‘Environmental Nobel’ given to Dan Sperling in Tokyo

By Sylvia Wright • October 30, 2013

Daniel Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, was awarded the 2013 Blue Planet Prize in a ceremony today in Tokyo. The prize, announced in June by the Asahi Glass Foundation of Tokyo, has been described as the Nobel Prize for the environmental sciences.

Sperling will give a commemorative lecture on October 31 at U Thant International Conference Hall at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

Sperling is an international expert on transportation technology, fuels and policy, with a focus on energy and environment. His research is directed at accelerating the global transition to cleaner, more efficient transportation and energy, and mitigating climate change. The award recognizes Sperling for his unique ability to bring together the top thinkers and strategists in academia, government and industry to develop new vehicle- and fuels-policy approaches that are models for the world.

His acceptance speech was attended by top international scientists, transportation and energy industry executives, government officials, and Japan’s Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino.

Sperling described a world that is increasingly affluent – and consumptive. “If this consumption continues to be based on current unsustainable forms of energy, it threatens our environment and the future of the human race,” he said.

“Therein lies the challenge—can the wealthy countries not only curb their insatiable appetite for fossil energy, but also play a leadership role in developing and adopting new low-carbon life styles?” Sperling asked.

“A new paradigm is needed that allows for more consumption and mobility, but without disrupting ecosystems, extinguishing species, and poisoning our air, land, and water.”

He prescribed five actions to reach a sustainable transportation future:

  1. We should strive for a portfolio of solutions – not the single solutions that “politicians and media grasp and hype,” he said. “We need battery electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen and biofuels and better urban land-use management and startup companies offering new types of mobility services and more rational financing and pricing of roads and parking — and much more.”
  2. We need to focus on desirable pathways into the future, not simplistic end-state visions. “It is much harder to design near-term policies and strategies than paint ideal visions of the future.”
  3. Every city, country, culture and economy is different. The mix of solutions and the details of those solutions will vary dramatically from one location to another.  “In rich countries, with established infrastructure and locked-in sprawl, the emphasis should be more on improving technologies (though opportunities remain to improve land-use management and reduce vehicle use there also). In emerging economies, much more emphasis should be put on devising and embracing an alternative paradigm to car-centric development, to create more livable and sustainable cities.”
  4. The scientific community needs to engage in near term decision-making. “We need to help policy makers, regulators, and legislators to understand the choices and implications of their actions or inaction. Because solutions are often local, it is crucial that the scientific community of each region participate directly in government and industry decision-making.”
  5. “The fifth key lesson is take action today!  Let’s not leave this looming disaster as our legacy, but muster the courage and our innovative spirit to find and implement solutions.  We will then leave to future generations a legacy we can be proud of.”

 Sperling was chosen to receive the Blue Planet Prize from among 106 candidates representing 27 countries. Also being honored this year is Taroh Matsuno, principal scientist at the Research Institute for Global Change, in the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

A professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy, Sperling founded the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis) in 1991. ITS-Davis is now the world’s leading academic program in transportation technology and policy, thanks to Sperling’s talent for building enduring partnerships with industry, government and the environmental community; integrating interdisciplinary research and education programs; and connecting research with public outreach and education. Today the Institute is home to 60 affiliated faculty and researchers and 120 graduate students, and a $12 million budget.

ITS-Davis researchers pursue topics as diverse as:

  • Consumer response to advanced vehicle technologies, such as hybrid and electric cars
  • Bike- and pedestrian-friendly community planning
  • Traffic-flow theory
  • Battery and ultracapacitor capabilities and comparisons
  • World geopolitical implications of oil and natural gas development
  • Biofuels investment and production strategies
  • Multitasking and telecommuting
  • Hydrogen fueling infrastructure, and
  • The potential for converting the globe to 100 percent renewable energy.

This is the 22nd year of the Blue Planet Prize. Previous recipients include: Amory B. Lovins, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute; Paul R. Ehrlich, director of the Center of Conservation Biology at Stanford University; Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); James Hansen, recently retired director of the U.S. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Joseph L. Sax, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley; David R. Brower, chairman of the Earth Island Institute; and Lester R. Brown, founder and president of the Worldwatch Institute.

“Many of my heroes have won this award, and I am humbled to join this distinguished group,” Sperling said.

More information

Download a transcript of Daniel Sperling’s Commemorative Lecture: Blue Planet Prize-Sperling Commemorative Lecture

Read the full UC Davis news release: http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/slide-show/blue-planet-prize-environmental-nobel-awarded-to-dan-sperling/

Listen to Daniel Sperling discuss the Blue Planet Prize: http://www.capradio.org/news/insight/2013/06/14/insight-062813/

Read U.S. Rep. John Garamendi remarks on the House Floor about the Blue Planet Prize: http://garamendi.house.gov/press-release/congressman-garamendi-highlights-uc-davis-efforts-combat-climate-change-promote-clean

Read the U.S. Transportation Research Board comments about the Blue Planet Prize: http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/169141.aspx

About the Blue Planet Prize

The Blue Planet Prize was established in 1992 by the Asahi Glass Foundation of Tokyo. The award’s name was inspired by remarks of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, who observed that our blue planet is beautiful and we should work to preserve it. The Asahi Glass Foundation named the prize in the hope that “our blue planet will be a shared asset capable of sustaining human life far into the future.” http://www.af-info.or.jp/en/

 Photo: Asahi Glass Foundation Chairman Tetsuji Tanaka presented the Blue Planet Prize to Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. Oct. 30, 2013. Photo by Takao Tsushima — Asahi Glass Foundation