Learning from the Laureates: Mario Molina on climate change

By Guest Author 05/07/2013

University of Canterbury PhD chemistry student Sandra Atkinson is one of 15 young scientists from around the world selected to attend a five day event following the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany. She is rubbing shoulders with Nobel Laureates all week and blogging about it here on Sciblogs

Today is our last set of lectures. It is the end of the conference on Lindau Island as tomorrow we are going on an excursion to Mainau Island. 

From there I will be attending Baden-Württemberg Post Conference Programme
for Young Scientists to the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting. I am one of 15 students to be invited to go on a tour of the Baden-Württemberg region around some of the universities and institutes. I’m definitely going to make the most of the opportunity to see the inside of different laboratories around the country.

We listened to a wide range of topics from Werner Arber, Mario Molina, Avram Hershko, Theodor Hänsch, K. Alex Müller, Robert Huber and Harold Kroto. I’ve chosen to focus on the talk by Mario Molina for the morning session.

Mario Molina
Mario Molina

Mario J. Molina

Communicating Climate Change Science

Mario Molina got his Nobel Prize in 1995 which and shared the award with Paul J. Crutzen and F. Sherwood Rowland “for their work in atmospheric chemistry, particularly concerning the formation and decomposition of ozone”.

Mario started by explaining that the Earth’s atmosphere gets energy from the sun and from Planck’s equation you could calculate the average temperature of the Earth being approximately -18oC. The reason why it is not this temperature is due to the atmosphere where radiation is reflected back to the Earth’s surface, raising the average temperature to around +15oC. However, this temperature change was in the absence of humans.

We were then shown graphs and data that showed a correlation between the increase in population of people and CO2 emmisions, with the increase in the average world temperature. Knowing that there may be people skeptical about climate change, Mario showed results from surveys from scientists, media and the general public regarding whether or not they thought that there was human contribution to climate change.

From the survey (which was a few years old) 97% of scientists agree on human influence playing  a part, whereas this dropped significantly for the media and to about 26% for the general public. He discussed that this was an issue, which was also discussed by Steven Chu earlier in the week. Mario told us that society tends to have the attitude that if it isn’t their problem they don’t want to immediately do anything about it. However to implement change, there first needs to be a change in government policies and the support to spend money on the solution (estimated at about 1-2% of the world’s GDP).

Science communication

This lecture brought up the topic of science communication which was has been the main focus of the Nobel Laureate meeting. Throughout the lectures, workshops, small discussions, panel discussions and master classes, being able to communicate has been a big focus.

The opportunities to communicate science effectively and clearly such as through Open Access journals and through the community were just some of the points that I brought away from the meeting. Since I’ve already talked about communication in part in the earlier blog I won’t focus on it here, but it is definitely one of the main things that I have taken away from this experience.

A slide showing the Earth’s Greenhouse Effect by reflecting the Sun’s radiation
A slide showing the Earth’s Greenhouse Effect by reflecting the Sun’s radiation

Final points

This is my last blog from the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. I’ve finally got to the end of my highly eventful week. I’ve met so many people and knowing what I know now about the Lindau meetings, I would highly encourage other young scientists to apply and give it a go.

Before I applied I hadn’t heard about the meetings as they aren’t highly publicised in New Zealand or quite a few other countries. You have nothing to lose from applying however you have everything to gain from this once in a lifetime experience!