Stephen Schneider: Eulogies and Tributes


From multiple sources, a collection of eulogies and tributes to Steve Schneider, whose untimely death at age 65 on July 19 is a profound and tragic loss — by Ben Santer, Peter Gleick, Richard Somerville, Michael Mann, Michael Oppenheimer, Richard Moss, V. Ramanathan, Roger Pielke, Sr., Lee Schipper, Curt Covey, Linda Mearns, Bud Ward, Cristine Russell, Bill Anderegg, and Bill Mckibben.

Post by Rick Piltz

New York Times obituary
Washington Post obituary
Los Angeles Times obituary
Andrew Revkin, DotEarth: The Passing of a Climate Warrior
UCAR Magazine: Stephen Schneider: An Extraordinary Life
Climate Central: Climate Science Loses a Key Figure

Some of what follows is excerpted here from longer statements. For full text see embedded links. Starting with the full text of eloquent statements by Ben Santer, Peter Gleick, and Richard Somerville.

Ben Santer
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

A Eulogy to Stephen Schneider

Today the world lost a great man. Professor Stephen Schneider – a climate scientist at Stanford University – passed away while on travel in the United Kingdom.

Stephen Schneider did more than any other individual on the planet to help us realize that human actions have led to global-scale changes in Earth’s climate. Steve was instrumental in focusing scientific, political, and public attention on one of the major challenges facing humanity – the problem of human-caused climate change.

Some climate scientists have exceptional talents in pure research. They love to figure out the inner workings of the climate system. Others have strengths in communicating complex scientific issues to non-specialists. It is rare to find scientists who combine these talents.

Steve Schneider was just such a man.

Steve had the rare gift of being able to explain the complexities of climate science in plain English. He could always find the right story, the right metaphor, the right way of distilling difficult ideas and concepts down to their essence. Through his books, his extensive public speaking, and his many interactions with the media, Steve did for climate science what Carl Sagan did for astronomy.

But Steve was not only the world’s pre-eminent popularizer of climate science. He also made remarkable contributions to our scientific understanding of the nature and causes of climate change. He performed pioneering research on the effects of aerosol particles on climate. This work eventually led to investigation of how planetary cooling might be caused by the aerosol particles arising from large-scale fires generated by a nuclear war. This clear scientific warning of the possible climatic consequences of nuclear war may have nudged our species onto a different – and hopefully more sustainable – pathway.

Steve was also a pioneer in the development and application of the numerical models we now use to study climate change. He and his collaborators employed both simple and complex computer models in early studies of the role of clouds in climate change, and in research on the climatic effects of massive volcanic eruptions. He was one of the first scientists to address what we now call the “signal detection problem” – the problem of determining where we might expect to see the first clear evidence of a human effect on global climate.

After spending many years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Steve moved to Stanford in 1996. At Stanford, Steve and his wife Terry Root led ground-breaking research on the impacts of human-caused climate change on the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species. More recently, Steve kept intellectual company with some of the world’s leading experts on the economics of climate change, and attempted to estimate the cost of stabilizing our planet’s climate. Until his untimely death, he continued to produce cutting-edge scientific research on such diverse topics as abrupt climate change, policy options for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and whether we can usefully identify levels of planetary temperature increase beyond which we risk “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system.

Steve Schneider helped the world understand that the burning of fossil fuels had altered the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere, and that this change in atmospheric composition had led to a discernible human influence on our planet’s climate. He worked tirelessly to bring this message to the attention of fellow scientists, policymakers, and the general public. His voice was clear and consistent, despite serious illness, and despite encountering vocal opposition by powerful forces – individuals who seek to make policy on the basis of wishful thinking and disinformation rather than sound science.

Steve Schneider epitomized scientific courage. He was fearless. The pathway he chose – to be a scientific leader, to be a leader in science communication, and to fully embrace the interdisciplinary nature of the climate change problem – was not an easy pathway. Yet without the courage of leaders like Stephen Schneider, the world would not be on the threshold of agreeing to radically change the way we use energy. We would not be on the verge of a global treaty to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases.

It was a rare privilege to call Steve Schneider my colleague and friend. It was a privilege to listen to Steve jamming on his beloved 12-string guitar; to sing Bob Dylan songs with him. It was a privilege to share laughter, and good food, and a good glass of red wine. It was a privilege to hear his love of science, and his deep passion for it.

We honor the memory of Steve Schneider by continuing to fight for the things he fought for – by continuing to seek clear understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change. We honor Steve by recognizing that communication is a vital part of our job. We honor Steve by taking the time to explain our research findings in plain English. By telling others what we do, why we do it, and why they should care about it. We honor Steve by raising our voices, and by speaking out when powerful “forces of unreason” seek to misrepresent our science. We honor Steve Schneider by caring about the strange and beautiful planet on which we live, by protecting its climate, and by ensuring that our policymakers do not fall asleep at the wheel.

