The 2021 Eduard Brückner Prize

The Eduard Brückner Prize has been established for outstanding interdisciplinary achievements in climate research. The award is named after the outstanding geographer Eduard Brückner (1862-1927), who, in addition to researching the ice age climate in the Alps and the natural climate fluctuations on time scales of decades, also made outstanding contributions to the economic and social dimensions of understanding climate in historical times. The Prize has so far been awarded five times during the German Climate Conference (DKT), namely to Christian Pfister in 2000, to Ernst Maier-Reimer in 2003, to Roger Pielke jr. 2006, to James R. Fleming in 2015, and to Rudolf Brazdil in 2018. The 2021 Prize will be awarded as part of the 12th German Climate Conference (12DKT; in Hamburg) and includes a prize money of 1500 euros financed by the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht. The award committee selects from the proposals and applications submitted – Jürgen Sündermann, Heinz Wanner, Hans von Storch, Martin Claussen, and Gudrun Rosenhagen.

Below is the text of my acceptance speech delivered at the 12DKT Conference in Hamburg on 16 March 2021 ….

“Thank you very much Professor Claussen and Professor von Storch for your generous words, and I also thank the Institute of Coastal Systems of the Helmholtz Zentrum in Geesthacht for their sponsorship.

It is a great pleasure for me to accept this Eduard Brückner Award from you.  I am honoured to receive this recognition, not least because of the eminent scientists who have been previous recipients, many of whose work has influenced my own.  It is also an honour because of the many interactions I have had with German climate scientists and institutions throughout my career.  I have great respect for the scientific tradition, institutions and academics of your country.  I can only observe with regret the decision made by my own country a few years ago to leave the EU.  But, of course, cooperation and collaboration in science knows no boundaries, and so this Award is a great symbol of mutual friendship and respect between nations.

Nico Stehr and Hans von Storch first drew my attention 20 years ago to the work of Eduard Brückner in their extensive assessment of his life and works: Stehr,N. & von Storch,H. ‘Eduard Brückner: The Sources and Consequences of Climate Change and Climate Variability in Historical Times (Kluwer Academic, 2000).  Brückner’s pioneering work was very much of the tradition of the English historical climatologist Hubert H Lamb, whose work had first inspired me in the late 1970s as a university student.  Lamb shared with Brückner two core convictions.  They both recognised that climates change in significant ways and for complex reasons on human time-scales and, second, that these changes have macro-scale significance for human societies and for the natural world.  As Lamb’s work taught me — and as Brückner had realised many decades earlier — climates and societies are in a deeply symbiotic relationship.

This is what today’s social scientists might describe as ‘entanglement’.  And so now, today, to fully understand climate change and its significance, we have to study the phenomenon from a social and political angle as much as from a scientific one.  All good Geographers recognise the importance of both scientific and social scientific studies and Brückner was exceptional in this regard.  He was an early and pre-eminent European Geographer – holding chairs of Geography first at the University of Bern and then later at Vienna.  I, too, am a Geographer by training – and now by my institutional title here at Cambridge as Professor of Human Geography – and so Brückner’s path for the study of climate change is one with which I am very much in sympathy.

My only regret today is that I cannot be present physically with you at the KlimaCampus in Hamburg for the 12DKT Conference and that I therefore have to miss the opportunity to reacquaint  with you both and with other German colleagues.”