The Manhattan Project

Dieter Gruen's Interview (2018)

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Dieter Gruen's Interview (2018)

Dieter Gruen worked in the Chemical Research Division at the Y-12 Plant during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, he discusses his childhood in Walldorf, Germany, and how his family’s life changed as the Nazis came to power. Gruen discusses how he came to the U.S. in 1937, and his school experiences both in Little Rock, Arkansas, and at the University of Chicago. He explains how his work at Oak Ridge led him to devote his career to science and innovation. He also spends time sharing his feelings about his involvement with the Manhattan Project. Gruen discusses his views regarding climate change, and how nations can work together to resolve it.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
February 6, 2018
Location of the Interview: 
Fort Lauderdale
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, it is Tuesday, February 6, 2018. I’m in Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida, and I have with me Dieter Gruen. I want him first to say his name and then spell it.

Dieter Gruen: My name is Dieter Gruen, D-i-e-t-e-r G-r-u-e-n. 

Kelly: Thank you very much. Now, I want to start back to your childhood. Maybe you can tell us when you were born, and where. 

Gruen: I was born on November 21, 1922, in Walldorf, Germany, which is in the province of Thuringia, which is east of Frankfurt am Main, and a little south of Weimar. That is where I was born.

Kelly:  And the town’s name was?

Gruen: Walldorf.

Kelly:  Tell us about your childhood and what Walldorf was like. 

Gruen: Walldorf was a very small place, and I had a very, very happy childhood. I had an older brother. My father was the principal of a school, my mother took care of the house. I had a childhood filled with friends and toys, and a roller scooter that I ran down a very steep hill, much to the dismay of my mother.

Then I began grammar school. I remember coming home from the first day of grammar school, and my parents presented me with a Zuckertüte, which is traditional. It’s a large cone filled with candy and goodies to make life in school a little sweeter. I had a very happy childhood.

We then moved to a somewhat larger town called Meiningen‎, which is the provincial capital of what used to be a dukedom, Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, and there I continued primary school.

At the age of ten, I started going to the gymnasium. The gymnasium is the school that gives you a classical education. You begin at the age of ten studying Latin, and you progress to Greek. It is a traditional German classical education that I experienced from the age of ten until about the age of thirteen.

Kelly:  Then what happened?

Gruen: The political situation in Germany abruptly changed with the election and coming to power of Adolf Hitler, whose aim was to build Germany into a super state, a great country. His political doctrine claimed that all of the ills that had befallen Germany after World War I were due to the Marxists and the Jews, and they both had to be gotten rid of. Everyone, or many people, know the political developments that occurred at that time, where the Nazis came to power using propaganda methods and street brutality.

There were assassinations of high government officials like Walther Rathenau, who was the Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic, and was a Jew from a very prominent banking family in Berlin. He was shot to death on a street as he was walking home, by the Nazis [actually by members of the right-wing terrorist group Organisation Consul].

They [the Nazis] had instituted the Nuremburg Congresses, at which Hitler spoke and enunciated his determination to exterminate the Jews. There were boycotts of Jewish businesses. The first law that was passed under Hitler’s regime was to forbid any Jew to have a government job. Now all the schools in Germany, the primary schools, the Gymnasium, the Universities were all federal institutions.

My father, who had served as a principal for many years with distinction, lost his job in 1933, one of the first victims of this new regime. My father had served in World War I for four years and even as a Jew, had attained the rank of lieutenant. He earned the Iron Cross. By the way, percentagewise, more Jewish soldiers, German soldiers, were killed than other German soldiers. Jewish-German young men had volunteered in large numbers for the German Army, among them, my father. Nonetheless, he lost his job.

In 1938, after Kristallnacht, the destruction of the synagogues, including the one that was next to our home in Meiningen, were totally destroyed. All of the Jewish men were put in concentration camps. My father was in concentration camp in Buchenwald, which is near Weimar. But at that time, the Nazis were not yet killing the Jews. You could leave Germany, if you could leave within twenty-four hours.

My father had a sister living in Luxembourg. My father and mother were able to leave Germany and leave the concentration camp, and go to Luxembourg, and come to the United States in 1939.

I had left Germany in 1937, and went with my older brother to the United States. We both were fortunate, my brother and I. I had a visa from relatives who lived in Little Rock, Arkansas. My brother had a visa from relatives who lived in New York. He stayed on in New York, and worked in New York.

I took a train to Little Rock, and went to high school at Little Rock Central High School in 1937. When I graduated from high school in 1939, my parents had come to this country and I left Little Rock and went to Chicago. My brother left New York and went to Chicago.

We were extremely fortunate. One of the few families who survived the Holocaust, all four of us, and were able to reunite in Chicago. My parents had lost everything in a material sense, and so both went to work doing menial jobs in Chicago.

I came to Chicago and I had a series of menial jobs during the day, and at night I started university at Northwestern University in Chicago. I worked during the day, and I went to school at night.

That was basically how I left Germany, because I could no longer go to school in Meiningen. I could no longer attend the gymnasium. My former friends and schoolmates had become part of the Hitler Jugend [Hitler Youth]. They beat me up after school, so I couldn’t go to school anymore. It was a terrifying situation, and I couldn’t wait to leave.

