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Nobel laureates to meet in Lindau

Since 1951, Nobel laureates have been meeting yearly in Lindau on Lake Constance to pass on their gems of wisdom to the next generation. Young scientists eager to learn from the very best in their field are nominated to come to Lindau and meet the laureates whose work they most admire.

The idea for the Lindau meeting was originally conceived – together with two physicians – by Count Lennart Bernadotte of Wisborg, a member of the Swedish royal family, who had a lifelong interest in science. Wisborg saw the meetings as a “window to the world” for the international scientific elite of present and future generations.

This year’s event, which runs from this Sunday until Friday July 3rd, is dedicated to chemistry, and will be attended by 23 Nobel Laureates and 580 young researchers from 67 countries.

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I’ll be traveling there tomorrow with colleagues and a film crew to meet with some of the best world’s best atmospheric chemists. Attending Lindau this year are Mario Molina, Sherwood Rowland and Paul Crutzen, who jointly received the Nobel Prize in 1995 for their work on stratospheric ozone depletion, which led to the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer.

Also on this year’s programme is a panel discussion with Rajendra Pachauri and Thomas Stocker of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN climate body that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

While at Lindau, we’ll be making a short film about the role of climate scientists in speaking on and advising on policy. When Molina and Rowland first published their results on ozone depletion in a 1974 Nature paper, they were conventionally understated in communicating the wider implications. But when the research failed to grab much attention, they went public on their concerns and called for a worldwide ban on CFCs. Their call was successful and ultimately led to the formation of the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty designed to phase out the use of CFCs.

There is perhaps much to be learned from their experience today. Climate scientists are increasingly being asked to communicate the implications of their research to policy makers, and indeed to make their research more policy relevant. Clearly, the solution to climate change will not nearly be as simple as the phasing out of CFCs. But while some climate scientists (and perhaps one in particular) have not held back in speaking their minds openly on policy, many others have. Perhaps this is out of concern that by becoming advocates they would damage their credibility as independent scientists. But with so much at stake, is that position justifiable? I’ll be exploring this question, among others, next week in Lindau.

You can follow the Lindau meeting here on Climate Feedback, where I’ll be blogging daily.

Olive Heffernan

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