Nobel Prize winner says governments must take 'urgent' action on climate

Nobel Prize winner says governments must take 'urgent' action on climate
© Nobel Committee for Physics

Governments must take “urgent” action to combat the escalating threat of climate change, physics Nobel Prize winner Giorgio Parisi told reporters on Tuesday. 

Parisi earned one-half of the 2021 Nobel Prize for Physics, while Japanese American Syukuro Manabe and German Klaus Hasselmann each received a quarter share, “for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems” — and how those systems contribute to the planet’s changing climate, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced at a partially in-person, partially virtual ceremony in Stockholm. 

“It is very urgent that we take a real, very strong decision and we move [at] a very strong pace,” Parisi said in a video call from Italy with reporters on the ground at the ceremony. “It’s clear for the future generation we have to act now in a very fast way — and not with a strong delay.”

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Manabe and Hasselmann received their share “for the physical modeling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming,” while Parisi received his award “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.” The total prize amount is 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million). 

Parisi, a 73-year-old physicist at the Sapienza Università di Roma, uncovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials in about 1980 — a discovery that the Academy characterized as “among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems.” His findings, an Academy statement said, enabled scientists to describe many other apparently random materials and phenomena in physics, mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning. 

“What is quite clear is that the effect of climate changing is that more energy is emitted in the atmosphere, and if you have more energy in the atmosphere, the chance of extreme events is going to increase very strongly,” Parisi told reporters.

Manabe, a senior meteorologist at Princeton University, demonstrated how increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to rises in temperatures on the Earth’s surface, according to the Academy. Now 90 years old, Manabe pioneered the development of physical models of the Earth’s climate in the 1960s that “laid the foundation for the development of current climate models,” a statement from the Academy said.  

“The whole field of climate modeling originates with Suki,” Gabriel Vecchi, Princeton professor of geosciences and director of the High Meadows Environmental Institute, said in a news release from Princeton.

Manabe’s work included the first simulations of how the climate system responds to increasing greenhouse gases, enabling scientists to understand how patterns of rainfall subsequently shifted and how storms were changed, Vecchi explained. 

“And he, in doing so, not only illustrated some of the potential consequences of global warming, but gave us a roadmap of how to do climate science,” Vecchi said. 

About 10 years later, Hasselmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany, was responsible for creating a model that connects weather and climate — and demonstrating the reliability of such models despite the chaotic nature of weather, according to the Academy. Scientists have used his methods to prove that rises in atmospheric temperature are due to human emissions of carbon dioxide, a statement from the Academy said. 

"In 30 to 100 years, depending on how much fossil fuel we consume, we will face a very significant climate change,” Hasselmann, now 89, said in a 1988 interview, according to a news release from the Max Planck Institute

“Climate zones will shift, precipitation will be distributed differently. Then we will no longer be able to talk about random results," he said. "We should realize that we are entering a situation where there is no turning back."