Award-winning climatologist Gordon McBean is joining the ranks of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as a Fellow, a lifetime honour. McBean, a renowned climate expert, is a geography and environment professor emeritus and an adjunct research professor of physics and astronomy who has studied climate change for more than five decades.
“To me it’s very much an honour to be a Fellow of the AAAS. It’s a very prestigious international organization. I’m a fellow of quite a few others, but that’s one of the biggies. I’m so pleased someone nominated me,” McBean said.
The director of policy at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, McBean was elected for his “leadership in international programs and organizations, and for communicating climate change to the public, political leaders, and the business community,” according to the AAAS.
McBean helped create or lead a slew of programs, projects and global organizations dedicated to climate research and action, including a term as president of the International Council for Science from 2014 to 2018.
He had a long career as a scientist and assistant deputy minister with Environment Canada and came to Western in 2000.
McBean’s environmental work has taken him across the globe, from a ship off the coast of Northern Africa researching hurricanes, to breakfast meetings with the president of Taiwan, to conferences on almost every continent.
That international collaboration has been a crucial undertaking – along with providing hundreds of millions in research funding over the course of his career – to better understand the science behind the warming planet, with special emphasis on weather extremes, natural hazards and the Arctic.
Those cross-continental connections were also about furthering scientific research on pressing issues.
“We said, we’re not trying to do all the science on climate change, we’re trying to do projects that will bring together the science community where you need major participation on a global basis,” McBean said.
“We’re all scientists for a global public good.”
Explaining the realities of climate change to the public is equally important to McBean. He started giving talks to his children’s elementary school classes when he was a scientist with Environment Canada, stressing the need to address climate change for the sake of our children, grandchildren and all those around the world.
He’s since met with world leaders, and even battled them during attempts to muzzle scientists when policies and politics conflicted, all to educate and drive change.
“To me it’s always been important to communicate to the public. We need to be willing to talk and openly discuss the science, not try to be too political about it, just talk about the benefits of science,” he said.
Overseeing more than 100 scientists at Environment Canada, he empowered his team to hold briefings by putting staff through media and communication training and encouraging them to “explain the science, as it really is.”
McBean’s research and prominence led to advocacy work, pushing back against political forces and heads of state looking to dismiss the scientific community when climate change was a newer phenomenon, or when it garnered controversy.
Those efforts have been recognized with some of the top prizes in Canada and worldwide.
McBean was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change team that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
The following year, he was appointed to the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honours, for contributions that “enhanced Canada’s stature on the world stage.”
McBean is among 506 scientists across the world elected as AAAS 2022 Fellows for “efforts to advance science applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished.”
“AAAS is proud to elevate these standout individuals and recognize the many ways in which they’ve advanced scientific excellence, tackled complex societal challenges and pushed boundaries that will reap benefits for years to come,” Sudip S. Parikh, chief executive officer of AAAS said in a statement.
The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publishes the journal Science, among other publications.