Ideas Fest spews ‘silver buckshot’
Just a single morning at the Aspen Ideas Festival is enough to make a head spin with big names and big ideas. On Friday it was possible to catch Gen. Colin Powell, scientist E.O. Wilson, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Sen. Bob Bennett and others before lunch, not to mention the possibility of hanging around to see President Bill Clinton speak before dinner. So what does it all add up to?Said Wilson, “We’re running out of fresh water.”Said Powell, “Americans expect to be protected.”Said Breyer, “You see why you don’t get a short answer? Because it’s complicated.”So many smart people and so many smart ideas. Just one day, or even one panel, is enough for an entire spectrum of emotions and ideas. So, is it making a difference? Many of these people, after all, are making the big decisions. Thomas E. Lovejoy, former chief biodiversity adviser for the World Bank, was in a panel talking about energy. “There’s no silver bullet,” he said. “It’s more like silver buckshot.”That’s the buzzword (or buzzphrase) that’s getting all the attention this year because it’s exactly what the Ideas Festival is all about.”Poverty is perhaps the greatest problem facing the world right now,” Powell said. Big stress on the perhaps. Wilson, alternatively, stressed biodiversity and the loss of species, life on earth. Others talked of global warming, overpopulation, terrorism and war. It’s nearly impossible to sort it all out.Perhaps the Bezos Scholars, a group of a dozen high school students and a dozen teachers from throughout the country who have been invited to the festival, are getting the best of it. Some of the older folks at these discussions seem to feel they have things already figured out.Powell, for example, said the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ought to be closed immediately, to cheers. That comment was followed closely by his statement, “not release them … .”The kids, however, may not be quite as trapped in the paradigms they find themselves in. “It’s honestly been the most life-altering experience I’ve had,” said Cooper Henderson, a Bezos scholar from Moab, Utah. “It gives me hope for the future.”Indeed, hope for the future may be the most valuable currency at the Ideas Festival. When asked about triage for ecosystems and species, Wilson simply said, “save them all.”The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner looked around at the audience and smiled.”We may be about to have a sea change,” he said. “I’m an optimist.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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