Stephen Schneider (1945 – 2010) – Consummate Science Communicator

December 8, 2011

This short film by San Francisco filmmaker Stephen Thomson,  a  year in the making,  pays tribute to a critical scientific and academic figure in postmodern history: the late Climatologist and Stanford Professor Stephen Schneider (1945-2010)

This video was screened before a live audience by Climate One of the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Dec 6, 2011 as the introduction to an event honoring Stephen Schneider and presenting an award in his name to Richard Alley, Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the EMS Environment Institute.

This video will be presented again thursday, December 8, at the AGU (American Geophysicists Union) Conference currently being held in San Francisco.

Thomson, an emerging multi-media master,  has also been a contributor of musical score material to the Climate Crock series, and is responsible for the gripping adaptation of Bill Mckibben’s now famous essay about extreme weather and climate change, that has now gone viral – see below….

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26 Responses to “Stephen Schneider (1945 – 2010) – Consummate Science Communicator”


  1. [...] you to Peter Sinclair at the excellent Climate Denial Crock of the Week for calling this to our attention and providing the following information: The video was screened [...]

  2. mspelto Says:

    He was a compelling voice that convinced me of the peril of the inevitable climate change on glaciers at a conference at Northwestern U. in 1983.

  3. daveburton Says:

    I especially liked Schneider’s May, 1978 appearance on a TV show (hosted by Leonard Nimoy) about “The Coming Ice Age.”

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Schneider, of course, followed the evidence and changed his views – unlike some others who are still prisoners of the 70s. Those bell bottoms must be getting a little frayed.
      live long and prosper dude.

  4. Rob Murphy Says:

    “I especially liked Schneider’s May, 1978 appearance on a TV show (hosted by Leonard Nimoy) about the coming ice age”

    What was nice about it was the fact Schneider was not predicting an immanent ice age, at all. He was asked about the advisability of using geoengineering “if” a new glacial period was immanent. He said no, because we “can’t predict with any certainty our own climatic future, how could we come along and intervene then in that ignorance? You could melt the icecaps, what would that do to the coastal cities? The cure could be worse than the disease. Would that be better or worse than the risk of an ice age?” By that time (the late 70’s) he was leaning heavily toward global warming, not cooling. The clip in no way counters that.

    • daveburton Says:

      Nice try, Rob, but the entire show was about the coming ice age, which all the green experts, including Schneider, believed was imminent, because of what mankind was doing to the environment.

      Here’s another clip: “The data shows that average temperatures in the Arctic have fallen dramatically over the last 30 years. In most locations, the drop has been about 2 degrees C. At that rate, the descent to ice age temperatures could take less than 200 years.” (Leonard Nimoy narrating)

      Of course, then, as now, there was considerable evidence that the climate shift was cyclical, and far less alarming than the Chicken Littles were saying. But then, as now, the “consensus” climate alarmist experts cared not at all about such evidence. They knew what they believed, and they knew human beings were destroying the Earth’s climate. By 1978, the cooling had plateaued, but the alarmists didn’t care, they just knew that humans burning fossil fuels were sending the planet plummeting into an ice age. If you claimed otherwise, you were obviously a shill of Detroit and the power companies.

      “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

  5. Rob Murphy Says:

    “Nice try, Rob, but the entire show was about the coming ice age…”

    I never said it wasn’t. It was “In Search Of”, which often over-hyped claims, like Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.

    “which all the green experts, including Schneider, believed was imminent,”

    Absolute nonsense. Almost nobody by 1978 was talking about an imminent ice age. Schneider certainly didn’t think one was likely; his research at the time was in how CO2 was going to raise temperatures. You are just making things up. It had been known since the 50’s that aerosols from fossil fuel emissions would lower temperature, and that rising CO2 would increase temperature. What was unknown was what the balance would be; if aerosol cooling would outweigh GHG warming, or vice-versa. Schneider’s had written a paper in 1971 concluding that cooling would prevail, but soon realized he had made a mistake in the magnitudes of both the aerosol effect and the GHG warming effect. By 1974 he published a retraction. He, along with the majority of other climate scientists, remained neutral for most of the decade on the issue. He published a leter to Nature in 1977 criticizing a number of popular books on climate change, some predicting deep cooling, others global warming. He said,

    “Commendably, The Weather Conspiracy does bore deeply into many of the issues of future climatic warmings and coolings, but instead of pointing out that either scenario for climatic change could be troublesome since much of human activity, particularly agricultural, is tuned to the present climate, it insists on maintaining the shock effect of the dramatic (the subtitle reads, “The Coming Of The New Ice Age”) rather than the reality of the discipline: we just don’t know enough to choose definitely at this stage whether we are in for warming or cooling— or when.”

