Tributes have poured in from around the world for Professor Will Steffen, with health leaders joining scientists, politicians and many others in acknowledging his contributions to climate science, advocacy and communications, as well as his admirable personal qualities.
See a selection of tweets below, as well as links to obituaries and statements.
The Guardian: Will Steffen, ‘courageous’ climate scientist, dies in Canberra aged 75 (reports that he died after almost a year of treatment for pancreatic cancer and includes comments from his family)
The Washington Post: Will Steffen, scientist who fought climate denialism, dies at 75
ABC News: One of Australia’s most influential and respected climate scientists’ Will Steffen dies aged 75
Statement by The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research : “…the world is losing a courageous and brilliant Earth system scientist and an inspiring advisor and communicator. Steffen was also one of the spiritual fathers of the planetary boundaries framework.”
Tribute by Emeritus Professor Barbara Norman: “Will Steffen’s commitment to action on climate change was unwavering, often against the tide demonstrating the courage of a warrior, the intellect of a scientist and at the same time delivered with compassion and grace. He also had a great sense of humour just as you were about to walk into a serious meeting or press conference, which at times, helped a lot! A truly remarkable human being.
“Our thoughts are with Will’s family at this difficult time. He often spoke of his wife Carrie and daughter Sonja with great pride and clearly missed them when he had to travel far and wide. Will Steffen gave everything he had to creating a more sustainable future. He will be deeply missed by many friends and colleagues, but his legacy will continue to influence for years to come.”
Sourced from ANU: Will Steffen has a long history in international global change research, serving from 1998 to 2004 as Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), based in Stockholm, Sweden, and before that as Executive Officer of IGBP’s Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems project.
Will was the Inaugural Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, from 2008-2012. Prior to that, he was Director of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society. From 2004 to 2011 he served as science adviser to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change. He was a Climate Councillor with the Climate Institute, and from 2011 to 2013 was a Climate Commissioner on the Australian Government’s Climate Commission; Chair of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee, Co-Director of the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures (CURF) initiative and Member of the ACT Climate Change Council.
Steffen’s interests spanned a broad range within the fields of sustainability and Earth System science, with an emphasis on the science of climate change, approaches to climate change adaptation in land systems, incorporation of human processes in Earth System modelling and analysis; and the history and future of the relationship between humans and the rest of nature.
When I was finishing writing Doughnut Economics – in that very final frantic stage – I would send paragraphs to Will late at night, hoping to get a climate scientist’s double check on my text. His response would be in my inbox in the morning. So generous.
Will once explained to me how he solved the mystery of an anomaly in global temperature data. “If you really want to understand a system” he said, “learn to understand the system one level above it.” A golden insight from a master practitioner that I have followed for years.
He was a committed communicator and educator, giving talk after talk, creating powerful new graphs, new framings, new ways of explaining things – all with the goal of making the devastating risks of climate and ecological breakdown as plain and accessible as he could to any audience.
Watch this brilliant lecture he gave in 2022 on the latest in planetary boundary science. His final slide – a profound quote from one of Australia’s Indigenous leaders and elders – now has great poignancy.
Read The Conversation article: ‘Failure is not an option’: after a lost decade on climate action, the 2020s offer one last chance
See Croakey’s archive of articles on climate and health