Peter H. Gleick
Co-founder/President, Pacific Institute

Dr. Stephen Schneider, Climate Warrior

Earlier today, Dr. Stephen Schneider, professor at Stanford University and one of the world’s most brilliant, thoughtful, tough, and insightful climate scientists died. Others, including his official biographers, will enumerate the incredibly long list of his professional accomplishments at Stanford, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, as editor of the world’s premier climate science journal “Climatic Change,” serving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and much, much more. Steve was relentless in the pursuit of science, and especially science in the service of humanity. He did some of the earliest groundbreaking work on the threat of human-induced climate change and continued advancing the science literally until the day he died.

But his contributions extend far, far beyond his superb science: Schneider was perhaps the most important communicator on climate science issues to the public and to policymakers. Steve was committed to challenging those who deny the realities of climate change because he understood that their abuse and misuse of climate science threatens the health of humans and the planet itself. He was also a close friend and mentor, serving on my dissertation committee in the mid-1980s when he was at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. He taught me and many others he mentored to understand and honor the science, but he also taught us the importance of speaking up in defense of the integrity of science and the public interest.

Colleagues would occasionally criticize Steve for his outspokenness on these issues – a trait not always encouraged in the sciences – but his brilliance and passion for the topic made him an invaluable resource for the media as they sought to understand and report on the intense debate over how humans are changing the planet’s climate. His clear and comprehensive explanations of climate change, his encyclopedic knowledge of how the climate works, and his challenges to the fraudulent science that characterizes the arguments of the climate deniers, made it easier for politicians to understand the true climate threats that face us and to move the debate into the public arena. That debate continues, because the science and policy challenges are complicated, but the world is at least beginning to take key steps toward preventing a climate catastrophe because Stephen Schneider knew that the alternative was unacceptable and because he worked relentlessly to move us all in the right direction.

Richard C. J. Somerville
Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The Passing of a Climate Prodigy

A towering figure in climate science, Stephen H. Schneider, 65, died of an apparent heart attack on July 19, 2010, while flying to London from a conference in Stockholm. The loss of Schneider, a professor at Stanford University, deprives the world of both an outstanding researcher and a gifted science communicator. To his colleagues in climate science, Steve, as everybody called him, has long been known as a scientific pioneer and a role model. For four decades, he tirelessly carried out research, explained climate science to the wider world, and advocated rational responses to the threat of human-caused climate change

Schneider, born in New York City, was first attracted to the infant science of climate change while a graduate student at Columbia University in the late 1960s. There he studied mechanical engineering, fluid dynamics, and plasma physics. Climatology in the 1960s was still largely a scientific backwater devoted to compiling weather statistics. Schneider was at the center of what was to become a genuine scientific revolution. In 1971, while a postdoctoral fellow at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, he published one of the first attempts to model the effects of carbon dioxide and atmospheric aerosols on climate. In 1972, Schneider left GISS for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, where he would stay for 20 years before moving to Stanford. At NCAR, he was among the first to recognize and analyze the large potential influence of cloud feedbacks on climate change.

Schneider quickly demonstrated talents and traits that would endure for life. He was an intense, driven, high-energy scientist, who, well before most, realized that climate science was inherently interdisciplinary. He was always highly collaborative, working productively with an extremely wide range of scientists. He was drawn toward the world of science policy and the broad implications of climate change for society. He was unfailingly generous and altruistic in supporting and counseling other scientists. Many leaders in the climate science community today credit him with influencing and aiding their careers. His integrity—both personal and scientific—was absolute. He had a prodigious work ethic and published prolifically throughout his career. He was courageous when facing adversity and invariably courteous to those who disagreed with him.

It must be said that Schneider also had an ego, talked nonstop, and loved being on television. If these are character flaws, then we surely need more flawed characters just like him. Journalists quickly learned that Schneider was the scientist to seek out whenever a complex climate science story needed to be told. They would immediately get an articulate answer from him to any question. It would be free of jargon, scientifically accurate, direct, and to the point. Schneider invented the term “mediarology” and later built a section of his Stanford website to explain how scientists could more effectively interact with journalists.

At NCAR, Schneider was a key participant in forming a new climate science program in 1972, while he was still a postdoctoral fellow.  In 1975, at age 30, he boldly founded a new interdisciplinary journal, Climatic Change. He would edit this journal for the rest of his life. In recent years, he quietly subsidized the salaries of its small staff out of his own pocket. Schneider also published several books popularizing climate science for a general audience, beginning with The Genesis Strategy in 1976. This book predicted that greenhouse gases would cause a “demonstrable” climate change by the end of the century. Characteristically, Schneider was ahead of his time.

