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Future of Life Award

Celebrating those who fought for the future.

The Future of Life Award honours individuals who, without having received much recognition at the time of their achievements, helped make today dramatically better than it might otherwise have been.

FLI presents each award winner with a $50,000 prize, generously funded by Skype-cofounder Jaan Tallinn.

The 2022 Future of Life Award

The winners are announced
6th August 2022

For reducing the risk of nuclear war by developing and popularizing the science of nuclear winter

We bestow the 2022 Future of Life Award upon…

Discover the Story of Nuclear Winter

Future of Life Institute Honours Nuclear Winter Pioneers

The Future of Life Institute (FLI) has presented John Birks, Paul Crutzen, Jeannie Peterson, Alan Robock, Carl Sagan, Georgiy Stenchikov, Brian Toon and Richard Turco with the Future of Life Award for their roles in discovering and popularising nuclear winter. We hope that drawing attention to these individuals’ work will help to refocus public discourse around nuclear weapons as governments meet to review the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Nuclear winter is the severe and prolonged global climatic cooling likely to result from a nuclear war. Nuclear detonations over fuel-dense areas may start violent firestorms, lofting large quantities of soot and smoke into the stratosphere. State-of-the-art climate models suggest it would envelop the planet, blocking out sunlight. There it would remain for years, chilling the planet and devastating global agriculture.

In 1982, Peterson, then an editor of Ambio, commissioned and published the first body of research investigating the environmental consequences of nuclear war. This included Crutzen’s and Birks’ groundbreaking paper “The Atmosphere after a Nuclear War: Twilight at Noon”, which explained how soot lofted into the stratosphere by nuclear firestorms would block out sunlight. The paper was quickly followed by the seminal TTAPS paper, on which Turco, Toon, and Sagan were co-authors, introducing the nuclear winter hypothesis. A model produced by Soviet researchers, including Stenchikov, soon confirmed the TTAPS predictions. Turco, Toon and Sagan, along with Robock, himself a tremendously important nuclear winter researcher, also drove a public awareness campaign spanning decades.

Both Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev credited the discovery of nuclear winter with helping end the Cold War nuclear arms race, thereby reducing the risk of nuclear conflict for decades. Beatrice Fihn, Nobel Laureate and Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, noted that “given the many close calls during the Cold War, by encouraging governments to pump the brakes on the nuclear arms race based on scientific knowledge about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use, this group of individuals might very well have saved the world by helping avert a nuclear conflict.”

Moreover, the discovery of nuclear winter drove further research into the effects of nuclear war, providing a more complete understanding of the risks. Whereas the risks were previously understood in terms of the immediate blasts and firestorms, radioactive fallout and electromagnetic pulse, it is now understood that most casualties would result from nuclear winter and its knock-on effects, such as global famine, epidemics and civil and geopolitical conflict. Such an understanding puts governments in a stronger position to mitigate those risks. This is of particular value now when, due to ongoing geopolitical tensions, the risk of a full-scale nuclear war is widely considered to be at its highest since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“The current geopolitical conflict discourse is absurdly cavalier about nuclear war risk”, said MIT physics professor Max Tegmark. “The latest nuclear winter research confirms that Reagan was right when he said that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The award ceremony took place against the backdrop of states meeting to review the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the cornerstone of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. With this in mind, Tegmark added, “in these turbulent times, the more decision-makers understand about nuclear winter, the less likely they are to make reckless decisions that may cause it.”

Videos about the award


Previous Future of Life Awards

Here are all of the Future of Life Awards that have been awarded in the past:

Future Of Life Award 2021

Joseph Farman, Susan Solomon, Stephen Andersen
Protecting the ozone layer
View award

Future Of Life Award 2020

Viktor Zhdanov and William Foege
Contributing to the eradication of the smallpox virus
View award

Future Of Life Award 2019

Matthew Meselson
Campaigning for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention
View award

Future Of Life Award 2018

Stanislav Petrov
Averting nuclear war by overriding Soviet early-warning detection system
View award

Future Of Life Award 2017

Vasili Arkhipov
Averting nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis
View award

Make a Nomination

Help us find our next unsung hero...

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.
Make a nomination


Why celebrate unknown heroes?

Hear from our team on the reasons they believe the Future of Life Award is so important:
“Through the Future of Life Award we give gratitude and celebrate our heroes - people who have made a big difference for the better. Giving thanks is an essential part of working towards a positive future of life.”
Meia Chita-Tegmark
“The Future of Life Award is a great step in appreciating those who have quietly and effectively nudged the world away from the precipice.”
Anthony Aguirre
“The Future of Life Award brings our attention to the stories that matter most - people doing extraordinary things for the betterment of humanity. Working on the Future of Life award is a rare chance to contribute to the recognition of an unsung hero."
David Nicholson
“The Future of Life Award taps into an important, but often forgotten or overlooked source of hope in the world: behind the scenes and often with minimal or no recognition, dedicated and amazing heroes are striving to ensure that humanity doesn’t just survive, but that it thrives.”
Ariel Conn
"We often feel powerless to change the things we see wrong in the world, a feeling only fuelled by our failure to highlight the stories of individuals who quietly, unceremoniously, transformed the world for the better. The Future of Life Award tells those stories, and through the examples of the recipients, inspires us that a single individual can change the course of human history for the better."
Emilia Javorsky
"The Future of Life Award is incredible because it helps share the untold stories of individuals that are real-life heroes, while simultaneously bringing forth discussion around our future as a species."
Anna Yelizarova
"Especially in a time when it is so easy to feel helpless about the complex problems of the world, the Future of Life Award reinforces that individual efforts to benefit broader society can and do matter - and in the case of the heroes honored by this award and countless unnamed others, can literally improve the future of life as we know it."
Jared Brown
"It's important to remind people that there are such things as saving the world, making the world a better place, and creating lasting meaning, and that doing those often comes from doing the right thing when you're in the right job."
Richard Mallah
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