Quotes from the TED Salon

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EnriquezGlobe.JPGLast night in Manhattan, TED hosted its 2007 Salon, called “Hot Science: Radical Ideas to Combat the Climate Crisis.” A detailed roundup is coming later today — but first, a few quotes from last night:

The first speaker, Michael Oppenheimer, began by saying: “I’m the depressing, immobilizing part of the talk.” He went on to make this point: While Hurricane Katrina can’t be directly tied to climate change, it did teach us one thing:

You can’t count on the government to save you from global warming. They’re still inept to this day, and half an American city is gone, and how the hell are we going to deal with this? And what are we doing instead?

He puts up a devastating slide of the hyperdevelopment on the beach at Atlantic City — which would lose 100 feet of beachfront if global sea levels rise 1 foot, as they will.

Alternative energy expert Martin Hoffert is a staunch advocate for getting off fossil fuels altogether. He spun out one scenario:

Let me say a few words about space solar power. The advantage of putting solar collectors in orbit: The sun is basically shining 24/7. We already have thousands of satellites up there — suppose you could build a transmitting antenna in orbit that would beam energy down to collectors, beaming energy using lasers (not microwaves) from geostationary orbit? We could send it up in one launch vehicle, and power a village, maybe in Africa, to demonstrate the viability of solar power. We could do this in 3 to 5 years.

Environmental scientist David Keith talked about geoengineering — dramatic, cheap solutions to a warming atmosphere, such as blowing a Mt. Pinatubo-size cloud of sulfur into the sky to bring the global temperature down. Such ideas seem overly dramatic, and even immoral, but they are out there, and he argues:

We should move this out of the shadows and talk about this seriously, because sooner or later we will be confronted with a decision on this. We would do [geoengineering] instead of cutting emissions, instead of mitigation, because it’s cheaper. It’s very cheap. It’s not a GOOD idea, but that’s how big the [incentive] is. That is not in dispute, though we might argue over the sanity of it …

Russ George, the chief scientist of Planktos, offered a way to think about all the factors contributing to the larger issue of climate change:

We have a bunch of aberrant applications in this planet, jamming a lot of errors against that primary operating system, and it’s threatening to reboot and give us that blue screen of death, threatening a reboot back to 16 million years ago.

Juan Enriquez (pictured above) talked about how much of our energy, such as coal and oil — made from ancient plants — is simply “concentrated sunlight.” How can we get to the point where we grow our own energy as efficiently as we grow wheat? Looking at a photo of a pile of surplus grain, Enriquez notes:

That would probably be a good outcome for energy.

Photo of Juan Enriquez by Myrna Suarez, Condé Nast Portfolio