Video: Larry Brilliant on the volcano and climate change

One of the great things about being in London when the volcano halted our flights home this past weekend was that I was stranded with some of the greatest philanthropists alive today: Larry Brilliant, Paul Farmer, and Peter Gleick, just to name a few. Since we all had nothing else to do but wait until there was some indication that we could get home, the folks at TED (who were also in town) put together an impromptu TEDx Volcano meet-up on Saturday night. Here, Larry Brilliant — the former head of who famously helped end the smallpox epidemic in 1980 — gives me a post-TEDx recap of what he thinks of the volcano and climate change. "Climate change is the great exacerbator," he says. "What we need to learn from this volcano is that the world gets pretty messy very quickly when our science is uncertain. We need to invest to get the best science in the world, to support the best scientists, to create careers in science in the 21st century."


  1. “Helped end the smallpox epidemic in 1980” is a little inaccurate. It wasn’t an epidemic by then, but what Larry Brilliant helped do was much more exciting than just ending an epidemic anyway: he helped eradicate smallpox from the planet entirely (except in the labs of some evil countries, where the terrible virus is still stored, just in case…in case of what, I’m not sure…).

  2. Is it just me or did everything that poured out of his mouth not make one bit of sense. What does global warming have to do with the volcano (I understand that there are ties he just doesn’t make that argument). If anything this is an example of how insignificant our impact on the world really is compared to natural disasters. I understand that we can have a large impact on small areas, but nothing like a volcano, flood, tsunami, etc.

    1. Well I thought almost everything he said did make sense, but yeah he didn’t make it crystal clear why he thought the most important thing we can learn from this volcano is [all that stuff he said about science, and specifically climate science].

      As for the connections between global warming and the volcano, there’s the stuff Hypa linked which talks about how volcanic activity can interact with climate, but there’s also the possibility that this particular eruption happened sooner than it otherwise would have because of isostatic rebound from the loss of ice mass above it, due to warming.

      I’m not making that specific claim here–I don’t know if the ice above that volcano was in significant decline or not, and even if so I don’t know how much it could have impacted the timing of the eruption. But the idea that ice mass loss over rifts -> isostatic rebound effects destabilizing those rifts -> triggering quakes and volcanic eruptions is reasonable on its face, and an idea that I believe has been kicked around by climate scientists and geologists for some time now.

  3. Large-scale philanthropy is a sign of a diseased society. It is a society that has engendered conditions such that Rich People get to decide where to invest in the betterment of society rather than the society itself via government.

  4. Anon the volcano has everything to do with global warming. Don’t say things that you know nothing about. Next time maybe try and type it into google and click on the first link to see a little bit of info on the subject instead of posting your immature ideas about. ( ) I see you all the time with ridiculous comments, are you just posting on everything to get some attention or what, You’ve commented 3 times already lol and there’s 4 comments here.

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