As climate change became a subject of great scientific interest as well as public concern, the obvious excellence of Schneider’s research and his ability to explain science to the wider world solidified his outstanding international reputation. The creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 marked global recognition of the need to bring the best scientific information to the attention of policymakers. Schneider’s wide-ranging knowledge, and his ability to move easily between the worlds of physical science, social science, policymakers, and the press, made him an indispensable asset to IPCC.  He was a lead author for all four of the major IPCC assessment reports to date, as well as for two synthesis reports. He consulted for every U.S. administration since that of Richard Nixon and frequently testified before Congress.

In 2001, Schneider was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, an especially aggressive life-threatening cancer. This is a rare type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma for which there is no standard cure and for which very few clinical trials data are available. Schneider, typically rational, found parallels with problems in climate science and decided to partner actively with his medical team in designing his treatment path. He later said that his doctors explained oncology to him while he explained Bayesian statistical inference theory to them. With strong support, especially from his wife, Terry Root, herself an eminent scientist and frequent research collaborator with Schneider, the treatment was successful. For him, the long ordeal was a teachable moment, and he produced an inspiring book about it, The Patient from Hell. Despite the painful and exhausting treatment, involving radiation, chemotherapy, and bone marrow transplants, he continued to work from the hospital.

Schneider was a member of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. Recognized by many honors, he received a MacArthur Fellowship “genius award” in 1992 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002. His last book, Science as a Contact Sport, a scientific autobiography, appeared in 2009. A recounting of his four decades of experience in both climate science and climate policy, it is the single best source for those who want to know more about Schneider as a scientist and a public intellectual. For those of us who were fortunate enough to have been Schneider’s colleagues and friends: Although his eloquent voice has now been silenced, his powerful influence on us all is indelible, and the example of the life he led will continue to be an inspiration.

Copyright © 2010 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Michael Mann
Director, Earth System Science Center
Penn State University

Today we lost a great scientist, and a great human being—someone I looked up to from the time I first entered the field as a graduate student. I feel fortunate to have had Steve as a colleague and a friend. it is difficult to put in words how much he will be missed.

Michael Oppenheimer
Professor of geosciences and international affairs
Princeton University
in the Washington Post

No one, and I mean no one, had a broader and deeper understanding of the climate issue than Stephen. More than anyone else, he helped shape the way the public and experts thought about this problem – from the basic physics of the problem, to the impact of human beings on nature’s ecosystems, to developing policy.

Richard Moss
Joint Global Change Research Institute
College Park, Maryland
on the World Wildlife Fund climate blog

Steve was an unparalleled scholar-advocate. He understood an incredibly wide range of the natural science, ecology, and social science of climate change – in greater depth than most of us who specialize in only one of those areas.  He had the courage to speak out and apply what he knew to move society towards strategies to deal with climate change. He was a wonderful friend. While we have no one who can fill his shoes, he will live on by providing an example of the importance of acting on one’s scientific beliefs.

V. Ramanathan
Distinguished Professor of Climate and Atmospheric Science
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
on DotEarth

I want to add an important aspect of Steve’s career, in addition to the tributes I have read since this morning.

Steve was one of the first, if not the first, to point out through an insightful and detailed analysis in the 70s, the importance of cloudiness as a climate feedback mechanism. That analyses is still valid today, for cloud feedback is still recognized to be the source of the major uncertainty in global warming projections (Recent PNAS paper by Granger Morgan and colleagues).

Steve helped me get a post appointment at NCAR (1975) and I have known him since then. In my view, he was also the first (among the current generation of scientists alive today) to recognize the global and societal importance of global warming. I have heard him talk passionately about this issue in the fourth floor of NCAR mesa lab, as early as 1976.


Roger A. Pielke Sr.
Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
University of Colorado
on DotEarth

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Steve Schneider. He and I have interacted for several decades and I was always impressed by his openness to engage in scientific debate. Even when we disagreed on issues, he permitted my views to be heard, such as the time, in his capacity as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Climatic Change, I was able in 2002 to present a paper on problems with the IPCC assessment report. He published a companion article at the same time by Mike McCracken, and I have urged climate scientists to read both of these perspectives. Steve’s openness allowed this constuctive scientific debate to occur.

More recently, he and I participated in a seminar at the University of Texas at Austin in 2007 where we found much to agree with. This included our recognition of the need to assess the vulnerability of key societal and environmental resources to risks from the entire specturm of threats, including, but not limited to climate change. his book, “the Genesis Strategy” remains a classic and is a deserved memorial to an outstanding scientific colleague.

