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Posted at 11:25 AM ET, 06/01/2011

Aspen Environment Forum: Are you an optimist or pessimist?

It’s like drinking from a firehose here at the Aspen Environment Forum. Lotta smart folks, slinging facts and jargon and statistics and big ideas. They’re pondering optimal outcomes, and suboptimal ones, and deep trouble. All they’re trying to do is figure out how to run a planet – cleanly, safely, sustainably. With justice and equality and freedom thrown in along the way.

A question in the air: Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

You have to figure out how to feed 7 billion people reliably (a billion right now are going hungry or have inadequate nutrition; 3 billion live in poverty on less than 2 dollars a day), and give them clean drinking water, and sanitation, and then factor in population growth of an unknown degree (will we hit 9 billion? 10? 16?), and then factor in people living much longer lives beyond their prime productivity years (by mid-century the median age globally will have gone from 29 to 39), and you have to do all this on a planet that is heating dramatically, with acidifying oceans and dwindling forests (losing a Switzerland of old-growth annually, we’re told) and precious resources getting scarce.

A precious resource would be something like indium: It’s a rare earth element in every flat-screen TV. We’re running out of that one. Who knew? The indium crisis is upon us. We might have to ditch the big TV and go play outside instead.

(There was a session on “nature deficiency disorder,” which touched on our need, psychologically, neurochemically, to be in contact with nature. Did you know there’s a spot in the brain that flares up with activity when you see a beautiful view? True fact. Science says so.)

This morning I’m at a session called “What’s Good for Women is Good for the Planet.” One of the goals, according to the program, is to get around the notion that people are innately the problem. Because if you can empower women, lots of good things happen. There’s untapped human capital out there (untapped because it is oppressed or downtrodden). Environmentalism means talking about women’s rights.

I was struck by something Dan Glickman, former Secty of Ag, said yesterday in a session on whether science can feed the world: What you need are more than improved crop yields and more sustainable practices. You need the rule of law in places that currently don’t have it.

So there’s a lot of work to do.

I also intend to go hiking later this morning. It’s neurochemically necessary for my personal sustainability.

By  |  11:25 AM ET, 06/01/2011

 
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