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University of Montana professor hopes for progress, not panic, 15 years after landmark climate report

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Posted at 8:33 AM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-28 10:33:13-04

MISSOULA - Fifteen years after his Nobel prize-winning report on climate change, Professor Steve Running still sees cause for concern when it comes to the planet's future. But he believes it's a case of progress over panic.

When University of Montana Professor Steve Running and his colleagues on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, the headlines were over the debate, not the actual impacts of a warming planet. Now, from fires to floods, attention has shifted.

"I looked up 20 years ago, I started giving climate talks around Missoula and in fair measure, the message hasn't changed."

That message of cutting carbon emissions was repeated last week, when Running appeared before the action group 350Montana, where he noted encouraging, but not lasting signs during the COVID-19 slowdowns, with the same emission rebound as before following the 2008 recession.

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"I remember being fooled back in the 2008 economic downturn. And I actually was in Sweden and in '09 saying 'it looks like we turned the corner!' The hell we had! The very next year, right back."

Running praises some improvements, especially in the U.S. but says as a whole, we're not seeing the "rapid" progress driving down carbon emissions, and turn rising temperatures.

"And of course, that's not happening worldwide, even though the US is not doing badly or our emissions are lower, but not enough yet," said Running. He's also worried about global cooperation following the pandemic, and the lack of complete unity following the Ukrainian invasion.

Still, Running told MTN News there's real progress, such as the deployment of LED lights, saving vast amounts of energy.

"Certainly wind and solar power now it is not only viable, it's actually cheaper than coal power. So they have reached a point of complete competitiveness. And now electric cars are on their way."

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Solar panels in the Bitterroot Valley

"I mean, it's it's inspiring," Missoula mother Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan said after hearing Running's presentation. "You know I struggle with this a lot. I've got 2 little kids and I worry a lot about the world they're going to grow up in. But I don't think despair is the answer, and so we're trying to do as much as we possibly can. And you know, it's great to see lots of people here doing the same thing."

"So between the drought and the fires, the loss of cold water fisheries. We're talking about the Big Hole Valley, the Big Hole River not having trout in it. It's amazing," added Dave Harmon, a member of 350Montana.

"Now that we know what we need to do, we've known for a long time. We need to act on it and we've got to, at some point we've got to draw a line in the sand and say, you know, we're not going to take it anymore. We need to change the way we're doing things."

And Running says not to "overreact", but take a "slow and steady wins the race" approach.

"We have decades to do this. We don't have to do it in a couple years. We do need to change the momentum in a couple years, but we don't have to reach the finish line for for decades. And if we take that longview and just kind of get to work, then I think we're doing all we can." - University of Montana Professor Emeritus of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences Steve Running

Running retired five years ago and is a Professor Emeritus of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences at the University of Montana.