Nobel Prize Awarded to Three Climate Science Pioneers

Nobel Prize Awarded to Three Climate Science Pioneers

As climate change finally becomes central to global diplomacy and policy, three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in physics for their contributions to "the foundation of our knowledge of the earth's climate and how humanity influences it." Those awarded were Syukuro Manabe of Princeton University, Klaus Hasselmann of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and Giorgio Parisi of the Sapienza University of Rome. Such international recognition of climate science could signal that the world is finally taking the field seriously.

Nobel Prize: Announcement of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics, October 4, 2021.

Why This Matters

Only recently has climate science started to get the spotlight it deserves, and even so, coverage in mainstream media outlets has been lacking. Only 13% of broadcast and cable TV news covered the recent IPCC report. In 2020, ABC, NBC, and CBS nightly and Sunday morning news only covered climate change for a combined 112 minutes. Despite this lack of coverage,  governments worldwide have pushed to take action while politics at home often become battlegrounds. Further, climate disinformation is still rampant, both online and within the government itself.

The Shoulders of Giants

All three men have contributed to scientific achievements that formed the basis for modern climate science. "The climate scientists of today stand on the shoulders of these giants, who laid the foundations for our understanding of the climate system," said Ko Barrett, NOAA Research's Deputy Assistant Administrator.

  • The work of Dr. Manabe showed how increased emissions in the atmosphere are directly tied to warming on Earth.
  • According to the Nobel committee, Dr. Hasselmann created a model that connects short and long-term effects of climate change, "answering the question of why climate models can be reliable despite weather being changeable and chaotic."
  • Discoveries by Dr. Parisi of patterns in complex systems, ranging from physics and neuroscience to climate and biology, have allowed scientists across a number of fields "to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random materials and phenomena."

Through these achievements, climate scientists on the front lines have been able to make further advances. However, the field still has a long way to go. Environmental science severely lacks diversity. In 2016, Black Americans received only 2.8% of the nation’s environmental science degrees. And just last month, a study found that women and researchers from developing countries are vastly underrepresented in coral reef science. Experts say this disparity limits diverse perspectives on nature-based solutions, clean energy, and human rights, further limiting the world’s ability to combat climate change effectively.

Ahead of the COP26 conference, Dr. Parisi is urging the UN and global leaders to increase action. "I think it is very urgent that we take real and very strong decisions, and we move at a very strong pace."