TEDxBroadway 2015 Video: Adam Sobel

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 11.27.59 AMEditor’s note: Jim curates TEDxBroadway each year, working with the speakers on their presentations and helping them to answer the question: “What’s the best Broadway can be?” Below is his insight into the process, so you can find out exactly how this informative and inspiring day comes together.

There’s a funny little video made by the TED staff called “TED the Musical,” and we played it just before the event went live. We did this mainly because, well, when you’re doing TEDxBroadway, you kind of have to play this one.

Anyway, the video is actually about how to prepare to give a talk at TED, so it’s not really oriented to the audience. Still, the speakers and I were sitting backstage, watching the video on the monitor and listening to the song, and the very first piece of advice given in the song is, “We know about climate change, but what can you say that’s new?”

Adam Sobel, climate scientist at Columbia University and author of Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future, looked right at me with a minor amount of panic in his eyes. “You’ve got plenty that’s new, Adam,” I said. His moment of self-doubt melted like the polar icecaps, except quicker.

Adam didn’t just talk about the science of climate change. In fact, he stipulated that if you don’t believe in it, there’s nothing he could do to change your mind. Instead, he wanted to focus on the way people make decisions. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York was fairly predictable: Adam cited examples of recent construction in Lower Manhattan where the builders were quite aware of the possibility or even probability of the building being flooded out. Despite the knowledge, they built in a way that didn’t prevent the flooding when it inevitably happened, and now the renovations will cost as much as the original building.

Risks that are in the future and not certain get discounted. That makes sense. You wouldn’t buy an expensive helmet because there might be a meteor shower in a couple years, but when things are fairly certain to happen sometime, but probably not for a while, we’re prone to ignore the risk.

Adam’s call to the Broadway community was that if people get the ‘story,’ they’re more likely not to fall victim to this natural human tendency.

If next season’s big hit is Rising Sea Levels: the Musical, don’t be surprised if Adam has a producing credit on it.

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