New Public Outreach Prize Goes to Earth Institute Climatologist

October 18, 2011
Gavin Schmidt
Schmidt, in his neighborhood.

A major new international prize for public communication on climate-change issues has been awarded to Gavin Schmidt of the Earth Institute-affiliated NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The $25,000 Climate Communications Prize was announced today by the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest organization of earth and space scientists.

Schmidt, an influential climate modeler who has authored more than 80 scientific papers, has also in recent years become a high-proifle figure in the often contentious public discussion of climate.
He is the driving force behind RealClimate, an authoritative blog on current climate topics aimed at both scientists and public. Founded in 2004, RealClimate provides a weekly discussion forum fueled by plain-language articles authored by Schmidt and other scientists. Widely praised for its objectivity and accessibility, it is currently ranked the fifth most popular science blog in the world, and is the top-ranked one on climate.
In 2009, Schmidt and photographer Joshua Wolfe created and coedited Climate Change: Picturing the Science. The book frames essays by Schmidt and others with climate-related photos from around the world taken by leading photographers for National Geographic, Smithsonian and other magazines. Popular Mechanics called it “the first book anyone seeking a layman’s understanding of the science of global warming should read.”
Schmidt is often called upon by the media to provide a scientist’s perspective on climate studies and issues, and has become a seasoned commentator, making appearances in newspapers, TV, radio and magazines. In addition to straight commentary, he has shown himself willing to do more offbeat appearances, such as a David Letterman Show comedy segment that made gentle fun of climate scientists. In the last couple of years, as the politics surrounding climate science have become more polarized, he has frequently dealt with hate mail, and faced off with self-declared climate skeptics in public.
More than 30 people--scientists and journalists--nominated Schmidt for the award. Lamont-Doherty climate scientist Peter deMenocal called Schmidt a hero in his letter of support.  "There is a massive disconnect between those of us closest to the science and its implications, and a general public that is being heavily lobbied by other interests.  As scientists, we all participate in research, education, and outreach, but it must be admitted that the fearless and persistent voice of reason belongs to few of us, and Gavin Schmidt is certainly one of these heroes."

In a 2009 interview, Schmidt told the website The Edge, “I don’t advocate for political solutions. If I do advocate for something … my advocacy is much more towards having more intelligent discussions.” 

“AGU created this award to raise the visibility of climate change as a critical issue facing the world today, to demonstrate our support for scientists who commit themselves to the effective communication of climate change science, and to encourage more scientists to engage with the public and policy makers on how climate research can contribute to the sustainability of our planet,” said AGU president Michael McPhaden in a press release.

The award, to be given yearly by the American Geophysical Union, is sponsored by Nature’s Own, a Boulder, Colo., company that specializes in the sale of specimens of minerals, fossils and decorative stones. As the inaugural recipient, Schmidt will be presented with the prize at the union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, Dec. 5-9.



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