Cool heads tackle our hottest issue by Marilyn Berlin Snell
Climate brain trust: With all the gloom and doom about global warming, it's hard to imagine a conversation on the topic that could both inspire and entertain. And yet that is exactly what Sierra's roundtable elicited from, left to right, Vinod Khosla, Stephen Schneider, Senator Barbara Boxer, Paul Anderson, Al Gore, Carl Pope, Bettina Poirier, and Dan Reicher.
Though the United States is the world's top producer of greenhouse gases, only 13 percent of congressional Republicans believe in human-caused global warming (National Journal), and 13 percent of Americans have never even heard of the phenomenon (ACNielsen). One might wonder what planet these folks are on. Unfortunately, it's the one we all share.
Last summer James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, blamed my profession for this alarming ignorance. Although the stability of the world's climate system is unequivocally threatened by human activities, the U.S. media has muddied the issue by giving time to "fringe contrarians supported by the fossil-fuel industry," he wrote in the New York Review of Books.
As I read Hansen's essay, I began to imagine a conversation that would push beyond climate-change confusion toward solutions. In the margins, I wrote, "industrialist, scientist, politico, venture capitalist" and filled in the names of prominent experts. A few weeks later, Sierra invited a handful of these luminaries to a daylong roundtable in San Francisco. Their job would be to come up with a practical agenda for the next Congress that would stabilize the climate. It was a tall order, addressed to busy people. Yet their response was immediate, gracious, and affirmative. There is urgency in the air.