Since learning last month that he was a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, University of Montana professor Steve Running has received many letters and emails regarding his win, and not all have been congratulatory.
The hate mail, Running said in a lecture at the UM campus Monday evening, has come from those going through the “anger” phase of what Running calls “The Five Stages of Climate Grief.”
Running, a professor in UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation, won the Nobel for his work as one of the leading authors of the fourth assessment report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPCC was formed in 1988 by two United Nations organizations. Scientists from around the world were chosen to analyze a huge amount of data on climate change and compile it into reports. Each of the panel’s reports, particularly the latest one, has emphasized three major points: the Earth is getting warmer; it’s getting warmer quickly; and it’s getting warmer because of human activity.
In Monday’s speech Running adapted Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” model to apply to climate change. Running said there are those in denial (the earth isn’t getting warmer, and if it is it isn’t our fault); those who are angry; those who are bargaining (“It was always too cold in Montana, anyway,” Running quipped); those who are depressed; and those who have come to accept climate change as a fact.
Running would like to see more people moving to the acceptance or, as he called it, the “let’s get to work” phase.
After briefly explaining the difference between climate and weather – weather is delivered directly from the atmosphere; climate is weather trends over a long period of time – Running provided many grim examples of how climate change will likely affect Montana if warming trends continue as predicted. All the glaciers in Glacier Park may be gone by 2020, Running said. In 50 years Missoula won’t receive any snowfall. The fire season will continue to get longer and more intense. Snowpacks at high altitudes will continue to diminish.
The worst case climate scenario, which would occur if world carbon emissions keep rising at their current annual rate, is so bad, Running said, that climate scientists aren’t even sure if the Earth could maintain a functioning biosphere at that temperature. To avoid this fate, Running said, drastic measures must be taken. According to Running, the work of climate scientists is largely done.
“[The problem of global warming] is becoming a political science question and not a climate science question,” Running said. “We need politicians willing to admit we’re in a big pickle.”
Running also said American society needs to be “willing to do a little sacrificing.”
Though he knows it won’t be pretty, and certainly not popular, Running believes that the government must begin drastically increasing the taxes on oil. Running would like to see the price of gasoline rise a dollar a gallon each year for the next five. Running said that he isn’t a big fan of cap and trade, a policy of taxation that would target corporate polluters.
This taxation proposal, Running said, would provide serious incentive to create new energy technologies.
“If [a tax] affected everybody,” Running said, “it would get everybody’s attention.”
Running also emphasized that to help slow global warming we must come up with innovative energy solutions and leave coal in the ground.
Though the picture he painted was certainly bleak, Running did offer a few words of encouragement. In the 1970’s, Running said, nobody could have possibly imagined a gadget as sophisticated as the iPhone. Advances in communications technology in recent years have been almost unfathomable, Running said.
“[Think] what we did for communications technology,” Running said. “We have to do the same thing for energy for the next 40 years.”