Stephen Schneider – Rest in Peace

Yesterday the world lost a great man, a gifted scientist, and a wonderful communicator. Stephen Schneider has died unexpectedly at the age of 65.

Ironically, after battling with a rare form of lymphoma and winning, Dr. Schneider succumbed to a heart attack as his plane landed in London yesterday morning. He was on his way home from a conference in Sweden.

To say that Stephen Schneider was a role model for scientists and science communicators would be an understatement. He was a pioneer in the field of climate modelling, and contributed greatly to our understanding of aerosols and their radiative forcing. However, he also fought tirelessly for public understanding of climate change. For more than thirty years, he epitomized science communication through books, interviews, appearances in documentaries, and online essays. I’m sure I’m not the only person who, after reading and listening to his contributions, often thought, “There, that’s it….that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to put into words.”

Despite death threats, hate mail, and out-of-context attacks on his integrity that persisted for decades, Stephen Schneider persisted in his communication. He understood the importance of public discussion and understanding on climate change, and nobody was better qualified than him to talk about it. He is the kind of scientist I want to become. As Ben Santer wrote in a touching eulogy on RealClimate,

Some scientists have exceptional talents in pure research…Others have strengths in communicating complex scientific issues to non-scientists. It is rare to find scientists who combine these talents. Steve Schneider was such a man…[He] did for climate science what Carl Sagan did for astronomy.

My interactions with Dr. Schneider were brief, but I was amazed at how responsive and supportive he was. I emailed him when I was researching an early story on a certain infamous quote, and he responded with links and further context, despite surely being asked about this quote on a weekly basis. A year or so later, I wrote to him again to tell him how much I enjoyed his most recent book, and he replied to thank me, commend me on my career choice, and invite me to email him for advice whenever I needed it. For a scientist who is at the top of his field and continually approached by the media, he sure makes time for students and those who are interested in his work.

As Ben Santer said, we must honor Stephen Schneider by continuing the work he left for us: understanding the complexities of the climate system, communicating what we already know to the public, fighting back against those who seek to misrepresent the science, and – above all – ensuring that our future is secure on this beautiful and fragile planet.

My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues. He will truly be missed, and his contributions will not be forgotten.