The hot news today is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore (though not Sheila Watt-Cloutier) have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While some have questioned the appropriateness of awarding the prize on the basis of achievements not directly related to armed conflict, it does seem that the conflict potential connected with migration, water scarcity, and so forth makes this less of a stretch than some previous awards.
What is most notable about all this, for me, is that neither Gore nor the IPCC have actually contributed to climatic science. The IPCC exists to review the published academic literature on climatic science and agree upon a consensus position; Gore has acted as an effective advocate and representative, though his overall contribution has been far more in the area of information transmission than the area of information generation.
What this shows is how vitally important the layer between scientists and policy-makers or the general public is. Scientists are looking (with great skill and detail) at the individual elements that make up the climatic system. Translating that into a comprehensive understanding of relationships and risks – of the sort that can guide policy development – is critical and challenging. As such, these Nobel prizes are well earned.
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