by Deidre Francks, '20
The countdown begins! Just one week from today—on Tuesday, February 27th—Students for a Sustainable Stanford will host the sixth annual Stephen H. Schneider Memorial Lecture. This year we will welcome Geisha J. Williams, President and CEO of PG&E, to speak on “Energy Network of Tomorrow: How to Reach California’s Climate Goals.” After months of tireless work from our Schneider lecture coordinators and other members of SSS, I look forward to this event with incredible excitement and pride. This will be the second Schneider Lecture I’ve attended, following last year’s lecture delivered by John Holdren, former Chief Science and Technology Advisor to President Obama.
This year, throughout all of the excitement of Schneider lecture preparations, I have found myself increasingly curious about the life and work of the late Dr. Stephen H. Schneider—the esteemed climate scientist and communicator for whom SSS’s annual memorial event is dedicated. Although he passed away before my time at Stanford, it’s impossible to ignore Dr. Schneider’s legacy as a beloved professor, trusted advisor, and dear friend to many who are still on this campus today. Dr. Schneider’s name has been mentioned by professors and peers throughout many of my classes—a testament to his wide-ranging influence in the fields of interdisciplinary climate science and communication. What follows is a brief overview of the legacy left by Dr. Schneider, which—despite hardly scratching the surface of his vast and accomplished career—gives some context for why we work to honor his memory each year with the Schneider Memorial Lecture.
After receiving his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and plasma physics from Columbia University, Dr. Schneider spent his early career working for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) where he researched the effects of aerosols and greenhouses gases on the atmospheric system. During his time at NCAR, Dr. Schneider became deeply interested in global climate modeling and was among the earliest scientists to express concern about the emerging threat of anthropogenic climate change. Before arriving at Stanford in 1996, Schneider had already received the MacArthur Fellow “Genius Award” for his climate research and communication efforts, founded the journal Climatic Change, served as a White House consultant under numerous administrations, and established his public presence as a global climate expert. He was later elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an accomplishment for which he and other authors received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore.
In addition to his remarkable scientific expertise and countless related awards, Dr. Schneider had a gift for science communication that set him apart from many others in his field. A clear and persuasive communicator, Schneider never shied away from the opportunity to convey complex scientific concepts to the general public and others outside of the scientific community.
Throughout his career he delivered speeches, authored books, and even testified before congress on the science of anthropogenic climate change and its associated impacts. Crucially, Dr. Schneider was fearless in the face of criticism. While he acknowledged the difficulty of communicating the risks and uncertainties of climate change to policymakers and members of the general public, Dr. Schneider relentlessly stressed the importance of competent science communication. Above all else, Dr. Schneider aimed to educate, advise, and empower people to make smarter decisions in the face of a changing climate.
Each year, to honor Dr. Schneider’s legacy of climate communication, Students for a Sustainable Stanford invites an esteemed speaker to campus to speak on an issue related to climate, environment, or sustainability. In years past, with the invaluable support of Dr Schneider’s widow Dr. Terry Root, we have hosted former Vice President Al Gore, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, marine biologist Sylvia Earle, urban farmer Will Allen, and the aforementioned science advisor to President Obama, John Holdren. We are now thrilled and honored to welcome Geisha Williams to our campus next week, for what will surely be yet another in a long line of truly illuminating talks.
photo credit: http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Symposium/SHS_symposium.html
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