There's no use pretending that today's announcement that Al Gore and the IPCC are to share the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change
is not in some way political.
But then again, the Nobel Peace Prize always is.
Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, Doctors Without Borders, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines -- all past winners of the Prize, all organizations and individuals who have devoted themselves, collectively and individually, to publicizing and preventing the worst atrocities of the past century.
Giving the IPCC and Al Gore the Prize is an acknowledgment both of the importance of the problem of climate change and the fact that the battle -- like the battle against prejudice, genocide and war -- is far from over.
We might even conclude that, like the mideast peace process for which Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were given the Prize (some might ague, prematurely), climate change is one of those thorny and impossibly complex issues which may never be resolved.
That is, climate change will probably always persist as a consequence of our failure to realize the breakthrough carbon-emission-averting technologies upon which pundits like economist Bjorn Lomborg are counting, or our failure to cap carbon emissions as urged by Al Gore and many others, or simply our stubborn refusal to admit that climate change is even an issue, as some stalwarts in the Denialism camp have continued to do. (Did I miss any factions in that debate? Feel free to let me know in the comments.)
So, for its most subjective award, an international body has (in an era when international, and especially European bodies often stand in opposition to an American administration which, not coincidentally, is helmed by the one-time political opponent of one of the Prizewinners) granted a prize for work on an issue that, whatever your feelings pro or con, is second only to international terrorism in terms of global mindshare -- this should not surprise anyone.
With the hindsight that will be afforded to future generations as the only remotely impartial judge of the outcome of the debates swirling around this issue, let our grandchildren at least note that Scientific American did not shrink from taking a stand, whatever the consequences among this millenium's version of Flat Earthers known as climate change denialists (who, in their dogmatic opposition to a growing mountain of scientific evidence, are not to be confused with climate change skeptics, who are perhaps doing a service to us all by prompting good science and spirited debate even as they serve those who would delay action).
* For his work on informing the public about the dangers of climate change, we declared Al Gore to be one of the Scientific American 50 -- our policy leader of the year.
* In August of this year, we published The Physical Science behind Climate Change, in which leading climate scientists explained why they and so many of their peers are so confident that human activities are dangerously warming the Earth.
* Years before the subject of climate change had exploded into the mass consciousness, scientists like Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center, and Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, used the pages of Scientific American to alert the world to the fact that
...various projections suggest that the degree of change will become dramatic by the middle of the 21st century, exceeding anything seen in nature during the past 10,000 years. Although some regions may benefit for a time, overall the alterations are expected to be disruptive or even severe.
The Human Impact on Climate; December 1999; Scientific American Magazine
It's refreshing that the debate has mostly moved away from the causes of climate change and toward the best way to cope with it. Carbon cap and trade? Investment in breakthrough technology? Simply learning to live with a warmer earth?
What do YOU think about the committee's decision to award the Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC?
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.