Aspen Institute and National Geographic Magazine kicked off the first "Aspen Environmental Forum" with a Wednesday evening prologue documenting the likely [and daunting] impact of a tripling of energy consumption worldwide on the already escalating climate change on the planet, and a Thursday morning welcoming session which began invocation led by two native Americans of the Ute tribe.
"We have had many private meetings at the Institute on the environment in the past, but this is the first one in a public forum," said Gerson, adding he and the Institute will make the conference an annual event.
At the prologue, National Geographic Executive Editor Dennis Dimick offered glaring photographic evidence of the accelerating changes to our environment, and posed the challenge of how we can cope with a projected tripling of energy demand by the year 2050.
He was joined on stage for a panel discussion by [from right to left] Gerson, MIT professor Daniel Nocera and David Sandalow, Director of The Brooking's Institute's Environment and Energy Project.
Professor Nocera related the global energy consumption to lighting a one-watt lightbulb, stating annual demand is the equivalent of 12.8 trillion watt lightbulbs, or 12.8 terrawatts. To get more energy to meet new demand, if one assumed one could harvest and burn EVERY living plant on earth, with no more eating, one would only crate a maximum of seven terrawatts. One still needs to eight terrawatts of power - though if one could pull 18 terrawatts from the Sun, which produces orders of magnitude more energy striking the earth, that would hit the target.
Of course, Nocera spun off these numbers with wreckless abandon, and I look forward to revisiting them, as should you.
Sandalow described how he had altered his hybrid car to make it plug-in adaptable. When he bragged to the people who developed his kit that he was getting 80 to 90 miles per gallon they were upset [because it was so low!], and they patiently showed him how he could adjust his driving habits to get roughly double that efficiency.
In answer to a question about how individuals could be encouraged to make an impact, Dimick suggested making a moving about the power of growing one's own food. "We eat oil," he said, referring to the amount of oil used to fertilize, harvest, process, transport, sell and drive home the groceries we eat.
In response to another questioner's assertion so little is being invested in science around climate change compared with other priorities, panelists generally agreed, with one noting that $1.7 trillion is spent on chronic disease and $1.3 trillion on the last two years of a person's life. Sandalow questioned whether Americans are committed to addressing climate change.
Professor Nocera shared a joke he noted was too prevalent in the way Americans prioritize the environment below related concerns, such as human health and healthcare. What's the difference between an American and a person living in the rest of the world? he asked. The American thinks dying is an option.
Thursday's morning sessions included a scientific panel on "the Climate Machine" moderated by New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin, and a discussion of "the Human Footprint," which delved into issues of equity in facing environmental challenges.