Leading black scientist to win the Nobel Prize for Climate Change



Warren Washington can detect at least one of the sources of his excellent scientific career – more than half a century of pioneering progress in computing the computer model – in a youthful curiosity about the color of egg yolks.

"I had some great teachers in high school, including a chemistry teacher who really started me," she says. "One day I asked her:" Why are egg yolks yellow? "He said," Why do not you know? " It still remembers the answer: sulfur compounds in chicken feed are concentrated in the yolk, they move in yellow. "I also had an excellent physics teacher," he says, describing why he became a natural physicist.

These teachers will be extremely proud of him today. Before the evolution of sophisticated computers, scientists knew little about the atmosphere except what they could observe completely. Then came a new black physicist, eager to use early computers to understand the functioning of the Earth's climate. He collaborated on the creation of older computer air conditioning models and continued to advise six presidents – Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – on climate change. Washington was a pioneer in climate modeling. Working with Japanese scientists in the early 1960s, he was one of the first to create atmospheric computing models using the laws of physics to predict future atmospheric conditions. Despite its completion, he avoids any self-promotion and looks satisfied with his low public profile.

"I'm quiet but not at the extreme," he says. "I'm not as vocal as some people in the field, but that's okay. [Some] people say I'm a legend, while others are joking about the fact that I'm still alive. "Compared with the themes of the film Hidden figures, the black, female mathematicians who worked for NASA in the 1960s, laughs. "You know, I think I met these ladies," he says, pressing. "It was just a small world then."

President Obama commissioned the National Science Medal in Washington in 2010. He recently left 54 ​​years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, although he is not very retiring. At 82 he continues to conduct research as a distinguished scholar.

There is no Nobel Prize for Climate Change, the most pressing environmental problem worldwide. But if there were (and there is an ongoing campaign to create one), Washington will definitely be on the list. It will soon get the next best thing, the Tyler Award for Environmental Achievement, often referred to as Environmental Nobel. He will share the honor with climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth Sciences Science Center at Pennsylvania University.

In addition to recognizing their pioneering climate research, the award also sends a message to climate skeptics that have passed since Mann and Washington. Mann has suffered multiple public attacks, and Washington, despite its low nature, occasionally threatens deaths from death, which says "they did not really affect me." Washington applauded Man to stand on the critics. "She handled it very well," he says

For his part, Mann is excited to share the prize with Washington, his long-time son. "I read my papers when I was a graduate student and my real hero," says Mann, pointing out that Washington received a PhD in atmospheric sciences – not just the second African-American who ever did – Penn State. "He is one of our most distinguished graduates," says Mann. "It is such a great model that talks about the fundamental contribution that diversity plays to the advancement of science."

Washington's father, Edwin, was raised in Birmingham, Alabama and attended Talladega College, a small, historic black college. After graduating in 1928, he left the South for Seattle, and then a year later for Portland, where Washington was born and raised. During the Great Depression, jobs were rare, so Edwin took the only job he could find as a waiter at Union Pacific Railroad. "It was bitter about it," says Washington.

Washington's mother Dorothy attended Oregon's University for 18 months with a specialty in music. "He could not stay in the dorm because he would not allow black women," he says. "He had to work as a living helper for a family to have a place to stay. He left college after two years because he was upset about it."

At elementary school, Washington reads books about George Washington Carver and other black Americans "who make interesting science". From high school, he had decided a career in physics. But the racism faced by his parents was still alive at the University of Oregon. "My first-year counselor told me I should not stay in physics because it was probably very difficult for me," he says. Ignoring the advice, he graduated in 1958 with a degree in physics. He then earned his master's degree in meteorology in 1960, also from the Oregon state, and finally Ph.D. in atmospheric science in 1964.

The oldest computer he used (he thinks it was in 1957) was an old vacuum-tube model, about the size of a room and agonizing slow. "Nowadays it took a day to create a simulation day," he says. Today, "for the highest resolution, we can probably do 10 years a day. For the lowest, we can probably do 100 years a day. Today, most likely have more computing power on my smartphone than in those very early computers. "

Most of the presidents he consulted, with the exception of Obama, are more interested in supporting climate research than in mitigating, he says. President Obama, on the other hand, supported the Paris climate agreement and created many climate protections.

Washington met her for the first time in autumn 2007 when Obama was still a senator. "We both wanted to talk to Congress's Black Party on Climate Change," he remembers. "He spoke before me and it was clear that he had read the IPCC report [a major UN report on climate change]. I was next and I pushed him a little, "You spoke to me." He laughed. "

It is no surprise that Washington has not been asked to inform President Trumpa, who intends to withdraw from the Paris accord and is working to remove numerous Obama's climate protection measures. He does not get tips, like most presidents [do], Says Washington. It has no interest in reading any references to any subject and not just to science. During his speech to the state of the Union to Congress, he did not even mention it [climate change] once."

However, Washington is encouraged by climate action outside of the federal government and still has hope for the future. "I think we have to suffer for another two years with this president," he says. "But I have not lost my optimism."

Marlene Cimons writes about Nexus Media, a merged newsswire covering climate, energy, politics, art, and culture.