The temperature in Denver hovered around 100°F. as Bill Nye and I left our plane. It didn't cool much as we headed toward Boulder in our rental car. That's when we saw the massive smoke plume. It was even easier to see—and smell—from our downtown hotel.
Add the similarly unseasonable weather in the eastern US, and you had quite the context for a conversation about climate change. The June 26 public event was titled "Climate Change on Earth and Other Planets." It was sponsored by the Planetary Society as part of "Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets," a conference that attracted top researchers from around our homeworld. We thank NASA and the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) for their vital support.
Bill would be the leadoff speaker and moderator. Four outstanding scientists and science communicators were lined up for the panel discussion: David Grinspoon, Jim Hansen, Karen Rice and Brian Toon. We nevertheless wondered how many people would turn up on a hot Tuesday evening with a wildfire threatening the town. We needn't have worried. Almost 600 paying attendees crowded into the beautiful old Boulder Theater. They cheered for Bill and listened attentively to the two hours of presentations.
The house was still full when Bill began the Q&A. Questions were thoughtful and passionate. A school kid asked why we aren't using possibly safer thorium to fuel nuclear reactors. He was told that India is doing exactly this. A young woman expressed concern about the threat to our food supply. Another audience member wondered about cap and trade as a way to reduce greenhouse gases, while someone else asked about the lost water of Mars. Bill and the panel kept it up for over an hour. Nearly half the audience remained at 11pm on a work night.
Perhaps it's true that many Americans believe climate change is exaggerated, even a hoax. Many more doubt the already substantial and growing evidence that its cause can be laid at human feet. But this warm evening of frank, deep and enthusiastic discussion gave me reason for optimism. It's a powerful thing, scientific evidence. Data have no political agenda or profit motive. They speak for themselves. Of course, a little help from the Science Guy in getting the facts out there doesn't hurt.
Listen for excerpts from "Climate Change on Earth and Other Planets" on an upcoming episode of Planetary Radio. We also hope to post our video of the event soon.