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UAF’s Terry Chapin to receive 2019 Volvo Environment Prize

VIDEO: Trailer for a longer documentary film about 2019 Volvo Environment Prize recipient Terry Chapin, professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The film will premiere at the 2019 Volvo… view more 

University of Alaska Fairbanks professor emeritus and ecologist Terry Chapin has been named the 2019 recipient of the Volvo Environment Prize.

The prize, in its 30th year, recognizes one person worldwide for outstanding scientific discoveries in the areas of environmental science and sustainable development. The prize includes a cash sum of 1.5 million Swedish krona, or about $150,000, and will be presented at a ceremony in Stockholm on Nov. 7.

“Throughout his decades-long career in ecosystems research and global change, Professor Terry Chapin has worked tirelessly with people and for the planet,” members of the prize jury noted in a written statement. “His work will have a long-lasting impact on the ways we seek to build a sustainable future, with the concept of ‘Earth stewardship’ supporting the deep institutional and structural change required to meet the challenges ahead.”

Chapin began his career as a biology instructor with the Peace Corps in Bogota, Columbia. Afterward, he completed his doctorate at Stanford University. He accepted a faculty position at UAF in 1973.

His early research focused on plants and how they adapted to changing conditions in the North. His scope expanded over time as he realized that understanding one part of an ecosystem requires understanding it holistically. From that realization, the focus of his research and teaching shifted.

He began to approach his work from the perspective of what he would eventually call “Earth stewardship.”

“Earth stewardship is shaping the future relationship between people and nature to the benefit of both,” Chapin said, which is important in the face of global change. “It recognizes that this is a severe problem and we need to do things that will shape a more sustainable future and one where society can flourish.”

In 2001, he founded a new graduate program at UAF — the Resilience and Adaptation Program — which aimed to train future scientists to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying global change.

“Terry Chapin’s vision is that training of young ecologists should be across the biological and social sciences and include gaining experience working with communities, their leadership, and government and industry to guide policymaking to be respectful and inclusive of indigenous knowledge and lead to sustainable and resilient economies,” said Brian Barnes, director of the UAF Institute of Arctic Biology. “I believe this will be his lasting legacy.”

In addition to training new scientists, Chapin has helped individuals learn what they can do in the face of global change.

“I worry that the current gloom and doom disengages people from wanting to take action,” Chapin said. “What I have tried to do is systematically consider the kinds of things that individual citizens can do to try to turn around the relationship between humans and nature.”

That could be establishing a relationship with nature by spending time outdoors and beginning to think more carefully about how their lifestyle influences things on the planet, he said. Or it could mean talking to friends, family members and neighbors about the future of the planet, engaging politically or taking small steps in your own household. His newest book, “Grassroots Stewardship: Sustainability within Our Reach,” expands on the concept and offers achievable action for the average person. The book will be released in early 2020.

“Professor Chapin is truly brilliant and exceptionally insightful in his research, and he is also genuinely kind and generous in sharing his understanding,” said Larry Hinzman, vice chancellor for research at UAF. “He is often sought as a mentor and he is always welcoming to students, journalists, policymakers and anyone with a desire to learn.”


ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Terry Chapin, Will Steffen, chairman of the prize jury and professor emeritus at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University,, +61-2-6262-6897, Skype: willsteffen.


NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos of Chapin and a short video clip are available for download at

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