Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Stefan Rahmstorf Receives 2017 Climate Communication Prize

Stefan Rahmstorf was awarded the 2017 Climate Communication Prize at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 13 December 2017 in New Orleans, La. The Climate Communication Prize is funded by Nature’s Own, a purveyor of fossils, minerals, and handcrafted jewelry in Boulder, Colo. The prize honors an “AGU member-scientist for the communication of climate science, and highlights the importance of promoting scientific literacy, clarity of message, and efforts to foster respect and understanding of science-based values as they relate to the implications of climate change.”

By

Citation

Stefan Rahmstorf
Stefan Rahmstorf

Stefan Rahmstorf has a unique ability to explain science in a highly understandable yet accurate way to diverse audiences, from children to government ministers. He has perfected this ability in writing hundreds of blog articles: He was cofounder of RealClimate in 2005 and the German KlimaLounge blog in 2008. His articles are devoted to public understanding of research in the best sense: They do not merely explain results but showcase the scientific method, the way scientists think. He takes his audience seriously in not “dumbing down” the science but using every opportunity to deepen their understanding.

Stefan is remarkable in the breadth of the topics of which he has a firm grasp, not only in his popular writing but also in his research: paleoclimate, ocean circulation, sea level, extreme weather events, global temperature evolution, and more. His scientific publication record is outstanding; he has been honored for his scientific work by being elected a Fellow of AGU in 2010. He has played an important role in advancing both the scientific and public debates on the issues of sea level rise, the slowdown of the Gulf Stream system, and the impact of global warming on increasing extreme weather events.

He has (co)authored four popular books. The Climate Crisis (with David Archer) explains the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in plain language, lavishly illustrated. Our Threatened Oceans (with Katherine Richardson) provides a highly readable overview of the state of the world ocean. His first book, Der Klimawandel (with me), was published also in Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, and Arabic and as an audiobook. Stefan is a father of two, and his latest book is the award-winning children’s book Wolken, Wind und Wetter.

Stefan has acted as a mentor to many young scientists, encouraging and helping them to speak to the media or write their first blog post. He has advised the German government as a member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change for 8 years. He is a sought-after public speaker, has appeared hundreds of times on radio and TV, and has written countless newspaper articles and commentaries, some of which have been translated into 15 languages. He has a large social media following and is regularly contacted by leading international media.

It was an honor for us to nominate him, and he rightly deserves to be the first scientist working outside the United States to receive the AGU Climate Communication Prize!

—Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany

Response

I am thrilled and humbled to receive this award! Let me first of all thank John Schellnhuber for being such a great communicator and role model and for supporting my climate communication work for more than 20 years now. I also thank those who supported this nomination. I could not do this work without a great network of colleagues around the world with whom I am in constant exchange of information and insights. Many would deserve this prize.

We all share a passion for science. But in addition to that, we are driven by deeply caring for humanity and by the conviction that scientific insight and foresight can prevent avoidable human suffering. Climate change is not just an “environmental” issue; it is foremost a massive problem for human society. A stable climate is a foundation of human civilization. Without it, we could not rely on harvests to feed us every year or build lasting cities on the oceans’ shores. Two centuries of climate science have established beyond reasonable doubt that human activities are causing a global warming that is about to catapult us well out of the stable Holocene climate of the past 10,000 years, the period during which human civilization thrived.

Those who understand this threat to humankind have a duty to speak up. All the more so as there are powerful interests on the other side whose income depends on the general public not understanding the science and who have no scruples to go to great lengths to obfuscate scientific findings. This has been amply documented, for example, by the work of Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes.

That shouldn’t deter us from talking truth to power—and to the ostriches, as last year’s winner of the AGU Climate Communication Prize, my good colleague Richard Alley, explains in his excellent video series How to Talk to an Ostrich. It’s not enough to do good science. As atmospheric scientist and Nobel laureate Sherwood Rowland was quoted as saying in the 1986 New Yorker article “Annals of Chemistry: In the Face of Doubt” by Paul Brodeur, “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

So I would like to encourage many more climate researchers to get engaged in climate communication. You might even win a prize. But even more rewarding, you will likely help humanity navigate through the climate crisis with less suffering and loss.

—Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany

Citation: AGU (2018), Stefan Rahmstorf receives 2017 Climate Communication Prize, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO090187. Published on 17 January 2018.
© 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0