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Stephen Schneider

Stephen H. Schneider (born c. 1945) is Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change (Professor by Courtesy in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) at Stanford University, a Co-Director at the Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a Senior Fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He has served as a consultant to Federal Agencies and/or White House staff in the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

His research includes modeling of the atmosphere, climate change, and "the relationship of biological systems to global climate change." He has helped draw public attention to the issue of climate change. He is the founder and editor of the journal Climatic Change. He has authored or co-authored over 450 scientific papers, proceedings, legislative testimonies, edited books and book chapters; some 140 book reviews, editorials, published newspaper and magazine interviews and popularizations. He was a Coordinating Lead Author in Working Group II IPCC TAR; and is currently a co-anchor of the Key Vulnerabilities Cross-Cutting Theme for the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). During the 1980s Schneider emerged as a leading public advocate of sharp reductions of greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. In 2007 the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president, Al Gore, "for efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Early work

Schneider received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and Plasma Physics from Columbia University in 1971.

He studied the role of greenhouse gases and suspended particulate material on climate as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In 1971 Schneider was second author on a Science paper with S. I. Rasool titled "Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols: Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate" (Science 173, 138–141). This paper used a 1-d radiative climate model to examine the competing effects of cooling from aerosols and warming from CO2. The paper concluded:

However, it is projected that man's potential to pollute will increase 6 to 8-fold in the next 50 years. If this increased rate of injection... should raise the present background opacity by a factor of 4, our calculations suggest a decrease in global temperature by as much as 3.5 °C. Such a large decrease in the average temperature of Earth, sustained over a period of few years, is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age. However, by that time, nuclear power may have largely replaced fossil fuels as a means of energy production.

Carbon dioxide was predicted to have only a minor role. However, the model was very simple and the calculation of the CO2 effect was lower than other estimates by a factor of about three, as noted in a footnote to the paper.

In 1976 Schneider wrote The Genesis Strategy: Climate and Global Survival in which he said:

One form of such pollution that affects the entire atmosphere is the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas.... Human activities have already raised the CO2 content in the atmosphere by 10 percent and are estimated to raise it some 25 percent by the year 2000. In later chapters, I will show how this increase could lead to a 1° Celsius (1.8° Fahrenheit) average warming of the earth's surface... Another form of atmospheric pollution results from... atmospheric aerosols... there is some evidence that atmospheric aerosols may have already affected the climate. A consensus among scientists today would hold that a global increase in atmospheric aerosols would probably result in a cooling of the climate; however, a smaller but growing fraction of the current evidence suggests that it may have a warming effect.

In 1977 Schneider criticized a popular science book (The Weather Conspiracy: The Coming of the New Ice Age) that predicted an imminent Ice Age, writing in Nature: insists on maintaining the shock effect of the dramatic...rather than the reality of the discipline: we just don't know enough to chose definitely at this stage whether we are in for warming or cooling— or when.

Public understanding of science

He is a frequent contributor to commercial and noncommercial print and broadcast media on climate and environmental issues, e.g., NOVA, Planet Earth, Nightline, Today Show, Tonight Show, Good Morning America, Dateline, Discovery Channel, British, Canadian and Australian Broadcasting Corporations.

Schneider has commented about the frustrations and difficulties involved with assessing and communicating scientific ideas.

In a January 2002 Scientific American article Schneider wrote:

I readily confess a lingering frustration: uncertainties so infuse the issue of climate change that it is still impossible to rule out either mild or catastrophic outcomes, let alone provide confident probabilities for all the claims and counterclaims made about environmental problems. Even the most credible international assessment body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has refused to attempt subjective probabilistic estimates of future temperatures. This has forced politicians to make their own guesses about the likelihood of various degrees of global warming.

Schneider once spoke of the difficulties scientists face communicating their work to the public:

On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both. (Quoted in Discover, pp. 45–48, Oct. 1989; for the original, together with Schneider's commentary on it misrepresentation see also American Physical Society, APS News August/September 1996. ).

Various distorted versions of the Discover quote noted above have also been circulated on the Internet and in print publications, apparently beginning with a version by Julian Lincoln Simon which omitted crucial text and inserted new material. Schneider did not say "Scientists should consider stretching the truth"; see [3] above.


In 2002, Schneider was criticized by the Danish Space Research Institute, which claimed that he misrepresented their work in his criticism of Bjørn Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist; The Institute noted: "It is ironic that Stephen Schneider accuses Lomborg for not reading the original literature, when in his own arguments he becomes liable to similar criticism."


  • 1992 MacArthur Fellow "Genius Award".
  • 2002 Elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Section on Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Sciences (1999–2001).


Schneider is a survivor of an aggressive cancer, mantle cell lymphoma. He documents his struggle to conquer the condition, including applying his own knowledge of science to design his own treatment regime, in a self-published 2005 book, "The Patient from Hell" (Schneider & Lane, 2005)


  • Stephen H. Schneider, Janica Lane (2005) The Patient from Hell: How I Worked with My Doctors to Get the Best of Modern Medicine and How You Can Too. Da Capo Lifelong Books.
  • Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, John O. Niles (eds., 2002), Climate Change Policy: A Survey, Island Press, 368 pp; June 2002.
  • Stephen H. Schneider and Terry L. Root (Editors, 2001), Wildlife Responses to Climate Change: North American Case Studies, Island Press; December 2001.
  • Stephen H. Schneider (1997), Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can't Afford to Lose, HarperCollins; January 1997
  • Stephen H. Schneider (Editor, 1996), Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather, Oxford University Press; May 1996.
  • Stephen H. Schneider, Penelope J. Boston (Eds, 1992), Scientists on Gaia, MIT Press; February 1992
  • Stephen H. Schneider (1989), Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century?, Sierra Club Books; October 1989
  • Stephen H. Schneider, Randi Londer (1984), Coevolution of Climate and Life, Sierra Club Books; May 1984
  • Stephen H. Schneider, Lynne E. Mesirow (1976), The Genesis Strategy: Climate and Global Survival, Plenum Pub Corp; April 1976.

See also

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