Stellenbosch University's Prof Guy Midgley is one of four South African scientists listed on the Reuters Hot List of the top 1000 most influential climate change scientists in the world.
Prof Midgley is number 180 on the list, together with Prof Mark New (151) and Prof Chris Reason (722) from the University of Cape Town, and Prof Mark Jury (828) from the University of Zululand. Prof Midgley heads the global change biology research group in SU's Department of Botany and Zoology.
To identify these scientists, Reuters combined three rankings based on the number of climate change-related research papers published, how often these papers were cited by other scientists in similar fields of study, and how often those papers were referenced in the lay media, social media, policy papers and other outlets. According to the Reuters website, the Hot List does not claim to be a rank of the “best" or “most important" climate scientists in the world, but rather a measure of their influence.
In this effort, at least 350 000 papers were examined, 99% of which were published after 1988. According to Reuters: “In 1988, US scientist James Hansen went before Congress and testified about his research into the warming of the planet. More than 30 years later, Hansen's prediction that the average global temperature could rise by about one degree Celsius by 2019 has come to pass. His warning, and appeals for action from Hansen and others, went largely ignored by policymakers, despite an avalanche of confirmatory research from ensuing generations of climate scientists".
Prof Midgley says reports about James Hansen's testimony in 1988 encouraged him to consider climate change as a topic for his PhD-thesis: “I worked on how plants respond to rising CO2, a process now suspected to be behind the role of terrestrial ecosystems soaking up about one third of CO2 emissions annually".
More significantly, though, he does not believe that climate scientists are largely ignored – the so-called Cassandra-effect (in Greek mythology King Priam's daughter, Cassandra, is endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated never to be believed): “You surely cannot expect to change such a fundamental dependence as ours on fossil fuel in a short time. The science has most certainly shifted the debate significantly towards solutions, and there is still time to ensure a better future if more beneficial decisions can be made.
“My research group has just published a new assessment in collaboration with international colleagues of climate change risks to endemic, indigenous and invasive species. The message remains: We have time to avoid the worst," he says.
At present, his research group is working on the functioning of important species in diverse southern African ecosystems, such as savannas, arid shrublands, fynbos and estuaries, and linking this to the resilience of these systems to climatic drivers.