Climate Change: The Elephant in the Room and the Jazz Band

Climate Change: The Elephant in the Room and the Jazz Band

September 18th, 2007 | Posted in Environment & Energy, Science & Tech

I spent yesterday at the Discover Brilliant conference in Seattle. Very nice, long first day. PS Reilly, the conference organizer, made a choice about how to start the conference. She trotted out one of the bigger elephants in the climate change room and let it wander about and break some myths. Her opening speakers were Lieutenant General U.S. Air Force, General Bruce Wright, Commander- Japan and a member of the United Kingdom Government, Dr. Liam Fox, Shadow Secretary of State of Defence, Member of Parliament. They talked about the vulnerabilities in our systems of moving resources. Oil tankers almost all flow through small canals to get from source to destination. Natural gas gets around in long vulnerable pipes.
Six natural gas pipelines were blown up in Mexico the week of September 11th.
The other news yesterday was that Alan Greenspan pointed to the same elephant when he said that the Iraq war was about oil. Which if course, we all know (we aren’t exactly intervening in Sudan, right?).
There was more – but I doubt I need to spend any time adding up all the fears about global unrest that are exacerbated with climate change – think about moving large populations from low ground to high ground, about more intense storms, about water. There are probably more ways than we even recognize now to get into resource wars sparked by climate change, particularly if it’s faster and more severe than we expect.
Climate change is a survivability issue.

So how do we survive?
We play like a jazz band.

Here’s the discussion, nicely framed by a member of the audience yesterday. I’ll do my best to paraphrase well. There are three main players:

1) Governments. They have sovereignty issues of two kinds. One – they don’t want to give it up (why no effective world court yet? Why is the UN somewhat toothless?). Two – they can’t easily act outside of their own territory unless they start wars, and climate change is a global problem.

2) Corporations can handle global problems these days, but they have a narrow mission.

3) NGO’s are struggling from basically being many small, fractured, and largely poorly funded entities.

None of these three groups can handle the whole problem. With luck, they’ll play together, improvising complimentary solutions like a jazz band. Sound hard? Sure, but so is playing good jazz. Conversations like the one happening at this conference are the sort that can lay down the riffs.

About Brenda Cooper

Brenda Cooper has been delivering keynote addresses on the future for over a decade. Her non-fiction has appeared in The Futurist Magazine and on She is also currently writing a non-fiction series called Backing into Eden, which is being re-published on multiple websites. Her talks are upbeat and positive, and generally focus on how we can solve the big problems facing mankind right now.

1 Comment

  1. Glen Hiemstra   |   Sep 18, 2007

    Thanks Brenda. Glad you got to go to that event. I think we underestimate these probable and possible disruptions. The news from the Arctic this September is not good, as you know. People still, in general, think of the disruptions as something way off in the future, like the end of the century. But things are happening sooner.