Stephen H. Schneider, 65

Stephen H. Schneider, climate change expert, dies at 65

Stephen H. Schneider
Stephen H. Schneider (Photo By Linda A. Cicero/stanford News Service - Photo By Linda A. Cicero/stanford News Service)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stephen H. Schneider, 65, an influential Stanford University climatologist who parlayed his expertise on the dangerous effects of greenhouse-gas emissions into a second career as a leader in the public dialogue -- and debate -- on climate change, died July 19 in London.

His wife, Stanford biologist Terry Root, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues that her husband had died after an apparent heart attack on an airplane en route to London from Stockholm.

Dr. Schneider wrote books and more than 400 articles on human-driven global warming and its wide-ranging effects, such as a recorded rise in ocean temperature and the increasing potency and frequency of hurricanes. He conducted research on the near-irreversible damage of greenhouse gases on the ozone layer and theorized how a nuclear war might affect the climate.

The founder and editor of the magazine Climatic Change, Dr. Schneider was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore for international research on global warming. He advised every president from Nixon to Obama.

"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. "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."

One of Dr. Schneider's strongest talents as a scientist was finding vivid ways of describing the harm of global warming. He often appeared on television as a climate expert, including the HBO program "Real Time With Bill Maher."

He once told Maher's viewers that humans were to blame for global warming because of our use of the atmosphere as a "sewer to dump our smokestack and our tailpipe waste."

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

In the late 1970s, Dr. Schneider emerged as one of the early supporters of the theory that man-made industrial gasses were damaging the ozone layer and leading to a slow but steady rise in the temperature of Earth's atmosphere.

His passionate views on the climate debate occasionally attracted vitriol from extremist groups. An FBI investigation recently found he was named on a neo-Nazi "death list," and Dr. Schneider said he received hundreds of hate e-mails a day.

"What do I do? Learn to shoot a magnum? Wear a bulletproof jacket?" Dr. Schneider said. "I have now had extra alarms fitted at my home, and my address is unlisted. I get scared that we're now in a new Weimar Republic where people are prepared to listen to what amounts to Hitlerian lies about climate scientists."

Nonetheless, Dr. Schneider said he believed it was important for scientists to communicate with the public and spread their understanding of climate data and findings.

"If we do not do the due diligence of letting people understand the relative credibility of claimants of truth, then all we do is have a confused public who hears claim and counterclaim," Dr. Schneider said in a recent interview with Climate Science Watch. "When somebody says 'I don't believe in global warming,' I ask, 'Do you believe in evidence? Do you believe in a preponderance of evidence?' "

Stephen Henry Schneider was born Feb. 11, 1945, in New York. He was a graduate of Columbia University, where he also received a doctorate in mechanical engineering and plasma physics in 1971.

He worked as a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., for more than 20 years before joining the Stanford faculty in the mid-1990s.

Besides his wife, a complete list of survivors could not be determined.

Despite the fact that a recent study found that 97 to 98 percent of climatologists believed in global warming, Dr. Schneider acknowledged that the debate in the forum of public opinion was more divisive.

"I've been on the ground, in the trenches, for my entire career," Dr. Schneider wrote in his 2007 book, "Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate." "I'm still at it, and the battle, while looking more winnable these days, is still not a done deal."

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