2018 Climate Communication Prize Winner
Michael E. Mann received the Climate Communication Prize at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The prize recognizes an individual “for the communication of climate science.”
Michael Mann not only is one of the most distinguished scholars in the field of climate science but also is unparalleled in the depth, diversity, and sheer volume of his communication about climate science and its implications for society. His firm grounding in scholarship at the highest levels of climate science underlies all of his climate communication efforts and makes him effective in engaging his peers as well as members of the public in nuanced, fact-based discussions about climate science, its uncertainties, and its implications for our future.
Mike’s efforts to communicate climate science stretch back more than 20 years; include the use of virtually every communication platform; and exemplify a mastery born of dedicated, sustained, and repeated engagement. He and several colleagues founded the seminal, award-winning science blog RealClimate to engage the public in fact-based discussions about the climate issues of the moment. It quickly became a trusted repository of fact-based discussion about peer-reviewed climate science that is frequently cited, even to this day. He has also written a number of popular science books aimed at engaging and informing science enthusiasts and, most recently, young children about climate change. He has given hundreds of interviews for traditional media outlets, as well as given an equally impressive number of public talks, participated in documentaries, written countless op-eds for prestigious newspaper outlets, and, perhaps most notable of all, is engaged in what appears to be a 24/7 stream of exchanges with his huge social media followings. Of particular note, he has regularly appeared to testify before Congress about climate science, knowing that such appearances will bring him under withering, partisan-fueled attacks.
In the past decade, Mike has been an unflinching and courageous defender of the principles of free and open scientific investigation and the urgency of combating misinformation with the scientific facts of climate change. He has done so at great personal cost, persevering through terrifying death threats, organized smear campaigns, and protracted lawsuits. Long before “alternative facts” became a household phrase, Mike was sounding alarm bells about efforts to undermine climate science findings and their role in shaping evidence-based policy. His courage, his resilience, and his tireless pursuit of truth in the public discourse around climate change have had a lasting impact on an entire generation of geoscientists and the public. Every day, Mike reminds us that communicating science lies at the heart of scientific practice, with untold benefits to society.
—Kim M. Cobb, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
I am humbled to receive this prize. I thank my citationist, Kim Cobb, for her support and her kind words. They mean a lot coming from Kim, she herself being an unusually gifted communicator.
I didn’t choose to enter the world of science communication. Public engagement was the furthest thing from my mind when I double-majored in applied math and physics in college, when I went on to pursue graduate studies in theoretical physics, and when I completed my Ph.D. in geology and geophysics. What drove those pursuits was a love of problem solving and a fascination with the use of computational approaches to modeling physical phenomena.
My Ph.D. thesis involved modeling the coupled ocean–atmosphere system to better understand long-term natural climate cycles. Because the instrumental climate record is so short, I turned to longer-term paleoclimate “proxy” data in an attempt to validate results from the modeling. My analysis of those data eventually led to the now-iconic “hockey stick” curve, coauthored with Ray Bradley and Malcolm Hughes. Though I couldn’t have known it at the time, my career and life path were fundamentally altered with the publication of that graph in the late 1990s.
The hockey stick was perceived as a threat by groups opposed to climate action because it spoke a simple truth, conveying the unprecedented nature of human-caused warming in easily understood terms. Still a young postdoc, I would find myself subject to a decades-long campaign of intimidation and vilification by those seeking to discredit our findings, as detailed in my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.
Initially reluctant to be at the center of the fractious public debate over human-caused climate change, I’ve ultimately come to embrace that role. I feel privileged to be in a position to influence the societal discourse over what may well be the greatest challenge we face as a civilization.
I am honored to be recognized for those efforts. At the same time, I am acutely aware that too few AGU awards have gone to women scientists in recent years. We need a diversity of scientific voices that reflect the diversity of society itself. I have a 12-year-old daughter who loves mathematics. I want her to grow up in a world that encourages and rewards women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), a world that is replete with female role models. We would all benefit from a more inclusive approach to recognition.
—Michael E. Mann, Pennsylvania State University, University Park