Michael Oppenheimer

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Michael Oppenheimer
Michael Oppenheimer, PhD.png
Michael Oppenheimer, PhD
Born (1946-02-28) February 28, 1946 (age 73)
New York City
EducationS.B. (M.I.T.) in Chemistry; Ph.D. (University of Chicago) in Chemical Physics
OccupationProfessor of Geosciences and International Affairs
EmployerPrinceton University
WebsiteOppenheimer's homepage

Michael Oppenheimer (born February 28, 1946) is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. He is the Director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP) at the Woodrow Wilson School and Faculty Associate of the Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences Program, Princeton Environmental Institute, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.[1]

Oppenheimer has taken a leading role in various environmental and science policy related activities, with regard to acid rain, and contributed to the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. With regard to climate change, he was a major author of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report.

Oppenheimer is also a prominent public figure and has discussed the various aspects of global warming in the media. He has been a guest on many television and radio programs and talk shows, including This Week, Nightline, Alcove, The News Hour, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Charlie Rose, ABC News, and The Colbert Report. Oppenheimer is the author of over 140 articles published in professional journals.

He is the author of Dead Heat: The Race Against The Greenhouse Effect, written together with environmental activist Robert H. Boyle and published in 1990. Oppenheimer is co-founder of the Climate Action Network.


Oppenheimer (born February 28, 1946 in NYC) joined the Princeton faculty after more than two decades with The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a non-governmental, environmental organization, where he served as chief scientist and manager of the Climate and Air Program. Prior to his position at The Environmental Defense Fund, Dr. Oppenheimer served as Atomic and Molecular Astrophysicist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Lecturer on Astronomy at Harvard University. He received an S.B. in chemistry from M.I.T., a Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Chicago, and pursued post-doctoral research at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center. He continues to serve as a science advisor to EDF. Oppenheimer has been a member of several panels of the National Academy of Sciences and is now a member of the National Academies' Board on Energy and Environmental Systems. He is also a winner of the 2010 Heinz Award with special focus on global change[2] and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[1]

Research interests[edit]

His interests include science and policy of the atmosphere, particularly climate change and its impacts. Much of his research aims to understand the potential for "dangerous" outcomes of increasing levels of greenhouse gases by exploring the effects of global warming on ecosystems such as coral reefs, on the ice sheets and sea level, and on patterns of human migration.[1] He has assessed linkages among climate change, crop yields and Mexico–US cross-border migration[3]. Oppenheimer studies the process of scientific learning and scientific assessments and their role in influencing public policies to respond to global change[4].

Role in global science policy[edit]

Oppenheimer is a long-time participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, serving recently as a lead author of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report and then as a coordinating lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report as well as a Special Report on climate extremes and disasters. In the late 1980s, Dr. Oppenheimer and a handful of other scientists organized two workshops under the auspices of the United Nations that helped precipitate the negotiations that resulted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (signed at the 1992 Earth Summit) and the Kyoto Protocol. During that period, he co-founded the Climate Action Network. His research and advocacy work on acid rain also contributed to the passage of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act.

Assessment of the IPCC process[edit]

In 2007, he wrote about limitations of the IPCC consensus approach in Science Magazine.[5] The current centralized assessment role of the IPCC allows for "communication in a monolithic message" but risks "ossification and eventual irrelevance" of the IPCC as an institution.[6] According to him, the problem of creating, defending, and communicating consensus, as well as departures from the consensus had been discussed but not addressed until after the AR4.[6] Oppenheimer notes important recent major changes within the IPCC, including a stronger focus on uncertainty since the InterAcademy Panel IAC 2010 IPCC review and a focus upon risk management approaches based on fundamental conclusions in the AR4 Synthesis Report.[6] With regard to the IPCC double role as trying to communicate its results both to governments and to the general public, he sees the organization as not being entirely successful at either.[6] The IPCC needs, according to Oppenheimer, to decide whether it intends to communicate with the general public at all.[6]

In 2011, together with Gary Yohe, he published an essay, with a scope on the uncertainties in the IPCC assessments regarding e.g. climate sensitivity and a potential collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and about the similarly important evolution of socio-political-economic systems.[6]

Together with Jessica O'Reilly and Naomi Oreskes, Oppenheimer discussed the case of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet assessment in IPCC reports in a Social Studies of Science paper in 2012. The possible disastrous outcome of a disintegration of the WAIS for global sea levels was assessed in the IPCC Third Assessment Report but was barely addressed in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. IPCC authors were less confident about predictions of WAIS disintegration not only due to new science results published since the Third Assessment, but also due to reasons of internal "culture", such as changes of IPCC chairpersons, authors' teams, and chapter organization, which makes it too difficult to project the range of possible futures for the WAIS as desired by governments.[7]

Recent awards and honors[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

Overview of publications at Google Scholar


  1. ^ a b c Princenton University. "Michael Oppenheimer". Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The Heinz Awards: Michael Oppenheimer". The Heinz Awards. The Heinz Awards. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  3. ^ Shuaizhang, Feng; Oppenheimer, Michael (2012). "Applying statistical models to the climate–migration relationship". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. 109 (43): e2915. doi:10.1073/pnas.1212226109. PMC 3491464. PMID 22908301.
  4. ^ Oppenheimer, Michael; O'Neill, Brian; Webster, Mort; Agrawala, Shardul (2007). "The Limits of Consensus". Science. 317 (5884): 1505–1506. doi:10.1126/science.1144831. PMID 17872430.
  5. ^ Oppenheimer Michael; et al. (2007). "The limits of consensus", in Science Magazine's State of the Planet 2008-2009: with a Special Section on Energy and Sustainability, Donald Kennedy, Island Press, 01.12.2008, separate as Michael Oppenheimer, Brian C. O'Neill, Mort Webster, Shardul Agrawal, "CLIMATE CHANGE, The Limits of Consensus". Science. 317 (5844): 1505–06. doi:10.1126/science.1144831. PMID 17872430.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Gary Yohe and Michael Oppenheimer (13 August 2011). "Evaluation, characterization, and communication of uncertainty by the intergovernmental panel on climate change—an introductory essay". Climatic Change. 108 (4): 629–639. doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0176-8.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ The Rapid Disintegration of Projections: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Jessica O'Reilly, Naomi Oreskes, Michael Oppenheimer Social Studies of Science June 26, 2012, doi:10.1177/0306312712448130

External links[edit]