Thomas J. Wilbanks (1986)

Environmental Sciences Division

For research on fundamental issues involving society and technology; for contributions in economic geography, especially related to modernization processes in developing countries; and for advancements in energy and environmental policy analysis, including technology assessment and R&D policy.

Tom Wilbanks is a past president of the Association of American Geographers (AAG), one of only three nonacademics to serve as the president in its more than 100 years, and has been awarded a number of honors related to that field, including fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 1985; AAG Honors, 1986; Distinguished Geography Educator’s Award, National Geographic Society, 1993; the Anderson Medal of Honor in Applied Geography, 1995; national associate of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2003; and the AAG Presidential Achievement Award, 2009. In 1996–1997, he led the first National Academy of Sciences (NAS) assessment of geography in a quarter-century, resulting in the book Rediscovering Geography: New Relevance for Science and Society.

He conducts research and publishes extensively on such issues as sustainable development, energy and environmental technology and policy, responses to global climate change, and the role of geographical scale in all of these regards. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of 9 books and more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and other open-literature publications. Co-organized and edited recent books include Global Change and Local Places (2003), Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism (2003), and Bridging Scales and Knowledge Systems: Linking Global Science and Local Knowledge (2006). Invited research presentations in recent years include Harvard, Yale, Minnesota, Iowa, AAAS, NAS, the National Science Foundation, and the Energy Modeling Forum.

After several decades of contributions to discussions of energy technology and policy options (including leadership roles in the development of the first comprehensive US national energy plan in 1978–79 and more than 70 projects in 40 developing countries worldwide), Wilbanks has played roles in all three of the US national climate change impact assessments; aspects related to issues of geographic scale and regional and local assessments for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (United Nations Environment Programme et al., 2001–2005); and assessment reports, special reports, and expert meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Along with other IPCC Fourth Assessment Report lead authors, he was formally recognized as a co-laureate for the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace. In IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, scheduled for completion in 2013, he is coordinating lead author for the Working Group II chapter, “Climate-resilient Pathways: Adaptation, Mitigation, and Sustainable Development.”

Between 2004 and 2010, Wilbanks was chair of the Committee on Human Dimensions of Global Change of the U.S. National Research Council (NRC); he is a frequent member of other NRC boards, committees, and panels, including membership on the NRC Board on Earth Systems and Resources, 2002–2007. In November 2008, he was appointed to the committee leading NAS/NRC’s historic, congressionally mandated 2-year study of “America’s Climate Choices”; he also served as chair of the adaptation panel for that report, published by NAS/NRC in May 2010 as Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change.

He was appointed a corporate fellow in 1986.


We're always happy to get feedback from our users. Please use the Comments form to send us your comments, questions, and observations.