EEHH: Congratulations on winning the Nobel Prize in Physics! Classic question: what went through your mind when your phone rang and you found out you had won?
Hasselmann:“I couldn’t believe it. It was very surreal for me and still is. We initially thought it was fake news, until the email came and reporters were at the door. I never thought I’d receive the Nobel Prize, especially as Geosciences weren’t included in the Nobel Prizes. Obviously that has now changed.”
EEHH: You’re one of the pioneers of climate research. Why have you always been fascinated by this area? How has this scientific discipline changed since the 1970s?
Hasselmann:“I always wanted to discover how the world works. I was simply curious and that’s probably a prerequisite for every scientist. At first, I wanted to solve the turbulence problem. That was a little ambitious for a young man. But as is so often the case in science, effort is seldom wasted. In the course of my work I discovered the factor in the development of waves on the surface of the sea that leads to the development of short to long waves: the non-linear transfer of energy from the top of the spectrum to lower and higher frequencies. I was also able to apply this technique to other areas: planetary and seismic waves. When I presented these using Feynman diagrams, I had the idea for a deterministic, standardised elementary particle theory, by adding another eight wave dimensions to the four space-time dimensions. I continued to pursue this as a hobby. In the meantime, a JONSWAP experiment had confirmed my sea-wave theory and I delved deeper into the interaction between air and sea. From there, the next step was climate research. When the President of Max Planck Society, Reimar Lüst, gave me the opportunity to establish a Max Planck Institute in 1974, I could no longer contain my curiosity. First, I wanted to understand the principle behind natural climate fluctuations, which led to a controversial paper in 1978: A stochastic climate model. Of course, I’m no longer involved in today’s research and don’t know much about it. But as far as I can tell, we can now reveal a lot more details about the climate, both regionally and chronologically, thanks to increasing computer capacities.”
EEHH: Do you think that the 1.5 degree target is realistic? In your opinion, what should the international community do first?
Hasselmann:“This is a highly complex issue. The international community has been trying to agree upon joint actions for years. They have failed to do so for many reasons, including the fact that promises are not being kept and industrial nations are unwilling to recognise that they are causing the pollution and are therefore obliged to help poor countries that in turn are suffering the consequences. We have the technical means to address this issue and there are plenty of new ideas. We just need to get on with it."
EEHH:In recent years, climate protection has gained new momentum thanks to movements such as Fridays for Future and German Zero. How do you rate the contribution of these “younger” groups?
Hasselmann:“The contribution of young people is hugely important and I’m grateful for their work. But they also need to understand the global reality alongside the need to give people a wake-up call."
EEHH:What are your hopes for Germany’s new government?
Hasselmann:“The new government has big plans and I can only hope that these will be successful. Some of them annoy me. Take nuclear power, for example. If we look at the electricity import tables, Germany imports a lot of nuclear power from France and other countries. We’re actually lying to ourselves if we think we can decommission our nuclear power stations. I agree with the famous climate researcher, James Hansen: first you get rid of coal. When you’ve offset coal, you stop using oil, then gas and finally nuclear power. Otherwise, we’ll fail to address the CO2 issue.”
Thank you for this fascinating interview and all the best, Prof Hasselmann!