    And I was correct, the only thing Schneider spoke of in the clip was the inadvisability of using geoengineering to thwart a hypothetical new glacial because (as I quoted directly above from the clip, just about his entire dialogue in fact) he said:

    “We can’t predict with any certainty our own climatic future, how could we come along and intervene then in that ignorance? You could melt the icecaps, what would that do to the coastal cities? The cure could be worse than the disease. Would that be better or worse than the risk of an ice age?”

    How is someone saying that we can’t predict with any certainty our climatic future someone who is predicting an imminent ice age?

    “By 1978, the cooling had plateaued, but the alarmists didn’t care, they just knew that humans burning fossil fuels were sending the planet plummeting into an ice age.”

    Again, total BS. You are either completely ignorant of the state of the science from back then, or you are lying through your teeth. Either way you are clueless. Btw, the projections weren’t based on the temperature readings of the 70’s; they were based on the growing understanding of the physics of GHG’s and of the effects of aerosols. By the early 80’s it was harder and harder to deny the fact that warming from GHG’s would overwhelm the cooling from aerosols. The consensus that was reached then has only strengthened.

    The denialist obsession to rewrite history is absolutely Orwellian. For shame.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      they need to rewrite the future to make their arguments. and they have Fox News busy rewriting the present.

    • daveburton Says:

      Rob, how old are you? I was in high school and college during the 1970s, majoring in physics, systems science, and computer science (in that order). We heard frequently about the threat of an ice age, and we never heard anyone suggest that global warming was a possibility, let alone a threat. I don’t know how old you are, but I was there, and I remember it. So don’t you dare accuse me of rewriting history!

      However, another thing we didn’t have in the 1970s was the Internet, so minority views had a lot fewer outlets in those days. I’d be grateful for links to those articles to which you refer, and books (other than the lone contrarian “Hothouse Earth” by Wilcox) which you say predicted warming.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        sounds like you were misinformed and shallow then, and nothing’s changed.

      • g2-b31f1590b0e74a6d1af4639162aa7f3f Says:

        It would seem that someone who majored in “physics, systems science, and computer science” would know how to use a f&%!ing library (or at least Google Scholar) and figure out for himself that in the 1970’s, the climate-science community considered warming far more likely than cooling. But you seem to be having difficulty doing that — so I’ll spot you a link to help you out: http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1

        • daveburton Says:

          Wm Connolley, the notorious Green Party activist and Wikipedia propagandist? That’s your idea of an authority?

          • g2-b31f1590b0e74a6d1af4639162aa7f3f Says:

            If you don’t trust Connolley and his co-authors, then feel free to conduct your *own* scientific literature search. But you won’t do that because that would require real effort on your part.

          • daveburton Says:

            Rob used the plural when referring to 1970s books predicting global warming. But I’ve found only Wilcox’s.

            There were, indeed, multiple books predicting an ice age, but were there really multiple books predicting global warming, back then? Can anyone here name another one?

          • daveburton Says:

            <crickets>

  6. g2-b31f1590b0e74a6d1af4639162aa7f3f Says:


    Schneider’s had written a paper in 1971 concluding that cooling would prevail, but soon realized he had made a mistake in the magnitudes of both the aerosol effect and the GHG warming effect.

    As it turns out, a careful reading of the 1971 paper will show that it didn’t predict the ice-age that deniers claim that it predicted. Here’s the relevant passage from the paper’s abstract:

    An increase by only a factor of 4 in global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5 ° K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease over the whole globe is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age.

    The paper concluded that an ice age could be triggered if aerosol pollution (i.e. from “dirty coal” plants, etc.) were to increase by a factor of 4. But aerosol emissions *didn’t* increase by a factor of 4 — they peaked shortly after the paper was published and began to decline as clean-air legislation in North America and Europe took effect. So the emissions scenario that the paper claimed would be necessary to trigger an ice age never came to pass in the first place!

    Furthermore, it needs to be emphasized that in 1971, Schneider was a young postdoc fresh out of grad school. He was *not* an experienced “journeyman” scientist; at that time, he was a “wet behind the ears apprentice”, and he wasn’t even the lead author of the paper. That needs to be made very clear in order to put that paper into context.

    This whole “Schneider predicted an imminent ice-age” brouhaha demonstrates this: The deniers who have been pushing the Schneider ice-age claim are lazy, incompetent and/or dishonest. Deniers who didn’t read the paper before pushing the claim are lazy; deniers who looked at the paper and didn’t understand its conclusions are incompetent, and deniers who read and understood the paper, but still insisted on peddling the Schneider ice-age claim are dishonest.

