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Climatologist Stephen H. Schneider dead at 65

(Updated July 20, adding tributes and comments)

Climate scientist and National Geographic Fellow Stephen H. Schneider has died.

“Ralph Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, of which Schneider was a longtime member, said he had confirmed the news,” Andrew Revkin reported on July 19 on his New York Times blog Dot Earth.

Stephen-Schneider-photo.jpg“Schneider, who was 65, spent decades studying the forces influencing climate and the policy implications of human-driven warming, as well as pressing the case for action to curb emissions of greenhouse gases even as he battled and subdued a rare cancer in recent years,” Revkin said.

“In an e-mail message to a group of contacts, his wife, Terry Root, a biologist at Stanford, said it appeared that he died of a heart attack today as a flight he was on was landing in London.”

Schneider, along with his colleagues on the Intergovernmental Panel on

Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore, the former U.S. Vice President, won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for

their efforts to enlighten the public about human-induced climate change

and to inspire action to confront it.

“I was saddened to learn

today of the passing of my good friend, Steve Schneider,” Gore said in a

statement. “His contributions to the advancement of climate science

will be sorely missed.”

Scientists, environmentalists,and journalists across the world also paid tribute to Schneider.

“No one, and I mean no one, had a broader and deeper understanding of the climate issue than Stephen,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, in an obituary published by the Washington Post. “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.”

“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,” climate researcher Ben Santer wrote in a eulogy published by the Guardian.

“I don’t think anybody has worked harder and longer to educate the public on climate issues in particular and science issues in general,” biologist and population expert Paul R. Ehrlich said in an obituary published by the New York Times.

Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra Club Foundation, said Schneider “had the ability to connect the dots in a way that laypeople could understand.”

“Schneider is credited with pioneering research on a number of fronts,” said the obituary in the Los Angeles Times. “He conducted early research on the effects of aerosol particles on climate. He developed numerical and computer models for studying climate change. He also was one of the first scientists to devise an approach for detecting the signs of climate change and distinguishing them from natural changes.”

“Our children will thank him.”

Said Pamela Matson, dean of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences: “He is irreplaceable–as a colleague, adviser, friend and scientist.  In his science, he has done more for the world than most of us recognize, and our children will thank him,” Matson said in an obituary on the Stanford University website.

In SCIENCE AS A CONTACT SPORT: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climatepublished by National Geographic Books last year, Schneider chronicled the infighting and backroom negotiations, the courage of some and the ignorance and duplicity of others, that have inhibited the world community from implementing solutions sooner to combat the dangers of a warming Earth.

‘Teach the children well’

“Somebody once said, ‘what’s the most important thing we can do,’” Schneider said at the conclusion of an interview about his book last year with Nat Geo News Watch (in the video below). “And I just quoted an old line from Crosby Stills & Nash from decades ago: ‘Teach the children well.’ They have to know that we’re there for them, but they have to know that they have to learn how to help us to find what they want, which is not always more and more things, but a world that’s safe and sustainable.”


Crosby Stills & Nash – Teach your children
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Posted by David Braun

Comments

From Marianne Lavelle, energy editor for National Geographic Digital Media:

When I first began talking to National Geographic about joining the society to work on a new project on energy, one of the great attractions of the job was that the advisory team included Stephen Schneider.

Writing about what we’ve called The Great Energy Challenge–how to fuel civilization without wrecking the planet–who wouldn’t want to tap the insights of this outspoken climate science pioneer? I didn’t suspect that the opportunity would be so brief.

In the conversations about the project we had this year, Schneider clearly relished the chance to offer his critique of the media: “It’s died and gone to hell.” Newspapers, magazines and networks had shed so many expert science journalists due to the harsh economics of the business, he argued, that they couldn’t possibly cover the complexities of the climate issue in a meaningful way.

But he was quick to acknowledge his own profession’s responsibility for the gap in public understanding. About his fellow climatologists, he would smile and say, “Scientists are good about leading with their caveats.” Much of his work, he would say, was centered on the issue of communication.

When I asked him what stories he felt the media were missing on energy, Schneider typically took the 30,000-foot view. “We all grow up in silos,” he said. “We take math, chemistry, economics or biology, and we go out into the real world and we stay in those silos. We’re a solar company. We’re a wind company. We’re a fossil fuel company. And what we’re going to need is interconnected systems–like solar-thermal energy with storage, a smart grid and overcapacity. We need the people who invent the toys in the same room with the people who think interconnection.”

In other words, Schneider felt that there were deep reasons for the failure of communication on climate and energy, the same reasons that solutions have proven so elusive.

Marianne-Lavelle.jpg

Marianne Lavelle is energy editor for National Geographic Digital Media, responsible for a special series of stories on The Great Energy Challenge. Previously, she spearheaded a project tracking climate legislation for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity
. She spent more than a decade as a senior writer at
U.S. News and World Report magazine, where she wrote the Beyond the Barrel blog.

From Penny Dackis, National Geographic Books publicist

As Steve’s publicist for Science as a Contact Sport, I was very lucky to get to know him and see him in action, giving lectures and media interviews about his book. (Today he would smile at his Amazon sales ranking.)

He was a gifted scientist, an uber communicator. His mind worked quickly, on the spot, assessing his audience, finding just the right analogy to drive home his message. “How many of you have fire insurance?” he bellowed to a crowd at Laurie David’s house in LA. All hands shot up. “How many of you have had fires?” One arm rose tentatively, halfway. “Well, then, why don’t we insure our planet against climate change when the odds of it occurring are far greater than of fire destroying our homes?” Bingo.

He answered every email from fans and foes alike–even vicious threats–reasoning with a compelling blend of science, logic, facts and common sense. Steve knew everything like he knew his wines: thoroughly, brilliantly, and passionately. His big voice is now silenced, his tirelessness is now at rest, and we are way worse off.

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