The Lesson Climate Researchers Can Learn from World War II

Organization Structure is Key


Tomer Noyhouzer

3 years ago | 3 min read

What do climate researchers and climate activates possibly have in common with WWII and Nazi Germany you ask? Well to explain that we need to go back to the early 1940s.

In 1942 the allied forces searched for a weapon that will give them an unfair advantage and will end the war, that is how the Manhattan Project came to life. The best and the brightest in their fields were approached and a huge joint effort had begun to harness the atomic power and create a weapon.

In April 1939, the German leadership also sought after harnessing atomic energy and started the “Uranverein project”. They did not focus on turning it into a weapon, at first, but craved an energy source to fuel their war efforts.

Organization Structure is Key

The US took a centralized organization or centralized leadership approach. They gathered all their scientists and resources together and divided tasks.

While some of them worked at different locations, they still worked on an element that will fit in the entire picture, and all the different units worked in complete collaboration sharing information and helping each other to reach the ultimate project goal, developing the bomb.

If you want to learn more about the atmosphere and small anecdotes I highly recommend the very funny book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.

The Manhattan Project organizational structure

Unlike the US efforts, the German used a different organizational approach, competing clusters. While the goal of the project was well defined, the researchers were divided into three competing groups: Berlin, Gottow and Leipzig. While the Germans had over 2 year’s head start their work had progressed slower.

So what was holding Germany back? Was it the fact that the allies were closing in on Germany? The answer is no, until Sep 1944 Germany was not invaded and the scientists did have a relatively safe working environment. Was it a lack of talent? Again the answer is no.

The US did have brilliant minds like J. Robert Oppenheimer, and six Nobel Prize winners like Enrico Fermi and Hans Bethe. However, the German project leader was Werner Heisenberg who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932 and was one of the founders of quantum mechanics, as well as Otto Hahn and Walther Bothe both won the Nobel Prize (in Chemistry and Physics, respectively).

So if it wasn’t the conditions nor the lack of talent what was it? The main factor that was holding Germany back, luckily for us, was their organizational structure. They had three different groups trying to achieve the same goal in a competitive way. They fought for everything from resources to prestige.

In fact, after the war, a study published in Physics Today proved that if the German had pulled their resources together and the groups would collaborate they could have reached nuclear fusion before the Manhattan project. That is right, they had the power to change history as we knew it but personal rivalries and ego prevented them from doing so.

The nuclear fusion reactor that was designed by the German scientists

The Specific Lesson for Climate Research Community

The German experiment, which was designed by some of the greatest scientific minds of that era, did not work not due to a scientific mistake but because of their competitive approach.

However, what is the connection to Climate Research you ask? We are not in war right? Well, depends whom you ask, we can roughly divide everyone into two teams: Climate researchers and Climate deniers.

In order for the researchers to convince people in the accuracy of their data and claims, resources MUST be shared, as we often do in the scientific community. The data should be transparent and journals should make the information available without any charges since this is truly for the greater good.

Tasks should be divided into different “challenge groups” working on a specific piece for the bigger puzzle, similarly to the approach taken by the leaders of the Manhattan Project.

We need to remember that in order to be prepared to tackle a great challenge like climate change we must put our differences and ego aside and work together because just like in the 1940’s the consciences will shape history.


Created by

Tomer Noyhouzer







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