Aspen Environment Forum Looks at the Human Role in Global Calamities

Yesterday evening, the opening panel of the 2011 Aspen Environment Forum looked at our increasingly disaster-prone world and asked how we can cope with calamity on a more and more crowded planet. Stewart Brand of the Long Now Foundation, Bill McKibben of, Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University, and Marcia McNutt of the U.S. Geological Survey discussed the extent to which human choices have played a role in recent disasters and explored limitations on our ability to predict and prepare for the future.

Some key comments from the panelists:

Stewart Brand: Most of society is not geared to thinking in century terms. The political system, at least in a democracy, is not good at it. The economic system is not good at it.

Bill McKibben: It’s quite probable that later this year the Secretary of State will say it’s okay to build a pipeline from the tar sands in Alberta down to Texas. This is a 1,500 mile fuse on the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.

Thomas Lovejoy: We still tend to think in the very short term and locally when in fact we are disturbing global systems and the way that the planet actually works.  We need to consciously manage the planet.

Marcia McNutt: Oil wells blow out all the time and it’s simply because the industry hasn’t put the effort into making them safe. And no one has made them put the effort into making them safe. They could do it if they wanted to.

Stewart Brand: The internet is probably more brittle than all of us thought. …The only communication in the United States that is guaranteed if the internet goes down is between the President of the United States and the missile silos. Everything else is up for grabs.

Bill McKibben: We need to figure out how to adapt to that which we cannot prevent….But we even more desperately need to figure out how to prevent that to which we cannot adapt, and the key to that is stanching the flow of carbon into the atmosphere right now, which is above all a political project and a tough one.

You can follow the action at the Aspen Environment Forum live on Twitter by visiting

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Brad Scriber is the Deputy Research Director for National Geographic magazine, with an emphasis on researching energy topics. He also contributes to NG Daily News, the Great Energy Challenge, and Pop Omnivore. Follow @bradscriber on Twitter.