Stephen Schneider, a Stanford biology professor who for decades has been a central figure in the debate on global climate change, died of an apparent heart attack Monday (July 19) while flying from a scientific meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, to London. He was 65.
"Steve, more than anything, whether you agreed with him or not, forced us to confront this real possibility of climate change," Jeff Koseff, a colleague at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment, said of Schneider's impact.
Schneider was a lead author of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. He and his wife and collaborator, Terry Root, won the 2003 National Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation.
Schneider had been a consultant on climate change to the White House under presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, William Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
In recent writings, speeches and interviews, Schneider acknowledged the fierceness of the debate over climate change and environmental policies. He recently had become a vocal advocate for scientists becoming more assertive in voicing their conclusions in a ways that would be clear to the public and political and governmental leaders worldwide.
The title of his last book encapsulated the struggle over climate change: "Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate."
Published by National Geographic Books, the book provides insider details of decades of infighting and back-room negotiations that he says prevented more timely action to head off climate change and global warming.
The book concludes by outlining what can still be done to avert many dangerous consequences of climate change.
He earlier had chronicled his personal battle with lymphoma in a book, "Patient from Hell."
Schneider's death has set off a burst of commentary and articles worldwide, from blogs to New York Times coverage.
He has been dubbed "the climate warrior."
Schneider's interest in climate change materialized early on his career. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and plasma physics from Columbia University in 1971, and by 1975 he had founded the journal, Climatic Change.
He joined the Stanford faculty in 1992 as part of the Woods Institute for the Environment -- the same year he won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation $500,000 "genius grant" fellowship. He is the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies in Stanford's Department of Biology, and is a senior fellow at the Woods Institute.
Schneider has been a frequent target of climate-change doubters, some of whom have cited his early predictions that particulates or aerosols in the atmosphere could trigger a new cold spell or even ice age by blocking sunlight. But he soon shifted his conclusions based on research that showed a rapid buildup of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" that could cause the global atmosphere to warm.
The warming would cause ice caps and glaciers to melt, and cause havoc worldwide due to rising sea levels and more volatile weather patterns.
An article quoting Stephen Schneider at length is in a recent issue of Stanford Magazine, online at: www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2010/julaug/features/schneider.html .
In the extended Q&A interview, Schneider speaks of a range of critics, from scientists raising questions to those he feels are funded by industries that would be impacted by effective action to curtail climate change. At the far extreme are hate groups that have made personal threats, while most of the hate mail he gets is just "ugly," he said.
But he expressed a basic optimism despite the battles, the delays, the disappointments:
"I really trust this generation of kids to make a difference. I know we can invent our way out of some of the problem.
"What we have to do is convince the bulk of the public, that amorphous middle. We're never going to convince that 25 percent who absolutely believe it's a conspiracy against American religious and economic freedom, and that this is some U.N. plot to take away our hegemony.
"And we don't need to convince the other 25 percent that is already convinced.
"It's that 50 percent in the middle that will listen to an argument, that is not immoral or deeply ideological, but that's a little lazy and ignorant, often quite frightened.
"We have to get to them to create a tipping point for a majority. And that can be done. My fear is that it's going to take a hurricane to take out Miami or fires in the West before they finally wake up.
"I just hope that it's milder crises sooner, and not more extreme events later."
Memorial services are pending.