite at the beginning of my career. Apart from having (co-)authored a few papers, I’m pleased to contribute to the strengthening of the social sciences in the Young Scientists Conference Series organized by junior scientists of the three Northern German climate/marine research clusters.

What do you consider the most significant, exciting or surprising developments in social science climate research?
I guess there are many exciting developments in the different social science disciplines, research traditions and theoretical schools that deal with climate change. In my view, comparative, cross-national projects that help to identify explanatory factors apart from delivering descriptions are especially fruitful and relevant. To my knowledge, the project with the greatest scope in this regard is COMPON (Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks) which is lead by Jeffrey Broadbent from the University of Minnesota and still in progress.

How would you describe the role of science within society?
The role of science is to produce knowledge which may help to make better decisions on the course of society.

Do you see a growing influence of politics or the economy in climate science?
No.

What constitutes "good" science?

Good science is aware of its function in society (see above), identifies relevant research questions against the background of both theory and real world problems, addresses these issues independently of outside interference and with appropriate scientific methods, and makes results available both to the scientific community and wider society (in an understandable way).

What would you do with an additional one million Euros for your research?
I would probably go for an international project dealing with the relative influence of different societal actors in problem construction and the formulation of climate policies – in order to explain the adoption of different climate legislations in different countries.

So far, we have done 11 interviews with participants of CLISAP, students, professors, administrators, all kinds. You are last in a first (and maybe last) series of interviews. Have you looked at some of the others interviews? Or were you unaware of their existence? Do you consider such a series useful? If any, what would you consider the added value of such interviews?
I have looked at some of the other interviews and found them interesting. I think this interview series is useful for building a collective identity and for increasing our mutual understanding of the perspectives brought into CliSAP by a diverse set of scientists. It would be nice, however, to approach the interviewees not only as scientists but as persons with multiple roles – because these other roles have considerable influence on scientific careers. Insofar, a relevant question is why someone has reached the position they hold and what drives and maybe also hampers them. There are many young scientists in CliSAP for whom this might be quite interesting and who might also be in search of role models.

The interview was conducted by Prof. Dr. Hans von Storch, Director of the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht.