Climate Change Heroes: Stefan Rahmstorf

I have selected Stefan Rahmstorf as Our Gallant Ship’s first Climate Change Hero. I chose Rahmstorf because he reflects immense integrity, scientific expertise and deep understanding of the human dimension of climate change. As well, he is an exceptional communicator. As Hans Joachim Schellnhuber said: “His articles are devoted to public understanding of research in the best sense: They do not merely explain results but showcase the scientific method, the way scientists think. He takes his audience seriously in not “dumbing down” the science but using every opportunity to deepen their understanding.”

Stefan Rahmstorf (born 22 February 1960) is Professor of Physics of the Oceans, at Potsdam University
Institute of Physics and Astronomy, Co-Chair of Earth System Analysis, PIK, and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales/Bangor. As well, he is a member of the Academia Europaea and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

In 2017, Rahmstorf won the coveted The American Geophysical Union (AGU) Climate Communication Prize. The prize, established in 2011, is given each year for outstanding promotion of scientific literacy, clarity of message and efforts to foster understanding of science-based values as they relate to the implications of global warming. He is the first scientist outside the US to receive the renowned prize. Previous recipients are: 2018 Michael E. Mann 2016 Richard B. Alley 2015 Richard C.J. Somerville 2014 Katharine Hayhoe 2013 Kevin E. Trenberth 2012 Jeffrey T. Kiehl 2011 Gavin A. Schmidt.

In his acceptance speech, Rahmstorf says that “climate change is not just an “environmental” issue; it is foremost a massive problem for human society.”

“Those who understand this threat to humankind have a duty to speak up. All the more so as there are powerful interests on the other side whose income depends on the general public not understanding the science and who have no scruples to go to great lengths to obfuscate scientific findings.

“That shouldn’t deter us from talking truth to power—and to the ostriches, as last year’s winner of the AGU Climate Communication Prize, my good colleague Richard Alley, explains in his excellent video series How to Talk to an Ostrich. It’s not enough to do good science. As atmospheric scientist and Nobel laureate Sherwood Rowland was quoted as saying in the 1986 New Yorker article “Annals of Chemistry: In the Face of Doubt” by Paul Brodeur, “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

“So I would like to encourage many more climate researchers to get engaged in climate communication. You might even win a prize. But even more rewarding, you will likely help humanity navigate through the climate crisis with less suffering and loss.”

Rahmstorf has published numerous research articles in high-ranking scientific journals, but also books targeting a broader public including even a children’s book. He is also one of the founders of the English-language science blog RealClimate as well as of its German counterpart KlimaLounge. He features in hundreds of interviews done by journalists working for print media or TV broadcasters around the world.

One can find a number of his videos on YouTube and on his homepage. In the following video, Rahmstorf discusses how he came to study science, where his research is taking him now, and whether or not there is a legitimate scientific debate about humans causing global warming.

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