Using the Nobel Prize to Save the Planet

Using the Nobel Prize to Save the Planet

On February 21, 2020 over 40 Nobel laureates signed on to a letter urging Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau to reject the Teck Frontier tar sand mine development, proposed since 2011 by Teck Resources Limited, to harvest oil from the sand.

On February 23, Teck withdrew its regulatory application for the project.

The oil sands are in northeast Alberta, Canada.

Oil sands are a watery mixture of sand and clay soaked with a thick form of petroleum known as bitumen, which can be extracted for fossil fuel in an energy-intensive to process.

The proposed mining operation would have required destruction of over 59,300 acres of forest.

The sands are within miles of Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the second largest public park in the world.

The park is home to over 5,000 wood bison and is one of only two known nesting places for whooping cranes in the world.

12 of the signatories were Medicine Nobel Prize winners*, following on a long tradition of laureates using their notoriety to champion or denounce various social situations.

The earliest was Archibald Vivian Hill, the 1921 Nobel Prize winner in medicine.

In 1933, the same year Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Hill gave a lecture to international scientists at a meeting in Birmingham, England, in which he decried the concentration camps, where the German National Socialist government held a hundred thousand political prisoners.

Herman Joseph Muller won the 1946 Nobel Prize in Medicine, and he immediately leveraged his fame by being a very vocal on the subject of anti-nuclear proliferation

In 1955 Muller was one of 10 Nobel laureates to sign the Russell-Einstein Manifesto that called for an end to nuclear weapons testing.

Other Nobel laureates in medicine had a different take on social justice.

Some were prominent Nazis, such as Julius Warner-Juaregg, or early eugenicists, like Thomas Hunt Morgan, Alexis Carrel, and Charles Richet, or modern day racists like James Watson.

Read more about the surprisingly diverse group of racists, cranks, and opportunists, as well as humanitarians and geniuses that comprise the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in Boneheads & Brainiacs: Heroes and Scoundrels of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

*Elizabeth H Blackburn, William C Campbell, Mario Capecchi, Andrew Fire, Louis Ignarro, Brian Kobilka, Erwin Neher, Richard J Roberts, Michael Rosbash, Gregg Semenza, Thomas Sudhof, Jack W Szostak.

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