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As Climate Bill Falters, Steve Schneider Might Have Counseled Optimism

Seeing the official downfall for the year of any climate legislation in Congress—a development so depressing to many—I thought of climatologist Steve Schneider, who passed away on Monday at the age of 65. He died while still active as a researcher and an in-the-trenches "scientific pugilist" sparring with energy lobbyists, journalists, and members of Congress.

But he was rarely angry. And having testified since the 1970s about the threat of global warming, he had seen plenty of progress on public acceptance of the issue. In a May retrospective paper, he told the community, still reeling from the so-called Climategate incident, that he felt that science and policymaking was "an exciting process, despite the frustrations of the present problems still not having been adequately resolved, and those new ones bound to come as we explore together the new frontiers of interdisciplinary climate science ... ."

Last year, in his climate memoir, he repeatedly struck notes to emphasize a "hopeful future" despite the worsening threats and political resistance:

We can overcome the political inertia that has delayed our response here in the United States as well as in many other countries (p. 4).

[B]ig cuts below 1990 levels of emissions on a global scale by 2020 are not even in the ballpark of feasibility, although I'll fight and hope we do better than a continuing increase over the next ten years. I do genuinely believe we will slow down the rate of emissions growth immediately, reach the peak of emissions in the United States ideally before 2020 (p. 280).

Schneider would have criticized the Senate for dropping the ball. But he might have also sounded a positive note on a day many advocates and climate scientists are singing the blues.