Award honoring late Stanford climate scientist Stephen Schneider goes to former NOAA head

Photo of Jane Lubchenco with an American flag in the background.
Jane Lubchenco (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Vice President Joe Biden couldn’t believe his ears. It was 2010, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco had just briefed Biden on the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. “Now wait a minute,” Biden said. “I thought you were a scientist. But I just understood everything you told me.” Lubchenco, who recounted Biden’s comment during a 2013 Stanford panel discussion, is the winner of the fourth annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communication.

The $15,000 award is named for the late Stanford biology Professor STEPHEN SCHNEIDER, a renowned climate scientist and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The award is given by Climate One, the sustainability initiative of the Commonwealth Club of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public forum in San Francisco. The award is given to a natural or social scientist who has made “extraordinary scientific contributions and communicated that knowledge to a broad public in a clear and compelling fashion.”

Lubchenco was the Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford in 2013. A former member of the advisory council of the Stanford Woods Institute, Lubchenco is an environmental scientist and marine ecologist whose research interests include biodiversity, climate change, sustainable use of oceans and the planet, and interactions between the environment and human wellbeing. She currently is the Distinguished University Professor and Advisor in Marine Studies at Oregon State University.

Schneider’s widow, TERRY ROOT, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute and professor, by courtesy, of biology, called Lubchenco an “excellent” choice. “She has dedicated her life not only to science but also to communicating science to nonscientists,” Root said. “Indeed, as administrator of NOAA during Obama’s first term, she has been one of our most effective communicators to policymakers.”

“Throughout her distinguished career, Jane Lubchenco has been that rare combination: an outstanding environment scientist and an outspoken champion of scientific engagement and communication with policymakers, the media and the public,” said award juror Cristine Russell, a science journalist. “Her leadership in the crucial area of marine ecology and climate made her a perfect choice for the Schneider Award.”

Schneider was internationally recognized for research, policy analysis and outreach in climate change. In 1975 he founded the interdisciplinary journal Climatic Change, and continued to serve as its editor-in-chief until his death. He was honored in 1992 with a MacArthur Fellowship for his ability to integrate and interpret the results of global climate research through public lectures, seminars, classroom teaching, environmental assessment committees, media appearances, congressional testimonies and research collaboration with colleagues. He consulted with federal agencies and/or White House staff in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Schneider was an author for all four assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. He was one of four “generations” of IPCC authors honored for their work when the IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

Lubchenco will receive the award in San Francisco on Dec. 16 at the Commonwealth Club of California. The award is underwritten by Tom R. Burns, Nora Machado, Michael Haas and ClimateWorks Foundation.

ROB JORDAN a communications writer for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.