Climate Change Expert Stephen Schneider Dies

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Stephen Schneider, one of the foremost experts on climate change, has died. Michele Norris talks to John Holdren, science adviser to President Obama. Holdren was a friend and colleague to Schneider for almost 40 years, working with him to educate the public about climate change.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

One of the foremost experts on climate change has died. Stanford University professor Stephen Schneider suffered an apparent heart attack today as he traveled from Stockholm to London. He was 65 years old.

Over the years, Schneider won many fellowships and awards. He was on the team with Al Gore that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. And he was skilled at communicating scientific nuance in plain language. He talks about that earlier this year on NPR's SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Dr. STEPHEN SCHNEIDER (Climatologist, Stanford University): What I've been so annoyed about is this dumbing-down polarization into kind of end-of-the-world and good-for-you extremes, all have Ph.D.s. How can the public be anything but confused? In fact, end of the world and good for you are the two lowest-probability outcomes.

NORRIS: Schneider also applied his skills to his fight against mantle cell lymphoma. The result was a book called "The Patient from Hell: How I Worked with My Doctors to Get the Best Modern Medicine and How You Can Too."

John Holdren is a science adviser to President Obama. He was a friend and colleague of Schneider's for nearly 40 years.

Dr. JOHN HOLDREN (Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President): Steve would come up with crucial insights that really opened up whole new dimensions of research in climate science.

One of his big contributions was that the influences that humans were having on climate was not just the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane and others, but our influence also included the effects of particles. And he was sometimes criticized for being too extreme, but, in fact, he was very middle of the road. Steve was as fierce in his criticism of people who he thought were overstating what we know about climate as he was in his criticisms of those he thought were understating.

NORRIS: It's interesting. At one point, he was a proponent of global cooling. What led to the switch?

Dr. HOLDREN: In the early 1970s, everybody was in doubt as to the outcome of the competition between the cooling effects of particles and, on the other hand, the warming effect of greenhouse gases. And it was only with the emergence of additional data and additional analyses that it became clear that the greenhouse gases were going to win this competition. And at that point, he was one of the first to point out that, in fact, overall, we were heading for a much hotter world.

NORRIS: The title of his book, "The Patient from Hell," did that, in part, explain his approach to research, his tenacity and how he decided to try to attack this rare disease he battled?

Dr. HOLDREN: Steve always wanted to find what the answer was, whether it was climate science or the science behind the health problems that afflicted him, and participated fully in the choices that were being made about his care. I think he saved his own life. I think he saved some other lives, of people who were afflicted with the same malady and who ended up embracing, at his advice, the course of treatment that he undertook, and it was just typical of his approach to everything.

NORRIS: Did he apply the same sort of fervor and tenacity to his private pursuits - playing the guitar, doing things like that?

Dr. HOLDREN: He was an extremely high-energy person. I hiked with Steve Schneider. I fished with Steve Schneider. He was always the most entertaining and interesting companion you could have because he was noticing everything around him, making insightful comments about it, and at the same time, just having a heck of a good time.

NORRIS: Well, thank you very much for sharing your insights about your former colleague. All the best to you.

Dr. HOLDREN: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: That was John Holdren. He's adviser to President Barack Obama and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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