The World Science Festival, an annual springtime event in New York, draws upwards of a hundred thousand science-minded folks from around the country. Some of them came last night for a panel discussion on the “Carbon Conundrum”—a panel that featured a few of the world’s really premier scientists. And there was one number in the air all night: 350.

Jim Hansen kicked off the conversation, explaining how he and his NASA team had arrived at the figure, and what it meant—as usual, he was fiery, insisting that only plans that really shut down coal plants would actually help in the fight. Julienne Stroeve, an Arctic ice specialist, followed with dismaying news: we seem to be losing ice even faster than in the record year of 2007. Tom Lovejoy,  the nation’s premier conservation biologist, gave similarly unsettling news about the effect on plants and wildlife, with a particularly striking series of slides about the spread of the pine bark beetle and the decimation of North American forests in the last few years. Sylvia Earle, perhaps the planet’s preeminent oceanographer, offered a similarly dour forecast about the earth’s oceans. (Look for more in the next few days from Dr. Earle, who is stepping up the 350 fight in a big way!). David Battisti, from the University of Washington, reviewed the latest data on food supply in a warming world (one guess).

And since I was at the end of the row, I got to tell the audience what they could do about it. One guess there, too—and everyone seemed very charged up to take action on Oct. 24 and actually try and drive the debate.

The depth of the trouble was on full display—Bob Corell from the Heinz Center showed his fascinating new C ROADS software that lets you play with different climate plans. If you plug in the current negotiating positions of the major players, the planet goes to 700 ppm co2 by century’s end.

But the depth of resolve was on display too—and helped by Kevin Buckland’s amazing cubes, each six feet by six feet, which is the volume of co2 the average American lifestyle emits in the course of four hours. The evening ended with a great question from Aden Kahr, recently transplanted from Washington State to New York. While in Washington (and junior high) Aden lobbied hard for good climate legislation in the state capitol. Now he’s coming up with cool stuff for Oct. 24!

Meanwhile, for people near the Big Apple, the World Science Festival continues tonight and tomorrow. The top environmental panels include:

“Rising Waters in a Thirsty World”
Friday, June 12, 8:00 PM
Adaptation experts analyze our strained relationship with water, a critical issue of our time. On this panel, some of the world’s foremost adaptation experts who are charged to survey New York City’s potential for too much water and other regions’ dangerous lack of it, will discuss the issue and come up with real solutions for mitigating our strained relationship with H2O.
Featuring: Maude Barlow, Dickson Despommier, Radley Horton, William Solecki and moderted by the host of the Science Channel’s show, ‘Brink.’

“A New Look at Nuclear Power”
Saturday, June 13, 8:00 PM
Why are some ardent foes of nuclear power now advocating for it to be part of the mix in solving the world s climate and energy problems? Could fear of global warming be trumping the fear of nuclear energy?
Featuring: James Hansen, Shirley Ann Jackson, Yoon Chang, Alan McDonald, Stephen Tindale and moderated by Garrick Utley

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