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What’s Brewing on Climate Change?

Written by Gary Hedden and Charley Pow.

On October 24, Stanford University hosted roundtable discussion on climate change. With Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” moderating, panelists included mostly Stanford faculty, a Tesla co-founder and Pres. Obama’s former advisor on climate change.

The panel said that there is evidence of climate change, but this hasn’t been proven scientifically. But the changes we’re seeing are catastrophic. Therefore, as stewards of the world, we should take action without scientific proof, as we did with ozone depletion.

Groundwater is being depleted in California and the rest of the world, and rising temperatures will make this worse by reducing the snowpack and increasing evaporation.

The panel would like to see a carbon tax to mitigate carbon dioxide being dumped into the air.

Highlights of the talk are below and can be seen on a video here:

Lesley Stahl and six panelists had a lot to say about climate change at a recent Stanford Roundtable.

Addressing the deniers, Chris Field, Stanford Professor, pointed out that in the last 50 years the heat in the earth itself is increasing at a faster rate, and faster than the atmospheric heat increase.

* George Shultz, former Secretary of State, said it’s not that complicated, just look at sea ice.  We have a new ocean, the Arctic.

Lesley, but deniers ask, are you positive it’s due to climate change.

* Bina Venkataraman, Director of Global Policy Initiatives, MIT and Harvard, said we frequently make decisions when there is uncertainly.  Think about doctors talking with patients about the probabilities of success with different treatment options.

* Tom Steyer, philanthropist and investor, said it’s about the size of the risk.  You never want to bet the whole enterprise.  Climate change has huge risk, so you don’t need 100% certainty before you take action.

* Chris Field, pointed to the problem as being inertia.  Climate change is slow, and moving from fossil fuels will be slow, but we need and can start now.

* Shultz, added that we need to support energy research and development and we need a price on carbon.  Polluters need to pay for their pollution.  That brought a round of supportive applause from the audience.

J.B. Straubel, of Tesla Motors, noted we need better energy storage, and we’re getting there.  No big breakthroughs, but lots of little ones.

* Bina, insisted that collaborative team efforts at the local level are important and effective (music to my ears).

* Steyer, pointed out that most people are aware of the climate change issue but it’s not a priority.  It needs to connect at a personal level.

Lesley, posited, is it a religious issue?

* Alvaro Umana, Costa Rica’s Minister of Energy and Environment, opined that we are stewards of God’s creation.

* Steyer, the most vulnerable humans suffer the most from extreme weather.

Lesley, insisted that water is important.

* Chris Field, in California, the snowpack is critical and we can’t keep it with a warm planet.

* Steyer, it is an essential resource, but many feel they have the right to “as much as they want.”  Most goes for agriculture, so pricing is complicated.

Lesley, Saudi Arabia is driving down gas prices.

* Shultz, we need to “wise up” about that and not cut energy research and development.

Lesley, is there a connection to Ebola?

* Chris Field, climate change is a threat multiplier.  People move to crowded urban areas as conditions in rural areas deteriorate, leading to medical risks.

* Alvaro Umana, no likely connection with Ebola, but yes with other diseases like Malaria.

Lesley, energy consumption is going down, so are we on the right path?

* Shultz, thanks to better energy efficiency.

* Chris Field, in 2013, it started back up.  Most of the earlier decline was due to the switch from coal to natural gas.

Lesley, are you optimistic?

* Alvaro Umana, yes because we are biologically inclined to optimism.  Still, I see the eyes of unborn children asking how could you be so irresponsible.

* JB, increasingly optimistic.  The technology is getting better, and there is enough renewable (solar, wind) out there to make it possible.

* Chris Field, my concern is the lack of urgency.

* Vina, this is our moment.

* Shultz, it’s daunting.  Government is weaker, but we have enough experience from past efforts that optimism is justified.

* Steyer, optimistic.  We have the ability to innovate.

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