Dr. Stephen Schneider, Climate Warrior

07/19/2010 03:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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 tirelessly to move us all in the right direction.

Peter Gleick
Pacific Institute