Former Vice President Al Gore was on campus Tuesday to remember a friend. Gore spoke at a private ceremony dedicating a stone bench in the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden in honor of renowned climate scientist Stephen Schneider, a former Stanford biology professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment who died in 2010. Gore also spoke later that day, giving the first annual Stephen H. Schneider Memorial Lecture.

Schneider and Gore worked together on several projects and shared, along with Schneider’s colleagues on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for "informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change."

Before Gore spoke, Schneider’s widow Terry Root, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute and frequent scientific collaborator with Schneider, thanked Schneider’s friends. “I promised I wasn’t going to cry,” she said through the onset of tears, throwing up her arms. Then, the Rev. Canon Sally G. Bingham, president of climate change advocacy group Interfaith Power and Light, compared Schneider to Old Testament prophets. “He raged on about drought, fires, floods, rising seas with the spread of disease unless we changed our ways.” Although Schneider was “not a believer,” Bingham said, he was among a small number of scientists willing to include religion in the climate change dialogue and to emphasize the moral issues involved.

“He was a force of nature,” Gore said of Schneider. “He was sui generis.” Schneider inspired others, Gore noted, with “his passion, his commitment, his stamina, his relentless desire to keep working for the truth and to get the message out.”

Gore recalled first seeing Schneider on the Johnny Carson show in the mid-1970s, when climate change had barely made it into the American consciousness. Schneider’s work to raise awareness of the issue was “awe inspiring,” Gore said. “There are very few people in history as successful as Steve was in helping to protect that only home we have ever known.”

After Gore’s comments, Stanford Woods Institute Co-Director Jeff Koseff wrapped up the proceedings. He called Schneider a “mensch,” a Yiddish term that Koseff translated as “a person you want to be around because he or she makes you feel genuine and whole. A mensch makes you feel good about yourself and what you do, lifts up those around him or her. A mensch inspires [people] to do good, to heal the world.”

Koseff paused to imagine Schneider asking him if he could come up with a slogan for the day’s event. “I said, ‘Yes, I can, Steve. We’re dedicating a bench for a mensch.’”

During a reception afterward, Schneider’s colleagues, students, friends and family reminisced.

A fellow climate scientist, Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Chris Field, recalled Schneider as “the first to speak up and the last to let an incorrect statement stand,” someone who was proud to have a “big mouth” and loved his work. “His legacy is the people, the army of people who are inspired by him to carry on the message.”

Marilyn Cornelius, a former student of Schneider’s, learned from him the importance of “fearless integrity,” to “live according to your principles, no matter what.” Schneider suggested that Cornelius write a review of a book on climate change and social justice when she was unsure of her own academic abilities. “He was able to see your potential. He would lift you.”

Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Jon Krosnick learned to better appreciate the “integrity of communication” through Schneider. “You think about who you’re talking to and what your obligations are to them.”

Bill Anderegg remembered Schneider, his Ph.D. adviser, as a mentor who “always had your back, always had complete confidence in your ability, and believed you were going to go out and change the world.” Schneider’s gave Anderegg that opportunity when the two co-authored a paper on climate change skeptics – Anderegg’s first published paper and Schneider’s last. Although he found it hard to imagine Schneider taking much time to sit on a bench, Anderegg thought the tribute a fitting one. “He never stopped or slowed down, but he sure reflected and thought deeply a lot.”


Watch a video of Stephen Schneider discussing climate change.