Everyone was surprisingly calm as Jim MacNeill told them their world was being destroyed. He painted a picture of rising temperatures and swelling oceans, melting ice caps and the destruction of our food supply.
It was a message that people have heard so many times that it fails to elicit a response. It is as if the scientists and economists such as MacNeill are screaming from inside a soundproof glass container, and we are serenely watching their pantomime.
On Thursday, MacNeill led the second of this summer's Dialogues on Public Policy: Seminars at Steamboat. He spoke about "The Environment and Sustainable Development: Past, Present and Future" to a standing room-only audience.
MacNeill, a longtime friend of seminar co-organizer and part-time Steamboat Springs resident Bob Stein, has a resume that includes time as secretary general of the World Commission on Environment and Development and director of the Inspectorate of the World Bank.
MacNeill became an active environmentalist in the 1960s and since has been involved in international governmental efforts to raise awareness and create policy.
"To me, there are two environmental issues today," he said. "Climate change and all the rest."
As an economist, MacNeill saw the environment and the global economy interlocked.
"If you ignore one, you jeopardize the other," he said.
He made his point with numbers. Since 1950, three times more people have been added to the world's population than were added in the previous four million years. We generated seven times as much economic growth in the year 2000 than in the entire 19th century, and that growth has been accomplished with a seven fold increase in oil consumption.
The increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that results is affecting the temperature of the planet. Scientists project that during the next 95 years, if emissions are not reduced considerably, the temperature of the earth will increase by 2.5 degrees to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and that sea levels will rise one to three feet.
"One-third of humanity lives below the shoreline that would be erased," MacNeill said.
Then he brought it home to Steamboat. The global warming would affect the reliability of snow cover, he said, and destroy the ski industry.
A study conducted by the University of Zurich studied the effects of global warming on hundreds of ski resorts in Europe and discovered that not a single resort in Austria would be viable if predicted temperatures were reached.
After walking those in attendance through the environmental disaster that potentially lies ahead, he recommended some solutions. Finland, Sweden and Germany have changed policy and effectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions. They did it through higher gas prices with an additional carbon tax. They reduced taxes for industries that reduced their pollution and increased taxes for industries that did not improve.
It worked, he said. He questioned how countries, such as the United States, could reduce emissions while spending billions of dollars on oil acquisition and exploration.
The sheer amount of information MacNeill was able to present in his hour-long presentation was as mind-blowing as the information itself. The conversation continued long after he stepped away from the podium.
The next "Seminars at Steamboat: Dialogue on Public Policy" will be held at 5 p.m. July 22. Judge John Kane will speak about the "War on Drugs and its Effects on the Criminal Justice System."