Finding Real Optimism for Solving Global Warming

Last week, I witnessed something I wouldn’t have seen two years ago: a group of leading climate scientists and environmental thinkers expressing genuine optimism about our ability to solve global warming. Why the change? The explosive innovation in green energy technology that puts more of these solutions in our grasp.


I made this discovery at the Aspen Institute’s Environmental Forum. It felt great to be back in the Rockies, gazing up at the towering Elk Mountain Range. Wild landscapes like these are what inspired me to join the environmental movement in the first place back when I was in college.


In those days, the pressing concerns for the Rocky Mountain West were logging and drilling. The threats of drilling for oil and gas and developing oil shale remain high on the list of local concerns. But the threat of impacts from global warming looms very high as well. Just last week, NRDC and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization released a report concluding that the American West is heating up nearly twice as fast as the rest of the world.


That haunting reality was brought home to me and all the participants at the Aspen Institute thanks to sobering presentations on the latest scientific data. National Geographic, one of the event’s partners, shared powerful images documenting how global warming is already transforming--and distorting--the world’s landscapes. 


But there was an antidote to this grim news. The conference was filled with environmental luminaries: Ed Wilson, Sylvia Earle, Lester Brown, Amory Lovins, Van Jones, Majora Carter--a stunning array of MacArthur Fellow talent! What I found so inspiring was that many of these great minds express real optimistic about the solutions we have to curb global warming.


Two years ago, this may not have been the case--people were demoralized by the dire scientific reports and the magnitude of the problem. But since then, we have seen unprecedented investment in technologies that will take us down a different pathway. From tech companies in Silicon Valley to financial houses on Wall Street to mayors and governors across the nation, people are creating and committing to clean energy solutions. And as Van and Majora underscored in their Aspen presentations, America is generating new green jobs in the process.


Since my days as a bright-eyed college student, I have learned that change in the environmental arena can take a long, long time. But it does happen, and it is important to celebrate progress along the way. That is what the Aspen Institute was for me. It reminded me that we really are moving forward in tackling global warming, that attitudes as well as technologies are shifting. We still have a long, long way to go, particularly in the policy arena.


This challenge is enormous, but looking around the  room at the visionaries in Aspen, I realized that we have the talent to deal with it.