One of the hallmarks of being an American Nobel prizewinner is the early-morning phone call from Oslo, where the prize is announced.
Emeritus Geophysics Prof. Henry Pollack was part of a panel that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, so he got a 6 a.m. phone call too – except his was from his excited son in New York, not the Nobel committee in Norway.
The news, though, was the same: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Pollack is one of thousands of contributing scientists, had received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on climate change, along with former vice president Al Gore.
Pollack is one of at least eight University researchers who contributed to IPCC reports between 1995 and 2007.
Atmospheric science Prof. Joyce Penner, whose research on the role of aerosols in global climate change appeared in the 2001 and 2007 reports, said she was “extremely pleased” that Gore and the IPCC received the prestigious 106-year-old award.
“I think that the (IPCC) reports have had a tremendous impact in guiding policymakers, and Gore has also had a tremendous impact on the public,” said Penner, a professor of atmospheric science.
Penner said students in her classes have begun to see climate change as a much more urgent issue recently.
“Two years ago, 50 percent of my students said they wanted to do something about climate change and 50 percent said they didn’t,” said Penner, who cited Gore’s 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth” as critical to the climate change discussion.
“This year, there were only about two or three students out of 120 who said they weren’t going to do something about climate change,” she said.
Pollack, who has tried to reconstruct past climates in hopes of understanding what led to past climate change and whether those factors play a role today’s climate change, said he’s also seen changes in the public’s understanding of the issue.
“There’s been a tipping point in public acceptance of climate change and human contributions to (climate change), and I think Gore played a big role in that with ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and ‘The Assault on Reason,’ ” Pollock said.
In “The Assault on Reason,” published in May, Gore slams the Bush administration’s consolidation of power and bemoans what he says is a decline in the tenor of the national political debate.
Maria Carmen Lemos, an associate professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, contributed research on governmental roles in the adaptation and vulnerability of water supply sources during climate change to the 2007 IPCC report. She said the prize is a “very nice compliment,” but not a defining moment for the climate change discussion, which has been going on for over a decade.
“The Nobel is important because it keeps climate change in the public eye and reinforces the ideas of climate change,” Lemos said.
She described the award as the “cherry on top” of the climate change movement that has been years in the making.
Atmospheric studies researcher Natalia Andronova, a contributor to a chapter about identifying the causes of climate change in a 2007 IPCC report, said the Nobel Prize “gives hope” in solving the climate change issue.
Andronova said that although the IPCC reports emphasize the human causes of climate change, they also stress the human capacity for getting back to a climate equilibrium.
Pollack, who works as an adviser to Gore’s Climate Project, said he believes considerable progress is being made in the reducing human-caused climate change, but he doubts whether the public realizes the scope of what it will take to reverse this change.
“It really takes a lot of bold steps, but they’re not out of reach,” Pollack said. “We know how to do them; we just have to have the will to do them.”
The other University winners were Rosina Bierbaum, Minghuai Wang, Li Xu and Detlaf Sprinz.