Published: 22nd June 2017
This Nobel Laurate tells us why climate change will triumph over Donald Trump
On Nobel Laureate Dr Brain Schmidt’s maiden visit to Chennai, Seema Rajpal catches up with him to talk about all things Trump and climate change
Winning a Nobel Prize garners a lot of attention, but not enough to get recognised on the streets. That is why one would probably acknowledge a six feet, five inches tall Glenn McGrath rather than the Nobel Laurate, Dr Brian Schmidt on a plane. And this is the most beautiful thing about winning a Nobel, opines the 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, stating that he is happy to watch on as the immigration officer asks McGrath about his seam bowling. While this is Dr Schmidt's first few hours in Chennai, he’s already found it much calmer than Mumbai and Delhi he tells us, as we settle in to talk to the current vice-chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU) at ITC Grand Chola recently.
Makings of a Laureate
You would think that Astronomy would be a Nobel Laureate in Physics’ childhood passion, but for Dr Schmidt it started off as a pastime. This prompts us to ask the vice-chancellor how important it is for students to have multiple plans in case Plan A fails, to which he replies, "People start with doing what they love, but operate with the idea that if they don’t succeed then they’ve failed in life. But it is important to remember that everyone has a plan B, or C, or even D," attributing his love for science to his fisheries biologist father and his extroverted personality to his mother.
One of the things that makes a great scientist is knowing when you are hitting your head against a brick wall and when the problem is just hard — this requires judgement. Persevere when possible
Dr Brian Schmidt, Nobel laurate
Dr Schmidt opines that even what defines a Nobel Prize winner is changing overtime. It used to, quite frankly, be about being a privileged white male, pursuing research in a reputed institute, he tells us. Now it's all about being in the right place, at the right time, doing good work and most importantly, asking important questions. After all, "Science is not religion. Science is not colour. It has always worked because it has been challenged," notes the Nobel Laureate.
In the time of Trump
When the US-born Dr Schmidt took up the post of vice-chancellor a little over a year ago, he came with a mission. "In the time of great uncertainty around the world, where universities not only have the opportunity but the necessity to contribute to solving world problems, it's imperative that ANU reasserts itself as one of the greatest universities in the world," says the 50-year-old, passionately. And though he describes being a vice-chancellor as the "hardest job" he has ever done, he also realises that he has the power to enable people to do amazing things, and that is a good feeling, he tells us.
As soon as we hear the word ‘uncertainty’, US President Donald Trump pops into our mind and we recall that Dr Schmidt had once said, "Trump will break American democracy or American democracy will break Trump," and he still stands by it. When we ask Dr Schmidt what he thinks about Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, he says that though "he (Trump) is acting more or less as I expected," he is still disappointed with Trump's ‘looking into climate change’ statement.
The Nobel Laureate, who is one among the 73 signatories of the 2015 Mainau Declaration, which declared it imperative for nations to act on climate change even before the Paris Agreement was signed, calls Trump's attitude to climate change "incredibly oppositional and deeply flawed." He then adds, “But Trump is a lone voice and climate change is something that America will continue to work on, independently." And rightly so. Only last week, Michael Bloomberg, founder and CEO of Bloomberg offered $15 million to make up for Washington's share of the Paris Accord's cost. And what does Dr Schmidt have to say to those who doubt the effects of climate change? The scientist urges people to pay attention to the consensus of expert opinions, instead of basing their conclusions on the incomplete information which they personally know.