  7. daveburton Says:

    g2-b31f1590b0e74a6d1af4639162aa7f3f, your selective quote of Schneider seriously distorts his point. Here’s a longer quote, where you can see that he was, indeed, worried about the ice age threat, and dismissive of global warming:

    “The rate at which human activities may be inadvertently modifying the climate of Earth has become a problem of serious concern. In the last few decades the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere appears to have increased by 7 percent. During the same period, the aerosol content of the lower atmosphere may have been augmented by as much as 100 percent.

    How have these changes in the composition of the atmosphere affected the climate of the globe? More importantly, is it possible that a continued increase in the CO2 and dust content of the atmosphere at the present rate will produce such large-scale effects on the global temperature that the process may run away, with the planet Earth eventually becoming as hot as Venus (700 deg. K.) or as cold as Mars (230 deg. K.)?

    We report here on the first results of a calculation in which separate estimates were made of the effects on global temperature of large increases in the amount of CO2 and dust in the atmosphere. It is found that even an increase by a factor of 8 in the amount of CO2, which is highly unlikely in the next several thousand years, will produce an increase in the surface temperature of less than 2 deg. K.

    However, the effect on surface temperature of an increase in the aerosol content of the atmosphere is found to be quite significant. An increase by a factor of 4 in the equilibrium dust concentration in the global atmosphere, which cannot be ruled out as a possibility within the next century, could decrease the mean surface temperature by as much as 3.5 deg. K. If sustained over a period of several years, such a temperature decrease could be sufficient to trigger an ice age!
    Schneider S. & Rasool S., “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Aerosols – Effects of Large Increases on Global Climate”, Science, vol.173, 9 July 1971, p.138-141

    However, you are correct that he was quite young (26yo) at the time. So here’s a quote from him 19 years later:
    “I don’t set very much store in looking at the direct evidence.”
    Stephen Schneider interview with UK Channel 4 in 1990

  8. daveburton Says:

    I just watched that end YouTube video, and I’m disappointed in you, Peter, for promoting it.

    Bill McKibben just makes things up. Example: 1:45 “It’s just now that the arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years.”

    He’s even got a map of it, with a great expanse of open water at the north pole.

    The only problem is that there’s no truth at all to it. It’s a great big lie. I’m sure you know that!

    Why would you promote such nonsense, Peter??

    The truth is that, thus far, there’s been no statistically detectable increase in extreme weather events in response to anthropogenic CO2.

  9. daveburton Says:

    s/end Youtube video/2nd YouTube video/

  10. Rob Murphy Says:

    “Here’s a longer quote, where you can see that he was, indeed, worried about the ice age threat, and dismissive of global warming:”

    Nobody claimed he hadn’t said an ice age *could* be triggered by an aerosol increase of a factor of 4. He just wasn’t saying it was likely, as the quote you provided made clear:

    “which cannot be ruled out as a possibility within the next century”

    That’s not exactly a definite prediction, or even close.

    He retracted the claim 3 years later, however. By the time of the “In Search Of” video clip, he had already been on record for 4 years as claiming we didn’t know which way temperatures would go or which effect would predominate, cooling from aerosols or warming from CO2. That’s why he said on the “In Search Of” episode,

    “We can’t predict with any certainty our own climatic future, how could we come along and intervene then in that ignorance? You could melt the icecaps, what would that do to the coastal cities? The cure could be worse than the disease. Would that be better or worse than the risk of an ice age?”

    “So here’s a quote from him 19 years later:”

    Ah, that howler of *documentary*, “The Climate Conspiracy”! The quote in its entirety (at least what was shown, since Schneider is shown starting in mid-sentence) is

    “… therefore trying to mine the record by carefully looking at every bump and wiggle to me is a waste of time; it’s like trying to figure out the probability of a pair of dice by looking at the individual rolls. You can’t look at individual rolls you have to look at averages. So I don’t put very much stock in looking at the direct evidence…”

    His sentence is cut off at the end.
    You can find it in the 21st minute of this abomination:

    He’s quite clearly (even without hearing what he was actually asked and the start of his answer, or the end of it, too) talking about the need for large sample sizes when evaluating the data. BTW, your “quote”, short and out of context as it is, is a slight misquote, probably a result of years of copy and paste from one denialist blog after another – he said “stock”, not “store”. As an aside, every point in that “documentary” turned out wrong, from the attacks on the temperature record, to the claim of no sea level rise to the acceptance of Spencer and Christy’s sat analysis.

    Dave, if lies are all you have, I almost feel sorry for you and your side.


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