Aspen Environment Forum tackles humanity’s impact | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Environment Forum tackles humanity’s impact

ASPEN – There are nearly 7 billion humans living on the planet today, and expectations are for the global population to swell by another 2 billion in the next four decades.

With numbers like that, it’s natural to wonder if Earth can sustain us and at what price.

The Aspen Environment Forum will kick off its third annual conference with a sobering look at current conditions and a realistic assessment of the challenges ahead. Another wave of top policy makers, scientists and thinkers will roll into town over the weekend for the conference, July 25-28.

It comes on the heels of two other big public forums hosted by The Aspen Institute – the Aspen Security Forum and the Aspen Ideas Festival. In each case, the Institute’s goal is to take its core mission – getting leaders on various topics together in a neutral, unbiased setting to foster an exchange of ideas and find solutions – and open the process to the public.

“Anything we do is going to benefit from wider public discussion,” said David Monsma, director of the Institute’s Energy and Environment Program.

One premise of the forum, presented by the Institute and National Geographic, is that the world has entered a new geological era called the “Anthropocene,” where humans are the dominant evolutionary force on Earth. We are radically transforming the land, seas and atmosphere to develop our habitat, fuel our transportation systems and feed our masses.

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The first full day on Monday is filled with sessions that examine how sustainability is threatened by mankind’s needs and actions.

Day two examines some of the tough choices that need to be made – including one of the most basic of all: whether or not to trust climate science. A session will look at the campaign that deniers have mounted to discredit climate science. The session is touted as a back-to-basics look at what is known, what is uncertain and what can be done to improve public understanding.

The conference concludes with a day devoted to ways to build a sustainable world. The core concept is that challenges also present opportunities.

The tag line for the forum is “Bridges to Sustainability: People, Planet, Possibility.” Monsma said one goal of the gathering is to help people understand “what’s holding us back” when it comes to sustainability.

“I think it’s a rich intellectual [setting] for thinking about the environment,” he said.

More than 300 people will do just that. That attendance is expected to be up slightly from the past two forums, which were held in March.

The general pass for all events is $1,800, and $1,500 for employees of governments and nonprofits as well as university students and faculty.

The Aspen Institute always likes to jump full throttle into the debate at its events, and the Environment Forum is no different. The opening reception is a discussion, “Oil, Risk, and the Future of Energy: Lessons from the Gulf,” featuring a panel that includes Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Bruce Babbit, former Secretary of the Interior.

The opening reception is one of a handful of events open to the public. Individual tickets are $15 for the discussion, which is from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. at the Greenwald Pavilion. Tickets for the public events are on sale at http://www.aspenshowtickets.com or by calling 920-5770.

Complete information on the event is available at http://www.aspenenvironment.org/.

scondon@aspentimes.com