Steve Schneider’s Climate View  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Andrew Revkin has a post on climate scientist Stephen Schneider - Steve Schneider’s Climate View.

Today marks the first anniversary of the untimely death of Stephen H. Schneider, a central figure in the decades-long effort to understand the human influence on climate and pursue options for limiting risks from the ongoing buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases.

At a special session on Schneider at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, his widow, the biologist Terry Root, showed what she said was the last photo Schneider took before taking a flight from Sweden to England on which he passed away from a pulmonary embolism. She gave permission for me to post it above.

It’s an image that captures a lot of what her husband was about — not only the wind turbine and verdant landscape but also the clear sense of motion imparted by the blurry car mirror (or whatever that object is) in the foreground. Schneider was nearly constantly in motion through his final decade despite fighting off bone cancer and other maladies.

I’m focusing this post not only on his peripatetic nature, but also his willingness to directly engage with anyone — diplomatically or ferociously as the need arose — to convey the science pointing to substantial risks ahead, amid durable uncertainty, and to explain his view of possible responses.

As I’ve noted here before, he never shied away from advocacy but always tried to separate his scientific and statistical analysis of risk from the choices he would personally make to mitigate it. As he put it in an e-mail in 2006:
To be risk averse is good policy in my VALUE SYSTEM — and we always must admit that how to take risks — with climate damages or costs of mitigation/adaptation — is not science but world views. {Read more.]

A prime instance of Schneider in action came just a few weeks before his death, on a trip to Australia to discuss climate change with 52 self-described climate skeptics on the television program Insight. It’s Steve at his best (although not at his best physically, sadly). The transcript of the program is online, but this is a case where I really think the video must be watched to catch the tone of the exchanges and the value of direct discourse. Here’s the show:

I encourage you to dive in and offer your reactions on points of debate and on Schneider’s approach. (I’ll be filing another piece shortly on A. Scott Denning, a climate scientist at Colorado State University who’s followed in Steve’s wake in engaging with those who deeply disagree with him.)

For more on my views of Steve (whom I considered a friend after more than 25 years of consulting him on climate science and policy), revisit my conversation with Stewart Brand about him for the Edge Web site. That same link includes an long and fascinating video interview.

The Stephen H. Schneider Symposium, being held in late August in Boulder, Colo., will reflect on his approach to the climate problem and culminate with a session on this question: “The challenge of climate change mitigation and adaptation: How do we translate sound climate science into sound policies?”

That remains as good, and unresolved, a question as ever, and I hope those exploring it, whatever their values and world views, keep in mind Steve’s dictum about separating science from preference and also his constant reminder that uncertainty is a form of information, not ignorance — and never an excuse for inaction.


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