Howdy from the staff at Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland Hills! Chabot works to encourage students to actively address climate issues within the Bay Area community. We’ll be dropping by ACE occasionally to share some interesting facts, zany stories, and conversations regarding climate change and how it all relates to you! And THIS blog is from our esteemed Executive Director and CEO, Alexander Zwissler.
Hi there – I’m Alexander Zwissler, and I’m the head guy over here at Chabot Space & Science Center. I wanted to stop by and tell you guys about this amazing experience I had the other night…
I’m really interested in climate change, and so I went to hear one of the leading minds on the topic give a talk. Afterwards, I was invited to join the speaker and a number of other leading environmentalists at dinner (yeah, I was feeling a little special). I gotta be honest, though – I was actually a bit anxious and self conscious. Here were some of the greatest minds in the game, and there’s me, standing next to them: the earnest amateur science center guy, hoping they won’t notice me too much, or ask any hard questions. We’ve all kinda felt that way before, right?
Over dinner, our host actually posed a really thoughtful question, to get the conversation going. Everyone had to go around the room and share a belief or topic about which they had changed their mind. Something where they had once thought one way – and then decided differently.
And boy, did that lead to some interesting conversation…
One of my fellow dinner guests told us he had changed his mind about nuclear power. He said that,
although he had once thought nuclear power was a bad idea, after looking at scientific data, he now believes it’s much safer and reliable than other kinds of power. He learned that the latest generation of nuclear reactors actually use spent fuel (that’s the stuff everyone worries what to do with) for the reactor. And that the number of actual deaths and illnesses attributed directly to nuclear power is miniscule relative to its alternatives – even when you factor in terrible accidents like what happened at Chernobyl in Siberia in the 80s.
He now feels that on balance, the risk is well worth it. And I thought to myself: WOW. Big move coming from an old hippie!
Then another guest at the table told us how he had changed his view on GMOs – “genetically modified organisms.” Things like corn, genetically modified to withstand drought. Again, he had been against them for quite some time. He had even become something of an anti-GMO activist. But somewhere along the line, someone challenged him to look at some objective scientific data.
And again, this guy came to a different conclusion. He decided that in fact there wasn’t enough data out there to make him believe in the risks he kept hearing about. In fact, he realized, without GMOs, millions upon millions of people would likely die.
And when adding in the fact that it looks like worldwide human population is likely to keep climbing rapidly for another 40 or 50 years, he made the moral argument that we have an obligation to use the best technology we have to feed the people of this planet and make it a better place. He pointed out that in fact we’ve always used technology to enhance our lives.
Now, at this point I was really surprised. These were VERY interesting positions, taken by folks one might expect to fall in line with some of the more mainstream environmentalist thinking out there (which, if you’re wondering – is kinda the opposite). But the fact that my fellow diners chose to take these positions points to some important trends that I’m going to be watching, and so should you!
First, even though these might not be the most politically, socially, or ideologically popular positions, both these folks took a hard look at objective scientific data in order to arrive at them. The crazy thing about science is that it really doesn’t have the “answer” to everything. It’s limited in that it can’t prove that something won’t cause harm. But, it can point us to logical, “most likely” conclusions based on data. In our world, this is more important than ever.
So, follow the science.
Second, in the era of climate change, we’re going to have to rethink the level of risk we’re willing to take to address it. I think this means we’re going to see an ever-increasing number of “Green on Green” debates – aka, not all the environmentalists out there are always going to agree. Will we be willing to “risk” the death of some endangered animals in order to install vast renewable energy plants, such as solar, thermal, and wind? Will we “risk” the latest generation of nuclear power if it means we can accelerate the transition from fossil fuels?
What inspired me at the dinner party is the fact that clearly some of our best thinkers are moving in that direction: they’re willing to take more risks. So, are you willing to? What beliefs have you changed, or would you be willing to change in order to fight climate change?