Stanford Roundtable 2014 brings climate change to the fore

This year's Roundtable at Stanford focuses on climate change, its impacts, dangers and possible solutions. On Friday, Oct. 24, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl will lead the conversation.

Extreme weather and rising sea levels are no longer abstract projections for the future. Climate change is a real phenomenon, happening here and now. And it's a problem that thinkers around the globe and at Stanford are coming together to solve.

Courtesy CBSLesley Stahl

60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl will moderate this year's Roundtable on climate change.

On Friday, Oct. 24, six leading scientists, tech entrepreneurs, policymakers and researchers will gather at Stanford University for a solutions-oriented discussion of climate change. Panelists are Bina Venkataraman, former senior advisor for climate change innovation in the Executive Office of the President; JB Straubel, co-founder of Tesla; Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate, an organization that acts politically to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity; George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state and distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution; Alvaro Umaña,  senior research fellow at the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica; and Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology and co-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl will moderate the conversation, which will be webcast beginning at 10 a.m.

The Roundtable, which takes place in conjunction with Stanford's Reunion Homecoming Weekend, is free and open to the public at Maples Pavilion. No tickets are required. Stanford President John Hennessy will welcome the audience at 9:30 a.m. The program begins at 10 a.m.

"The public most needs to know two things," said Field, who is also the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor in Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford. "One is how much cheaper it is to act early than to act late. And the other is that there are a lot of ways to make investments dealing with climate change that yield multiple benefits."

According to Field, there is a tendency to delay action as long as there are still gaps in our knowledge about climate change. As long as uncertainty exists, people tend to look the other way and wait to act until we have a better understanding of the problem. Not only does this attitude hurt the environment, says Field, it hurts the economy as well.

"People think that it somehow makes sense to wait to act until we learn more –that learning more will dramatically clarify our options," said Field. "We need to recognize that we don't know everything, but that meaningful investments still pay off."

Another panelist for the Roundtable, Alvaro Umaña, a senior research fellow at the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center and former minister of energy and environment for Costa Rica, touched on the same point: "One misconception, perhaps the most damaging, is that if we do anything it's going to break the economy."

Quite the opposite is true, he said. Acting now means simultaneously saving the planet and saving money.

"The greatest misconception I had was that climate change was going to be a gradual process," said Umaña, echoing Field's comment. "There's a public misconception that climate change is something really far away in the future."

As long as this misconception exists and solutions are delayed, solving the climate problem will continue to get more expensive. Umaña says that there are already effective solutions in place, such as Costa Rica's carbon tax. It's a matter of adopting those solutions.

"In order to solve the climate problem," said Umaña, "you have to have somebody to protect the atmosphere. It's the tragedy of the commons at a global scale. We have to go past the discussion of if climate change is real. We have to start internalizing the cost of carbon emissions. It can be done through cap-and-trade or through a carbon tax, but ultimately it's about putting a negative price on greenhouse gas emissions. And that has to be done worldwide."

Thinking up global collaborative solutions is at the heart of Stanford's 2014 Roundtable on Climate Change. The panelists represent some of the world's leading thinkers on climate change. Together, their ideas lead to the kind of immediate, affordable solutions needed to protect the environment.

The 2014 Roundtable at Stanford will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 24, in Maples Pavilion.

Melinda Sacks, Office of Public Affairs: (650) 521-1908 (cell), (650) 723-1884 (office),