“We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we’re the last that can do something about it,” has become something of a cliché, a summary of the existential threat posed by global warming. As climate change moves from an imminent peril to a deadly reality for vast swaths of the country, a panel of nationally recognized groundbreakers discusses the gaping dichotomy between what scientists say needs to be done to moderate an impending disaster and the political reality of what is possible.
A broad ranging discussion of the science, economics and politics swirling around the apocalyptic headlines, the panel examines what state and local communities are doing to mitigate Washington’s stasis, what might break the logjam, how the issues play in national, state and local elections and the role of private citizens and companies.
While climate change is widely painted as an impending apocalypse, political scientist and panelist Ian Bremmer sees it as an opportunity, a rare chance to pressure the global community to start cooperating.
“Climate change is the crisis that should give us the most hope,” he writes in The Power of Crisis, his bestselling 2022 book in which he argues that the triplet threats of climate change, AI, and global health problems can jolt countries into finally working together. Climate change, Bremmer concludes, will force countries to collaborate because it’s the only way to avoid worldwide suffering.
An expert in political risk, Bremmer has spent 25 years predicting how crises, policies, and events will affect global markets. The founder of the Eurasia Group, a leading risk consultancy, Bremmer has become the ultimate power player, the eminence grise advising heads of state and major financial stakeholders on how to benefit from – and sidestep the dangers of – major political trends.
“Few can beat Ian Bremmer in taking the pulse on the health of nations and the world,” Carl Bildt, the European Council of Foreign Relations co-chair, noted in reviewing one of Bremmer’s 11 books.
Bremmer created Wall Street’s first ever Global Political Risk Index (GPRI,) and earned a spot in The Economist’s “A to Z of International Relations” by coining the term “GZERO,” which describes a power vacuum in which no country assumes a leadership role in overseeing the global order. He is a Time magazine editor-at-large and teaches geopolitics at Columbia University.
Our panelist. Katharine Hayhoe is the personification of a Vulcan mind-meld.
An internationally renowned climate scientist, she also is an evangelical Christian and passionate about demonstrating why faith doesn’t conflict with the science of global warming.
The daughter of missionaries, Hayhoe is married to Andrew Farley, a radio evangelist and the pastor of an evangelical church in Lubbock, TX. She is chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy and a distinguished professor with an endowed chair in public policy and law at Texas Tech University, where she also is director of the university’s Climate Center. .
An atmospheric scientist, Hayhoe’s research focuses on providing a scientific way to assess how the climate crisis affects people’s daily lives. She has published more than 125 peer-reviewed papers and abstracts and many vital reports, including the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Second and Third National Climate Assessments, as well as a key paper for the National Academy of Science. In addition, she has led climate impact assessments for a broad cross-section of cities and regions, from Chicago to California and the Northeast. Many have been presented before Congress, highlighted in briefings to state and federal agencies, and used for planning by communities, states and regions across the country.
The winner of a plethora of awards from both lifestyle and policy groups, Hayhoe was honored in 2017 as one of Fortune’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” and one of Working Mother’s “50 Most Influential Moms.” In 2019 she was named to Foreign Policy’s list of “100 Global Thinkers” for the second time, Apolitical’s “100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy” and Elle Magazine’s “27 Women Leading the Charge.”
Hayhoe’s TED talk has racked up almost 4 million views and her 2021 book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World was called “An optimistic view on why collective action is still possible” by The New York Times.
Panelist Ben Jealous is the Sierra Club Executive Director and former NAACP leader who even as a child understood the often veiled interconnections between racism and climate change.
The son of parents who fled Maryland because of its ban on interracial marriage, Jealous grew up camping in California’s redwood forests and co-founded the first high school chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), as well as helped launch the national organization’s first caucus for people of color.
