Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient – Mario Molina


Mario Molina:
First of all, the medal was
particularly rewarding because it’s not just
for my work as a scientist but for the impact that
it has had on society — the benefit of society, we hope. My work really
started as a scientist, and then worrying about
environmental problems caused by human activities. We decided to ask a question
about some chemicals that were just being
released to the environment and we realized that could pose a serious global
environmental problem. At the beginning
it was just a hypothesis but the science was sound
and we were able to work with the scientific community and really pin down
the science to it to a very good degree. But what was
perhaps a step further was not just to stop at
the science itself but to communicate
this to society and then to try
to do something about it. So we were fortunate
also to work with — to be able to work with
colleagues, even diplomats and so on, so that it all led
to an international agreement and so this program has to do
with affecting the ozone layer that protects all of us from
harmful radiation from the sun. It’s truly global
because these chemicals that we were worried about — it doesn’t matter which
part of the planet they are emitted, but the good news
about it is that the — it’s one example
where the entire planet, all the countries in the world
practically got together and decided
to solve the problem, and it was essentially
done this way. These chemicals remain a
long time in the environment so the problem is not yet
completely solved by itself because we have to wait until
most of what was emitted last century goes away, but it’s essentially
solved from the policy and the practical point
of view because the chemicals that we were worried about are
no longer being a factor as a consequence of these
international agreements. So we are very optimistic that
with this precedent we know that the people can work
together across countries, across different boundaries. We have one worry that it’s
the only precedent we have, so hopefully it’s good
enough so that we know how to keep fighting
for other problems, global, local,
that have to do with affecting our environment
in ways that the — are negative, have negative
impacts for society. Perhaps the two lessons,
one is that it is important to recognize this responsibility. That it’s not just science
itself, but the second lesson together with that is that we
have to be very flexible and learn many issues, many
disciplines beyond the science itself which have to do with,
again, policy, economics, and just practical issues. What does it take to
change people’s behavior? What does it take to
implement policies? But even within the field
itself of addressing say a large environmental problem, you need
different branches of science but you also
need to communicate, as I was mentioning,
to economists, to lawyers, so you
have to be very open to this communication. You have to know something about
all these different branches, if you want, of knowledge and
yet it’s very important in your own specialty to be as good
as you can be, and putting all this together is how
you can get society to improve.

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