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All Future of Life Awards

Future Of Life Award 2021

The 2021 Future of Life Award goes to three remarkable individuals for their critical contributions to the most successful international environmental treaty to date – the Montreal Protocol. Their work helped to avert a climate catastrophe that could have ended agriculture worldwide.
September 16, 2021
Joseph Farman, Susan Solomon, Stephen Andersen
Protecting the ozone layer


Celebrating the contributions of Joseph Farman, Susan Solomon and Stephen Andersen for helping save our ozone layer

On 16 September 1987, humanity took its first step towards saving the ozone layer, and thereby avoiding a climate catastrophe, by signing the Montreal Protocol. The 2021 Future of Life Award goes to Stephen Andersen, Susan Solomon, and the late Joseph Farman for their critical contributions to the most successful international environmental treaty to date.

Dr. Jim Hansen, former Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Director of Columbia University’s Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions said, “In Farman, Solomon and Andersen we see the tremendous impact individuals can have not only on the course of human history, but on the course of our planet’s history. My hope is that others like them will emerge in today’s battle against climate change.” In addition to preventing millions of excess skin cancer deaths, ecosystem collapse and climate change, this treaty showed that international collaboration can overcome environmental challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity. As Professor Brian Greene of Columbia University said, “the 2021 Future of Life award winners show how science can work for the betterment of humanity”.

High above our clouds, Earth’s ozone layer protects us from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. In 1985, Joseph Farman and his team from the British Antarctic Survey made the most important geophysical discovery of the 20th century: an ozone hole above Antarctica. This provided a stunning confirmation of the Rowland-Molina hypothesis that human-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were destroying the ozone layer, and much faster than predicted, which galvanized efforts to do something about it.

In 1986-87, Susan Solomon led an Antarctic ozone research expedition. Her work confirmed that CFCs were causing ozone depletion and determined that sunlit cloudtops were catalysing additional ozone-destroying reactions, thereby speeding up the rate of depletion. In the years that followed, both Farman and Solomon became effective public advocates for the development of the Montreal Protocol that their scientific work inspired. Professor Guus Velders, a climate scientist at Utrecht University said, “Susan Solomon is a deserving recipient of the Future of Life Award. Susan not only explained the processes behind the formation of the ozone hole, she also played an active role as an interface between the science and policy of the Montreal Protocol.” MIT President L. Rafael Reif added: “All of us at MIT congratulate Susan Solomon on her Future of Life Award, in recognition of all she did to save the ozone layer – and thereby save civilization as we know it. Her pioneering research and advocacy for the Montreal Protocol stand as a model for how the world can face hard facts and collaborate creatively to tackle the global climate crisis.”

Joseph Farman (left), Susan Solomon (center) and Stephen Andersen (right)

With the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, the hard work of phasing CFCs out of 240 industrial sectors began. Working at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Stephen Andersen founded and from 1988 to 2012 co-chaired the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) for the Montreal Protocol. Andersen’s tireless efforts brought together leaders from industry, government and the scientific community to develop new, CFC-free technologies.  His efforts played a critical role in making the Montreal Protocol a success. Professor Ted Parson from the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment said, “For over a decade, Andersen brilliantly led the Montreal Protocol’s Technology and Economic Assessment Panel process. Andersen made the Montreal Protocol happen.” Emphasizing the importance of the Montreal Protocol, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees added, “In the face of threats to humanity’s future, we need to be think globally, rationally and long-term, empowered by technology. The story and success of the Montreal Protocol shows us that this is possible.”

Our thanks go out to Jenny Kjellgren and Justin Ihlein for nominating our winners!

Videos on the award

In this special episode of the Future of Life Institute Podcast, Lucas Perry is joined by Susan Solomon and Stephen Andersen to discuss the story of the Montreal Protocol and their roles in pulling us back from the brink of disaster.

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Future of Life Award, FLI collaborated with popular Youtube channel MinuteEarth to produce a video drawing together lessons from the stories of the Montreal Protocol, the focus of this year’s award, and the eradication of smallpox, the focus of last year’s award, for managing global catastrophic threats — from ecological devastation to the spread of pandemics and beyond.

Neil deGrasse Tyson and co-host Chuck Nice interviewed Susan Solomon and Stephen Andersen on the podcast StarTalk, where they explored a suite of fascinating questions: How do you save the world? What is the Montreal Protocol? How did the ozone layer get depleted? What is a Chlorofluorocarbon or CFC? How do you convince people to get rid of what they have if you don’t have something for them to replace it with? How do we create a sustainable civilization? What lessons can we learn to apply to the ongoing climate crisis?

In the media

Vox: ‘When the world actually solved an environmental crisis‘ – Kelsey Piper, Oct 3, 2021

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If you want to nominate someone for the Future of Life Award, please use the link below to access the registration page. Once registered, you will be able to submit your nomination with supporting links and documentation.

If we decide to give the award to your nominee, you will receive a $3,000 prize from FLI for your contribution.

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Media mentions
The Future of Life Award in the press:

Awards from other years

Here are some of the other awards we have given in other years:

Future Of Life Award 2023

With the 2023 Future of Life Award, we celebrate two films – both released amidst the cold war – that were profoundly impactful in reducing the threat of nuclear war, and the five storytellers behind them.
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Future Of Life Award 2022

We presented the 2022 Future of Life Award to eight individuals for their roles in discovering and popularising nuclear winter. The award ceremony took place against the backdrop of a review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
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Future Of Life Award 2020

In 1979, smallpox was eradicated. As a result, millions of lives were protected from this preventable disease. The 2020 Future of Life Award celebrates two of the heroes who made it happen.
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Future Of Life Award 2019

The Biological Weapons Convention is an international ban that has prevented one of the most inhumane forms of warfare known to humanity. On the eve of the Convention’s 47th anniversary, we presented the 2019 Future of Life Award to one of it's forefathers.
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Future Of Life Award 2018

The 2018 Future of Life Award celebrates a relatively unknown individual whose courageous judgement may have prevented a nuclear strike during the Cold War that could easily have escalated into a full-scale nuclear conflict.
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Future Of Life Award 2017

In 1962, a soft-spoken naval officer, made a brave decision in the face of danger that prevented a nuclear strike. We presented his family with the inaugural 2017 Future of Life Award to honor the late hero.
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