Economists Who Changed Thinking on Climate Change Win Nobel Prize

The ideas of William Nordhaus and Paul Romer have shaped today’s policies on greenhouse gas emissions.
Economists Who Changed Thinking on Climate Change Win Nobel Prize
William Nordhaus (left) and Paul Romer.

A pair of U.S. economists, William Nordhaus and Paul Romer, share the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for integrating climate change, and technological change, into macroeconomics, which deals with the behaviour of an economy as a whole.

Nordhaus, at the University of Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, is the founding father of the study of climate change economics. Economic models he has developed since the 1990s are now widely used to weigh the costs and benefits of curbing greenhouse gas emissions against those of inaction. His studies are central to determining the social cost of carbon, an attempt to quantify the total cost to society of greenhouse-gases, including hidden factors such as extreme weather and lower crop yields. The metric is increasingly used when implementing climate change policies.

“Nordhaus was in a position early on to think about climate change from a human welfare and well-being perspective,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Without him, there wouldn’t be such a subject of climate economics.”

Romer, who is at the NYU Stern School of Business in New York, was honoured for his work on the role of technological change in economic growth. The economist is best-known for his studies on how market forces and economic decisions facilitate technological change. His ‘endogenous growth theory’, developed in the 1990s, opened new avenues of research on how policies and regulations can prompt new ideas and economic innovation.

And Romer’s work also has implications for policies relating to climate-change mitigation. “He showed clearly that unregulated free markets will not sufficiently invest in research and development activities,” says Edenhofer.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement: “William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer have designed methods for addressing some of ourtime’s most basic and pressing questions about how we create long-term sustained and sustainableeconomic growth.”

Karplus, Levitt, Warshel win Nobel chemistry prize.

Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel won this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for laying the foundation for the computer models used to understand and predict chemical processes.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said their research in the 1970s has helped scientists develop programs that unveil chemical processes such as the purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves. “The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton’s classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics,” the academy said. “Previously, chemists had to choose to use either/or.” Karplus, a U.S. and Austrian citizen, is affiliated with the University of Strasbourg, France, and Harvard University. The academy said Levitt is a British, U.S., and Israeli citizen and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Warshel is a U.S. and Israeli citizen affiliated with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Warshel told a news conference in Stockholm by telephone that he was “extremely happy” to be awakened in the middle of the night in Los Angeles to find out he had won the prize and looks forward to collecting the award in the Swedish capital in December. “In short what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does,” Warshel said. Earlier this week, three Americans won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries about how key substances are moved around within cells and the physics award went to British and Belgian scientists whose theories help explain how matter formed after the Big Bang. The Noble Committee Prize Announcement The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2013 to Martin Karplus (Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA), Michael Levitt (Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA), and Arieh Warshel (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA) “for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems” The computer—your Virgil in the world of atoms Chemists used to create models of molecules using plastic balls and sticks. Today, the modelling is carried out in computers. In the 1970s, Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel laid the foundation for the powerful programs that are used to understand and predict chemical processes. Computer models mirroring real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today. Chemical reactions occur at lightning speed. In a fraction of a millisecond, electrons jump from one atomic nucleus to the other. Classical chemistry has a hard time keeping up; it is virtually impossible to experimentally map every little step in a chemical process. Aided by the methods now awarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, scientists let computers unveil chemical processes, such as a catalyst’s purification of exhaust fumes or the photosynthesis in green leaves. The work of Karplus, Levitt and Warshel is ground-breaking in that they managed to make Newton’s classical physics work side-by-side with the fundamentally different quantum physics. Previously, chemists had to choose to use either or. The strength of classical physics was that calculations were simple and could be used to model really large molecules. Its weakness, it offered no way to simulate chemical reactions. For that purpose, chemists instead had to use quantum physics. But such calculations required enormous computing power and could therefore only be carried out for small molecules. This year’s Nobel Laureates in chemistry took the best from both worlds and devised methods that use both classical and quantum physics. For instance, in simulations of how a drug couples to its target protein in the body, the computer performs quantum theoretical calculations on those atoms in the target protein that interact with the drug. The rest of the large protein is simulated using less demanding classical physics. Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube. Simulations are so realistic that they predict the outcome of traditional experiments.



The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2013 to

François Englert 
Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium


Peter W. Higgs
University of Edinburgh, UK

“for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider

Here, at last!

François Englert and Peter W. Higgs are jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 for the theory of how particles acquire mass. In 1964, they proposed the theory independently of each other (Englert together with his now deceased colleague Robert Brout). In 2012, their ideas were confirmed by the discovery of a so called Higgs particle at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in Switzerland..

The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed. According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles. These particles are governed by forces mediated by force particles that make sure everything works as it should.

The entire Standard Model also rests on the existence of a special kind of particle: the Higgs particle. This particle originates from an invisible field that fills up all space. Even when the universe seems empty this field is there. Without it, we would not exist, because it is from contact with the field that particles acquire mass. The theory proposed by Englert and Higgs describes this process.

On 4 July 2012, at the CERN laboratory for particle physics, the theory was confirmed by the discovery of a Higgs particle. CERN’s particle collider, LHC (Large Hadron Collider), is probably the largest and the most complex machine ever constructed by humans. Two research groups of some 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to extract the Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.

Even though it is a great achievement to have found the Higgs particle — the missing piece in the Standard Model puzzle — the Standard Model is not the final piece in the cosmic puzzle. One of the reasons for this is that the Standard Model treats certain particles, neutrinos, as being virtually massless, whereas recent studies show that they actually do have mass. Another reason is that the model only describes visible matter, which only accounts for one fifth of all matter in the cosmos. To find the mysterious dark matter is one of the objectives as scientists continue the chase of unknown particles at CERN.

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