He will be missed.

Curt Covey
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
in UCAR Magazine

…Though Steve never shied away from politics, he was the opposite of a classic politician. He delivered opinions after profound thought but never with a consideration like “Is this what my audience wants to hear? Will it get me what I want?” Steve was upset by misleading and dishonest talk across he political spectrum. Deliberate confusion of climate science outraged him. He was also disturbed by the claims of some environmentalists that the science is “settled” enough to determine — all by itself — this or that policy. He understood that real progress requires value judgments as well. How we feel about individual freedom vs. collective responsibility, or taking risks vs. playing it safe, is relevant to the climate debate. Just keep it open and honest, Steve would say. Redoubling our efforts to do so would be a marvelous legacy for him.

Linda Mearns
Director, Institute for the Study of Society and Environment
National Center for Atmospheric Research
in UCAR Magazine

I was lucky to have Steve as my mentor throughout my career. Many will tell you of his important contributions to climate science and policy, and many will also tell you how brilliant and brave he was. But it was his self-confidence and generosity that struck me. He never took exception to any of my tongue-in-cheek witticisms at his expense, but rather enjoyed them.

Bud Ward
Editor, Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media

Mourning the Huge Loss of a ‘Giant’: Stanford Climatologist Stephen H. Schneider

The planet feels hotter now, and certainly more at risk. The world is smaller for the death of Stanford University climatologist Stephen H. Schneider. And certainly a whole lot less intelligent and decent.

Schneider was one-of-a-kind, “the real thing,” as they say. No one is irreplaceable, it’s true, but there is at this point no telling which scientist (or likely which scientists) it will take to fill the science and communications voids he leaves behind….

Among the many things that made Schneider unique in the climate change science community is the level of respect he earned not only from his science colleagues, but also from those in the news media trying most conscientiously to cover the issues in ways consistent with sound science and quality journalism. He was an unrelenting critic of lazy climate journalism, and in so being he endeared himself to those reporters most serious about their work. Despite a decades-long 24/7 work schedule that often had him toiling at home well into the early a.m. hours, Schneider was endlessly generous and giving with his time and his expertise….

Schneider participated early, often, and constructively in efforts to improve the dialog among scientists and the news media. His “mediarology” website,  part of his Stanford site, is a go-to reference for scientists and reporters alike.
Writing in Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators,* Schneider cautioned colleagues not to shun communications with the public because they would thereby “abdicate the popularization of scientific issues to someone who is probably less knowledgeable or responsible. The bottom line is simply that staying out of the fray is not taking the ‘high ground’ — it is just passing the buck.”…

Schneider was always reaching out, always reaching higher.

“I can easily imagine that Steve is now giving God a hard time about how He set things up,” says climatologist Tom Crowley. “Moreover, he is probably offering suggestions about how things could be improved and then badgering God to speed it up or justify Himself better. He was a good one.”…

Cristine Russell
Columbia Journalism Review

Stephen Schneider: Climate Communicator

Steve was in many ways a model for what the modern scientist, working in a controversial field, needs to be: someone who works closely within the inner research circles but who is also willing to speak out about the implications of his science and the need for action….

Recently, Steve had been doing double-duty in the battle between climate deniers and climate researchers, and many of his science colleagues came to appreciate his willingness to jump into the public fray where fainter scientists dared not tread.

Bill Anderegg
Department of Biology
Stanford University
Co-author with Schneider, “Expert Credibility in Climate Change”
on Climate Central

What does one say about Steve Schneider? A brilliant, funny, and indefatigable scientist, Steve was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs, to communicate science, and to engage the media about the risks of climate change. But more than that, Steve was a great person — unflinchingly honest, caring, passionate. Steve touched many, many lives. His passing will leave a large gap in these lives and in the global community. His legacy will live on and he will be deeply, deeply missed.

Lee Schipper
Stanford and Berkeley
on DotEarth

…I suspect from the reports that he died of a broken heart, all these decades of discovering how malicious sound bites and hacked emails seem to have more weight in an important policy debate than science and serious deliberation.

We will all carry on, because Stephen died of a broken heart. Let’s hope we can use his wisdom to heal the heart of the planet..

Bill McKibben
Author, educator, environmentalist,
on DotEarth

Schneider was a giant figure, and if the planet ever gets around to doing anything about climate he’ll be a big reason why.

Earlier CSW posts:
Interview with Stephen Schneider on climate science expert credibility study

Stephen Schneider in 1979

July 5: Leading US climate scientists are being subjected to a barrage of right-wing lunatic hate mail

June 21:: New study finds striking level of agreement among climate experts on anthropogenic climate change

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