MEET IN THE MIDDLE
The Aspen (Ideas Fest) Effect
At first, I thought the euphoria I was feeling in Aspen from the launch of the Rational Middle Energy Series at the Aspen Ideas Fest was a result of the altitude. It was only after I had decompressed closer to sea-level, that I realized the continued feeling of giddiness was the result of an amazing reception at one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings of minds (where else can you pass the New York Times’ David Brooks, physicist Brian Greene and Tony Award-winning Julie Taymor in a 40-foot span?).
The premiere of the Rational Middle Energy Series helped opened the Aspen Ideas Fest, and it started the festival out with huge challenge: Can we have an open, civil and honest conversation about the energy future where we discuss the options and work towards a solution? The surprising (not-so-surprising to us) answer given by the fully engaged audience was a resounding, full-throated “YES!”
The panel featured a stellar line-up that truly emulated what a rational conversation about energy should be. Richard Newell, former head of the EIA and Duke professor, took the stage alongside Rocky Mountain Institute’s Alexis Karolides and Shell’s (our sponsor for the film series) Russ Ford. It was a current-day anomaly as top-level academia, pure-thinking environmentalism and a top-level executive from one of the largest energy companies in the world sat together on stage.
The idea was to watch the films of the Rational Middle Energy Series (we viewed “What’s at Stake” and the soon-to-be-released “Great Transition”) and then discuss the issues and ideas from the films. The conversation, led by moderator Chrystia Freeland of Thomson Reuters, was frank and honest and never, despite varying views, got heated or volatile. When the question and answer phase of the packed panel started, the air filled with the hands of festival-goers wanting to make comments and ask questions about energy and a rational approach to a solution. I think the resulting energy and exuberance of our audience took the entire panel by surprise. It was like I was seeing the Rational Middle move the needle (ever so slightly) towards creating a movement of people focused on an energy solution. In fact, the viewing of the films and the panel seemed to be the talk the festival and all over town.
So what was the end result? Did we solve the world’s energy challenges? Not hardly. What was accomplished was an amazing confluence of ideas and melding of ideologies – it was, in essence the rational middle. It was amazing to hear Richard Newell’s clear-eyed view of the current and the potential future energy landscape, Russ Ford’s idea of clean energy and how renewables will play an essential role and Alexis’ Karolides’ take on how energy efficiency was the cleanest energy of them all. It was a great start to an important concept.
In the end, maybe the altitude in Aspen got all of us into a place where we were able to have a constructive conversation about the energy future. Or maybe,just maybe, our launching of the Rational Middle is the beginning of something much bigger where we can stop the destructive, polarized rhetoric and start working on a collective energy solution. Here’s a clip from our panel: