Crutzen’s childhood began just a few years before the start of WWII. In September 1940, the same year Germany invaded The Netherlands, Crutzen entered his first year of elementary school. After many delays and school switches all caused by happenings in the war, Crutzen graduated from elementary school and moved onto “Hogere Burgerschool” (Higher Citizens School) in 1946 in which time he became fluent in French, English, and German. Along with languages his main focus were natural sciences in this school from which he graduated from in 1951.
He lists his main research interests as “Stratospheric and tropospheric chemistry, and their role in the biogeochemical cycles and climate”. He currently works at the Department of Atmospheric Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, in Mainz, Germany; the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego; and at Seoul National University, South Korea. He was also a long-time adjunct professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and research professor at the department of Meteorology at Stockholm University, Sweden.
He has co-signed a letter from over 70 Nobel laureate scientists to the Louisiana Legislature supporting the repeal of Louisiana’s creationism law, the Louisiana Science Education Act. In 2003 he was one of 22 Nobel Laureates who signed the Humanist Manifesto.
In 2000, in IGBP Newsletter 41, Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology, proposed using the term anthropocene for the current geological epoch. In regard to its start, they said:
To assign a more specific date to the onset of the “anthropocene” seems somewhat arbitrary, but we propose the latter part of the 18th century, although we are aware that alternative proposals can be made (some may even want to include the entire holocene). However, we choose this date because, during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable. This is the period when data retrieved from glacial ice cores show the beginning of a growth in the atmospheric concentrations of several “greenhouse gases”, in particular CO2 and CH4. Such a starting date also coincides with James Watt’s invention of the steam engine in 1784.
Steve Connor, Science Editor of the Independent, wrote: Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is needed. In a polemical scientific essay that was published in the August 2006 issue of the journal Climatic Change, he says that an “escape route” is needed if global warming begins to run out of control.
Professor Crutzen has proposed a method of artificially cooling the global climate by releasing particles of sulphur in the upper atmosphere,along with other particles at lower atmospheric levels, which would reflect sunlight and heat back into space.
In January 2008, Crutzen published findings that the release of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in the production of biofuels means that they contribute more to global warming than the fossil fuels they replace.
Crutzen was also a leader in promoting the theory of nuclear winter. Together with John Birks he wrote the first publication introducing the subject: “The atmosphere after a nuclear war: Twilight at noon” (1982). They theorized the potential climatic effects of the large amounts of sooty smoke from fires in the forests and in urban and industrial centers and oil storage facilities, which would reach the middle and higher troposphere. They concluded that absorption of sunlight by the black smoke could lead to darkness and strong cooling at the earth’s surface, and a heating of the atmosphere at higher elevations, thus creating atypical meteorological and climatic conditions which would jeopardize agricultural production for a large part of the human population.
In a Baltimore Sun newspaper article printed in January 1991, along with his nuclear winter colleagues, Crutzen hypothesized that the climatic effects of the Kuwait oil fires would result in “significant” nuclear winter like effects; continental sized impacts of sub-freezing temperatures.
Paul Crutzen states “Nuclear war could easily mean the destruction of not only our race, but most of the planetary life as well.”