The Defining Challenge of the 21st Century

How do we bring sanity to the climate change "debate"? Well, it starts by hearing from people who are sane about the issue. The rhetoric on climate change has been heating up as fast as global temperatures, and it's a shame. Because for all the bad news surrounding the issue, the good news is that we as a species have had the brainpower to figure out what's happening. The question is now whether we will have the courage and intestinal fortitude to do something about it.

It has been a very busy news cycle, with terrorist acts and over-the-top presidential campaigns, but when history looks back at this period, this year, decade, even century, the biggest story is going to be climate change. As the talks in Paris reach a critical last-minute negotiation, representatives from countries around the world are trying to iron out some final big differences. We will have to see what finally emerges. Meanwhile, back here in the United States, presidential candidate and very-possible GOP nominee Ted Cruz held a shameful climate change skepticism hearing on Capitol Hill. Something has to give.

A couple days back I wrote about my interview with former Secretary of State George Shultz. Now I want to bring you another conversation on the issue that I think you will find very interesting.

As a journalist, you're often drawn to conflict. After all, that is where the story usually is. But before you plunge in, it helps to understand the facts. I always sought out as many dispassionate experts as I could when I was covering a big issue. And that is why I am so excited about sharing an interview I did with the incomparable Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. Not only is Dr. Field a world class researcher in the field, but he's also a leader in bridging a key intersection of science and policy.

We met in New York City in an old carriage house that predates the internal combustion engine, perhaps the invention most responsible for the topic of our conversation. Dr. Field argued that since the climate change debate has been subject to distortions and mischaracterizations, the best way to address climate change is to start by looking at the facts, which he laid out and explained. How do you measure climate change? What are its effects? What is the world doing about climate change? Dr. Field presented insightful answers to each of these questions and more. In our wide-ranging discussion, Dr. Field's innovative approach to the problem led me to reconsider what I thought I knew about climate change, making a familiar subject sparkle under the provocative glare of new insights.

I hope you take the time to watch our extended discussion:

Here are Some Highlights

What makes Dr. Field so compelling is his ability to distill complicated science into accessible metaphors. He possesses the most valuable gift that scientific authority has to offer -- the ability to convey the full magnitude of a problem while simultaneously inspiring hope in a solution. He is refreshingly non-ideological and incisive. If you want an overview for what's at stake, I think you will find this clip laying out the problem a very useful tutorial. There is something very calm about Dr. Field's arguments that I hope might even make a climate change skeptic give the idea a second thought.

Even climate change scientists like Dr. Field know that there is a lot we don't know about the long-term effects of climate change. Will it be as bad as we fear, or could it be worse? The reality is that in a system as complex as our global climate, there are so many factors to consider. But to those who say that uncertainty is a reason NOT to act at all, Dr. Field has a very cogent response.

Ultimately, of course, it is not enough that the global community accepts the reality of climate change. We must act. And that will mean a vastly different world. But Dr. Field is optimistic that the ingenuity of the human mind can solve this problem. It will require rethinking our very idea of energy but that should not scare us. It should inspire us.

I hope you feel discussions like this are important. We need so much more reason and so much less rhetoric. If you are so inclined, please share Dr. Field's thoughts with others and maybe we can start to elevate this conversation.

I want to thank iBiology for supporting this interview, and the larger "Conversations in Science" series of which this interview is a part. You can see other interviews here.

This post is part of a "Voices from the Lab" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on environmental scientists and their perspectives on climate change, and is part of HuffPost's What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.