Professor Steve Running, whose work on climate science shared in a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, accepted a buyout offer and retired in July from the University of Montana.
"I'm 67 years old," Running said Thursday. "I'm getting older and kind of tired-er and beat down by the climate wars.
"So this is really a chance to both help the university budget crisis and preserve my own personal energy for more climate wars, which I wish weren't necessary. But it appears that they are."
President Donald Trump has called climate change a "hoax," although he more recently said there's "some connectivity" between human activity and global warming.
Just last week, though, the administration formally told the United Nations that the U.S. plans to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate pact to cut emissions that contribute to rising temperatures, making official the president's announcement in June.
This week, the New York Times broadcast the findings of a "sweeping federal climate change report" by scientists from 13 agencies. The newspaper said the draft report contradicts the Trump administration's claims that human contribution to climate change is uncertain.
“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” wrote the scientists as quoted in the Times.
Scientists are waiting to see how the Trump administration will react to the report. Running said the recent election has fueled the climate wars, and he needs to put energy into that cause.
At UM 37 years, he launched the climate change minor there. Although enrollment has gone down at UM in recent years, enrollment in an introductory climate class had gone up 50 percent since the minor started in 2009.
UM counted itself as the first university in the nation to start an academic program in climate change, and an external reviewer described the program last year as belonging “firmly to the unfolding future rather than the past.”
“While there are now a few other climate change minors in the U.S., yours remains a standout,” wrote SueEllen Campbell, a professor in the department of English at Colorado State University. “The closest match is at Cornell University, a somewhat larger and much richer school.”
Running said he feels more mentally tired than he did 10 years ago, and he plans to put his remaining energy into making progress on climate policy.
In 2007, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to two recipients, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Running was one of the IPCC authors lauded for their "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."
Although Running retired from teaching in the classroom, he plans to continue to serve on national committees and has five or six speaking engagements on the docket. He's an expert witness on a couple of climate lawsuits and he's scheduled to speak at conferences in Spain, Chile and Maine this fall.
"Actually, this gives me more flexibility and more time for public speaking," Running said.
The last few years at UM have been fraught with enrollment drops and budget cuts, and Running also said he believes it's time for the school to make some organizational changes.
"I think the university needs to do some serious restructuring, and I don't want to be a part of that battle," Running said.
In an email, President Sheila Stearns said she hopes Running will stay involved with the campus in the future.
"Professor Running has been an internationally acclaimed scientist for decades at the University of Montana," Stearns said. "We are as proud as ever of his participation in the Nobel Laureate IPCC.
"The Board of Regents years ago named him one of our few Regents’ Professors for his stellar scholarship. I’m sure I speak for his colleagues when I say we hope he won’t be a stranger to UM after he retires."
Nicky Phear, director of the Climate Change Studies program, said Running energized students in his classes.
"Steve Running was an inspiring professor for many students," Phear said in an email. "He taught big picture concepts to students to help them understand basic global climate principles, and he didn't hold back sharing the risks and challenges ahead.
"He always wove in discussion about solutions, and he left our undergrads feeling like there was possibility for change, and that they could be leaders in that change."
She also said enrollment is up in the minor program and primed for growth with dedicated faculty and administrative support.
Climate Change Studies "is just one of a great many programs at UM focused on the environment and sustainability, and they are all strong enough to endure beyond particular individuals," Phear said. "That said, his are huge shoes to fill, and I will personally miss teaching with him."
She believes he'll have a role in the future in an advisory capacity and continue to inspire those in his field. Running said an IRS rule means he needs to stay away from campus for five months, but he anticipates visiting to lecture down the road.
"Probably in a year, I'll give guest lectures periodically as invited. But not this fall," Running said.