He has continued to combine activism on behalf of the environment and social justice his entire life. In college, he protested plans to renovate the site where Malcolm X was assassinated, leading Columbia University to suspend him. As a reporter in Mississippi, he exposed cancer clusters among vulnerable populations and, as the NAACP’s youngest president and CEO, launched the organization’s first climate justice program, which in 2012 led to a sweeping report on coal plants’ impact on the poor and people of color. Under his leadership, the NAACP doubled its budget and grew the number of donors eightfold, leading the Washington Post to call Jealous "one of the nation's most prominent civil rights leaders."
The first person of color to lead the Sierra Club in its 131 year history, he has focused the organization on rectifying its founders’ prejudicial legacy by bringing minorities into the environmental movement and fighting environmental racism, policies, and activities that disproportionately harm vulnerable populations, such as toxic chemical spills and highways that break apart communities.
A professor of Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, where his courses cover activism, journalism and race, he is the author of two books, the 2015 bestseller Reach, about racial empowerment and healing, and Never Forget Our People Were Always Free: A Parable of American Healing, which aims to unite the country.
If climate change skeptics have a bête noire, it's our panelist, Michael Mann, an atmospheric climatologist cracking the code on how to engage the public in the most burning crisis of our time.
A target of unremitting hostility, Mann has spent 20 years sounding the alarm about climate change while defending himself against smear campaigns from skeptics, making him “one of the most famous – and famously attacked – climatologists in America,” in the words of the Philadelphia Citizen.
The author of over 200 articles on climate science, Mann’s most influential work is probably the 1998 “hockey stick” graph demonstrating that human activity increased earth’s temperatures after almost a thousand years of stability. The silent star of Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar winner, An Inconvenient Truth, the study shook the scientific community and shaped
the first UN climate report to say that human behavior affects the earth’s temperature.
That made Mann a literal and metaphysical target. Attendees at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Committee conference were invited to throw eggs at his headshot. And in a 2009 scandal quickly dubbed “Climategate,” hacked emails fueled skeptics’ claims that Mann falsified data, leading to a media frenzy, death threats, and calls for imprisonment.
Cleared of wrongdoing by seven investigations, Mann became an expert in climate messaging. Now the director of the Science, Sustainability, and Media Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Mann says denialism has morphed into doomsday sentiments, which shift blame from big offenders to individuals and causes stasis. In the face of ongoing misinformation campaigns, his 2021 book on the new era of climate messaging, The New Climate War, earned praise from Greta Thunberg and Leonardo DiCaprio for its hopeful outlook and clearsightedness. His forthcoming book, Our Fragile Moment, paints a picture of how dire the climate crisis is while reassuring readers it is not too late to act.
Dr. Britt Wray
While the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented mental health epidemic, it foreshadowed an even greater crisis to Dr. Britt Wray, who studies how climate change impacts humans’ wellbeing.
The director of Stanford University’s Special Initiative on Climate and Mental Health, Wray is gathering sorely needed data about how climate change has created an often ignored mental health crisis, a self-reinforcing miasma of depression, fear, and hopelessness that disproportionately targets young people and leads to stasis, a sense that the world is doomed.
But Wray has also gained recognition for her explorations of ways to manage the mental stress of climate change. Her 2022 book, Generation Dread, reassures readers that discomfort is a healthy response to the crisis and suggests outlets such as activism and storytelling to engender a sense of belonging and hope. Her weekly newsletter of the same name focuses on developments in the climate- mental health sphere.
A skilled communicator whose TedTalk has garnered over 2 million views, Wray shares her personal dilemmas to make people feel less alone. In Generation Dread, she discussed her own feelings of helplessness and while watching climate change induced natural disasters and in a 2022 documentary, The Climate Baby Dilemma, she grapples with the choice to bring a child into a world with so much uncertainty.
This willingness to discuss painful personal experiences led Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay to write that Wray “is able to help us manifest something we all desperately need nowadays: strength.”
Wray is also the author of the 2017 book Necrofauna, a New Yorker and Science News favorite that tells the stories of scientists trying to recreate extinct species, and until 2018 hosted the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World podcast, which examined science’s most divisive questions.