When a friend called University of Montana ecologist and forestry professor Steve Running at 6:30 this morning to tell him he had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, Running did what any sane person would do. He laughed.
But when Running arrived at his office a short time later and discovered a congratulatory email from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva, he stopped laughing.
“Something like this seems unreal,” Running said. “No committee has ever won any kind of a Nobel prize. We never even joked about this.”
In the run-up to Thursday’s nomination deadline, many speculated that former Vice President Al Gore would receive the award for his efforts to raise awareness about climate change, including the production and release of his Oscar-nominated film “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. However, no one predicted the award would be granted to both Al Gore and the IPCC.
“The Committee could have easily awarded this to Al Gore… period,” Running said. Choosing to honor the hundreds who worked behind the scenes crunching numbers and compiling statistics for the IPCC’s reports indicates a deeper understanding of the important role researchers play, Running said.
The sole Montanan on the IPCC, Running was selected to join the panel in May 2004 and served as one of 600 authors for three different reports on climate change, including head author for the report “Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.”
As for his connection to Al Gore, Running said he met the former Vice President only once in 1998 during a campaign stop in Glacier National Park, but that Gore maintained close communication with IPCC researchers over the years. Graphs and charts featured in Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” pulled directly from reports assembled by Running and his IPCC colleagues.
Although Running’s award places him among a coveted elite, he views his honor with humility. A local radio personality who introduced him as “Nobel Laureate Steve Running” this morning “went a bit far,” Running said. “I’m more like 1/600 of a Nobel Laureate.”
“Come Monday, I’ll just be a regular science professor again,” Running said.