‘We Can Still Do This,’ Holbrooke Says, of Fixing the Unfixable
TELLURIDE – As Mountainfilm in Telluride gears up for its 35th annual festival next month, Festival Director David Holbrooke said he is feeling “hopeful but not naïve” about the traditionally cutting-edge topic for its opening-day Moving Mountains Symposium.
To that end, he has chosen the hopeful title: Climate Solutions.
“We had to do something on climate,” said Holbrooke, now in his sixth year as director. Of climate change, he said, “We’ve danced around it” with symposia on population and extinctions, “but it’s time.
“This is what we should be doing,” he said confidently.
Confirmed guests include journalist John Hockenberry, activist Tim DeChristopher, scientists Terry Root and Daniel Nocera, and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore.
In the climate field, Holbrooke said, “There are tons of interesting and compelling angles and people. They’ll infuse the panel with intelligence, passion and humor.”
“There are not a lot of conferences like this.It could flop,” he allowed, of the positive focus. “But I’m hopeful this will move people, and that the impacts ripple out.”
Mountainfilm will also continue the thread of its adventure and mountain-arts/roots programming, Holbrooke said. “We’ll be celebrating 50 years of Americans on Everest. The first American on the summit, in 1963, Jim Whittaker, will be here. And Tom Hornbein,” whose pioneering climbs on the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir were “a huge achievement,” is also coming.
The festival has just learned, Holbrooke said, that snowboarder Kevin Pearce will be in attendance, with the film The Crash Reel (directed by Lucy Walker, who made the 2010 sensation Waste Land), about Pearce’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury suffered in halfpipe training in 2009.
There will be photographers, and photography exhibits – about the global commercial fishing industry, about all 39 species of birds of paradise, about the surprising adventures of a man without legs, and about the work of a photographer who grew disenchanted with digital and revived the arduous art of wet-plate collodion photography.
The first two men to circumnavigate the globe on human power alone, Jason Lewis and Erden Eruç (Lewis took 13 years; Eruç just over five), will attend.
And, Holbrooke promised, “The film submissions were the best in years. It’s going to be very exciting.
“The climate news is not good,” he admitted, returning to the symposium theme. “However, the potential to change – that news is good. We’re going to be looking at the issue holistically, 360 degrees, for solutions: energy, food, geoengineering, activism....”
He is particularly pleased to have journalist and commentator John Hockenberry as the panel moderator. (Past moderators have included NPR’s Alex Chadwick and filmmaker Tom Shadyac.) “He just recently did a story, called ‘Climate of Doubt,’ for Frontline, about climate deniers,” Holbrooke said, going on to pronounce it a “really interesting piece.”
“Tim DeChristopher is coming. This will be one of his first public appearance since he was released from jail.” DeChristopher, subject of the 2012 film Bidder 70, did two years in prison for bidding $2 million he didn’t have to buy mineral leases on pristine land near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. “My take is he’s, if anything, even more committed as a full-throated member of the climate movement,” Holbrooke said.
DeChristopher, Holbrooke said, while realistic about the challenges, reminded “me to look back at the civil rights movement in 1957. Prejudice was so entrenched. Who would have thought then that we could have made so much progress?”
And while “not all of us are able to articulate” the moral urgency of climate change, Holbrooke said, attendee Kathleen Dean Moore can. She’s a philosopher at Oregon State University and co-editor of the essay collection Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. “Somebody sent me a link to an interview with Kathleen called ‘If Your House is on Fire.’ It moved me. This was language I’d never heard before. I tracked her down – this is the beauty of the Internet age – and asked her to the symposium. She said yes.”
On the hopeful front, the panel will hear from MIT chemist Daniel Nocera, “who came to Telluride in 2007 for our energy symposium,” Holbrooke said. Nocera has developed a technology that replicates plant photosynthesis – an “artificial leaf” that holds tremendous promise for energy development.
“Things can happen,” Holbrooke said. “Innovation happens. Nocera said last time he was here that it was going to take him 20 years to develop. And it took three.”
Also on the panel will be Stanford scientist Terry Root, whose work on the impacts of global warming on species viability helped spur DeChristopher’s plunge into civil disobedience (Root has been a lead author for the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports).
Root’s late husband, Stephen Schneider, an early and outspoken herald of human-caused climate change, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore, was constantly under attack for his views.
In his last book, Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate, Schneider wrote: “I’ve been on the ground, in the trenches, for my entire career. I’m still at it, and the battle, while looking more winnable these days, is still not a done deal.”
“It’s going to take a massive effort,” Holbrooke concluded. “I want to be hopeful but not naïve. That’s where we’re going to be.”