The Scientific Activist

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was announced this morning, and it will be shared equally between Al Gore and the IPCC. It was widely anticipated that Al Gore would be this year’s honoree. The IPCC was less expected, although it is certainly at least as–if not more–deserving of the honor. Here’s what the Nobel Committee has to say about the award:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.


Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

The Nobel Peace Prize is, of course, not given in isolation. In the last paragraph of its press release, the Committee puts this prize into context in the same ominous manner it has in the past addressed pressing global security issues such as nuclear proliferation:

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

I think the Nobel Committee made a fair and intelligent decision this year in splitting the prize between an activist and a scientific body. Although Sheila Watt-Cloutier was also shortlisted for the prize for her work in raising awareness of the impact of global warming on North American Inuit populations, Al Gore has been the leading face of the global warming awareness movement. His activism has raised awareness among the public and those in power, and–particularly through his well-received documentary An Inconvenient Truth–he has ensured that discussion of global warming remains a priority, both at the dinner table and in the national and international media.

The IPCC, on the other hand, has played an integral role in gaging scientific opinion on global warming and translating this opinion into a document that is accessible to policy makers. Through its four assessment reports, the IPCC has demonstrated a growing scientific consensus behind the the science of global warming, while still discussing remaining areas of uncertainty. The objectivity and comprehensiveness of these reports has made the IPCC the authority on global warming.


  1. #1 Eric D
    October 13, 2007

    well said Nick– I totally agree Al Gore and IPCC absolutely deserved it.

    its just too bad so many people out there still think global warming is a pseudoscience and think this award is for political motives (see CNN viewer feedbacks: such folks obviously dont understand the natural culture of being unbiased and the altruistic nature of Norwegians and Swedish people (sigh).

    hope we can do something to debunk all those who keep touting global warming as pseudoscience whenever there is so much confluence multiple lines of evidence supporting it.

    Keep up the great blog Nick.

    Eric D.
    Boston, MA