Past Event On April 30, 2022

Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates

Can Humans Adapt To Climate Change?

Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates

“Tesla is an example of mitigation…these innovations have created jobs, created value, and in the future will reduce the maintenance of cars, energy costs, and things like that. When you’re calculating the cost benefit of adaptation or mitigation, you need to look at mitigation as an investment for something that will pay off in the future… a lot of adaptation is just scrambling to stay in place.”

Michele Wucker



Just a few days after Earth Day 2022, our partnership with Intelligence Squared U.S. came to fruition as Bjorn Lomborg, Matthew Kahn, Michele Wucker, and Kaveh Madani took to our stage to discuss one of the most requested topics among Forum subscribers: climate change. Together, the debaters civilly argued the question “Can humans adapt to climate change?” and found common ground on the shared world we hope to achieve, all while respectfully disagreeing on the best road to get there.

The special Oxford-style evening began with an audience vote and then the introduction of opening arguments. The “Yes” team arguing for adaptation, Matthew Kahn and Bjorn Lomborg, reflected on how entrepreneurial ingenuity fuels the economy and how that expands economic power. Michele Wucker and Kaveh Madani from the “No” team discussed how their experiences in business and research mirror the denial of action in the climate crisis.

Despite their answer that humans cannot adapt, these experts and those who side with them believe that businesses and individuals can be mindful of innovative strategies that can be pursued to steer away from climate crisis rather than merely accept it for what it is.

“First, collective imagination and ingenuity creates a thrust for solutions; second, economic growth is essential for adaptation, we need poor people to grow richer; and third, governments play an essential role, especially those with economic growth.”

– Matthew Kahn

Read more about the evening of debate from the Style Weekly report.

Clea Conner, CEO of Intelligence Squared U.S., John Donvan, and Heather Crislip, Executive Director of The Richmond Forum, on the importance of debate

Throughout the discussion, the “Yes” team in favor of adaptation argued that humans should rise to the occasion of healing the Earth by funding other humanitarian areas of interest that will improve people’s lives in the present.

The opponents, however, felt that the risks are too high and certain investments are too difficult to predict. Data models were cited by both sides, but it was Madani who noted just how many assumptions these models can be based on. The discussion evolved into the certainty of models made, and as experts do, these sources were questioned on their reliability. Moderator John Donvan kept the debaters on track as the question and answer segment began.

As our live audience cast their votes for how they felt about the issue post-debate, we saw a definite sway in the sentiments of the crowd despite all of the middle ground that was found within differing viewpoints. The Forum chose the debate format for the popular issue of climate change because of just how nuanced of a topic it is, with leagues of complexity that can create confusion, frustration, and disagreement.

Explore the program book.

Though the debaters did not always agree with each other’s points, they helped to unite our audience with the courage of conviction to talk about climate change. The Forum and IQ2US believe in the idea of informed discourse accelerating our understanding of global issues, and we’d like to thank everyone who joined in on the debate—from home, from the audience, and from our special guests—as we tackled a talk that was years in the making.

A portion of Bjorn Lomborg’s opening argument in favor of adaptation to climate change

Kaveh Madani on the models and measurement of success

“Fascinating to watch an actual debate, as opposed to those presidential events that are billed as debates.”

– Subscriber Comment

About Bjorn Lomborg


Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. The Copenhagen Consensus Center is a think tank focused on finding effective strategies for solving the world’s problems. Lomborg has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and his books include “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet,” “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” and “Cool It.” Lomborg earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Copenhagen and is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.

About Matthew Kahn


Mathew Kahn is a leading researcher and educator in the field of environmental economics, examining the carbon footprints of different cities and how residents adapt to climate change. He is also the author of several books on the subject, including “Unlocking the Potential of Post Industrial Cities,” “Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment,” “Climatopolis,” and “Blue Skies over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China,” among others. A research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, he also served as the director of the 21st Century Cities Initiative at Johns Hopkins University between 2019 to 2021, after earning his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago.



Michele Wucker is a strategist and policy expert who coined the term “gray rhino” as a call to take a fresh look at how we respond to obvious, probable, impactful risks, among which climate change is prominent. She founded the Chicago-based advisory firm Gray Rhino & Company and is a former media and think tank executive. Her four books include the influential global bestseller “The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore,” and the recently released sequel, “You Are What You Risk: The New Art and Science of Navigating an Uncertain World.”

About Kaveh Madani


Dr. Kaveh Madani is an environmental scientist, educator, and activist working on complex human-natural systems at the interface of science, policy, and society. He is currently head of the Research Programme at United Nations University and a research professor at City University of New York. He previously served as the Deputy Head of Iran’s Department of Environment and as Vice President of the UN Environment Assembly Bureau. He has worked on water management, environmental policy, energy systems, food security, climate change impacts and adaptation, and sustainable development. Madani earned a doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California Davis.

About John Donvan

John Donvan is a four-time Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, storyteller, author, and speaker. A veteran network correspondent for ABC News and CNN, Donvan served as Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News and held long-term assignments in Moscow, London, Jerusalem, and Amman. He is a contributor for NPR, the host and moderator of the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series since 2008, and has now moderated six past Richmond Forum programs. He was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book In a Different Key: The Story of Autism (coauthored with Caren Zucker) on the history of autism and autism advocacy. In a Different Key is the basis for an award-winning documentary of the same name described as “the first-ever full-length documentary to travel the timeline of society’s tense and sometimes misguided response to people on the spectrum.”

About Intelligence Squared U.S.

Intelligence Squared U.S. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to address a fundamental problem in America: The extreme polarization of our nation and its politics.

Considered the debate platform of record, it is widely distributed as a public radio program, podcast, online broadcast, television, and digital video series. Its mission is to provide and promote the free exchange of ideas in the public square and restore critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to the public discourse.

Since its founding in 2006, the organization has grown to be the most prominent debate series in the nation, hosting more than 200 debates, which focus on a gamut of topics that range from science, technology, and politics, to foreign policy, culture, and the arts. Noted as Adweek’s Podcast of the Year, for “Best Podcast Event,” Intelligence Squared has recently racked up a bevy of accolades, including five Telly awards, two Clarion awards, as well as a slew of international festival honors. Past debaters include General David Petraeus, CNN host and best-selling author Fareed Zakaria, syndicated columnist and businesswoman Arianna Huffington, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media president and founder Ian Bremmer, New York Times columnist Jamelle Antoine Bouie, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to name a few.

The Oxford-style format is broken down into four sections: Opening remarks, a discussion, question-and-answers, and finally closing remarks. Two teams of experts engage in an Oxford-style debate. The audience votes twice; once before the debate, and once afterward. The side that changes the most minds is declared the winner.

These debates are hosted by four-time Emmy Award-winning former ABC News White House correspondent John Donvan, overseen by Chief Executive Officer Clea Conner, and founded by Robert Rosenkranz.

Who Else has spoken at The Forum?

More than 240 distinguished speakers have participated in The Forum since its inception in 1987. Our list of alumni includes past U.S. presidents, sitting heads of state, and leaders from the sciences, arts, business, and more.

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