The German people supported this movement to a very, very considerable extent. Some of the propaganda that the Nazis were—they had songs like the "Horst-Wessel-Lied," which starts, “Die Fahne Hoch,” “Hold High the Flag.” Then it goes on and says, “Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen, Marschiern im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.” “We will shoot the Red Front and the reactionaries, and they will march with us in spirit.”

Everyone was singing these songs, and listening to the propaganda. The lesson that I learned early on is that this kind of political philosophy can only end in tragedy. I’m afraid, I must say, that I hear echoes of some of these sentiments being expressed today in this country.

Kelly:  Curiously, you ended up in the same high school in Little Rock that was the site of the integration battle in the ‘50s, is that right?

Gruen: That’s right. I was there before the integration battle, which was under the Eisenhower administration, I believe in 1954 or 1955 [actually 1956], during that period. But I was there in 1937 and 1938. In those days, the school was totally segregated. There were no black students at all.

In fact, I remember riding the streetcar from the home where I lived to high school, and that streetcar was segregated. The black people sat in back, and the white people sat in front. There was total segregation. In department stores, there were black fountains for black people and white marble fountains for white people. It was total segregation.

But by and large, at least in Little Rock, in my experience, blacks were treated with dignity. They were discriminated against, they had very limited working possibilities, and educational possibilities. But, for example, my aunt had a black housekeeper. My uncle, who had a business, had black employees. They were almost treated as members of the family. They were treated as human beings. But of course there was this terrible discrimination.

My fellow students in high school—I will never forget the way in which I was welcomed by them. I cannot remember a single remark commenting about my lack of facility in English, or perhaps the different appearance. I felt totally accepted by my fellow students. That was such a reversal that I cannot ever forget how liberating an experience it was for me, to be in this blessed country.

Kelly:  How was Chicago different in terms of integration at the time you arrived in Chicago? Was it much more integrated in terms of the fountains, the buses, the streetcars, than in Little Rock?

Gruen: Chicago was then, and still is, one of the most segregated cities in the country, I believe. Chicago has that distinction. There are black people that live in Chicago in certain areas, and not in other areas. Segregation in the workplace has moderated, and in many other respects of course we have made tremendous progress in civil rights. But as far as living conditions in Chicago, it is still a very highly segregated city, even today, and perhaps more so than many southern cities. It’s a very strange business.

Kelly:  It didn’t occur to you as a child that the treatment in Germany of Jews and the treatment in the United States of blacks was a parallel?

Gruen: I was obviously very preoccupied with learning the language, with becoming part of the culture, with doing my schoolwork, with making social contacts. Quite frankly, I didn’t pay very much attention to the segregation problem in Little Rock.

In retrospect, I wish I had been more aware of it. But I must confess that at the time, I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t see any active persecution of blacks. No, I didn’t think about it all that much.   

Kelly: Then we get to how you happened to get to the Manhattan Project. We have you at Northwestern at night.

Gruen: Right. I started going to night school studying chemistry at Northwestern University in the city of Chicago in 1941. Then there was Pearl Harbor. The United States became part of the war. Hitler declared war on the United States.

There was an increase in support for students studying the sciences, because President [Franklin] Roosevelt recognized early on that it was a war that would be decided by technology and industry, and the basis for all of that would be science. He made this a national policy.

I think, as a result of this change, it was possible for me to get a full scholarship at Northwestern in Evanston. I was able to leave my job and go to school full-time on the Evanston campus, and study chemistry and physics and mathematics. I earned a baccalaureate degree cum laude from Northwestern in 1944, and was immediately recruited by Oak Ridge to join the Manhattan Project after graduation. That’s how I joined.

I had a mentor at Northwestern. He was Professor Irving Klotz, a distinguished thermodynamicist and pioneer in the application of physical chemistry to biological problems, and became a member of the National Academy [of Sciences]. He was a consultant to the Manhattan Project. I had done an honors dissertation, which we published together in the Journal of American Chemical Society, the results of that study, later. But he recommended me to work on the Project, and that is how I got on the Manhattan Project.

 Kelly: Then you got a ticket straight to Oak Ridge?

Gruen: Then I took a train to Knoxville, and stayed overnight in Knoxville, and then boarded a bus from Knoxville to Oak Ridge. I arrived on that bus. When I got off the bus I was knee deep in mud, because Oak Ridge was just really getting going. It was under construction, the town was under construction. That was quite an experience.   

I lived at Oak Ridge in a dormitory on the edge of Oak Ridge. This was called West Village 54. It was a large dormitory occupied primarily by construction workers who were building K-25. K-25 was just beginning to be under construction at that time. So I was one of two scientists in the dormitory. Most of the other inhabitants were construction workers.

Kelly: Where was your job assignment?

Gruen: I was assigned to the Chemical Research Division of Y-12. That was headed by a man by the name of Clarence—he later became director of the Oak Ridge [National Laboratory]—Larson. Dr. Clarence Larson was the director of the Chemical Research Division. After the war, Dr. Larson became the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But he was my boss there in the Research Division. All of the time that I was at Oak Ridge, I was in that research division.

Kelly:  So in the last interview, we talked at some depth about your research there.

Gruen: I did talk about the work that I did in connection with the electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes, which was the work of Oak Ridge, was to prepare uranium-235. When I arrived there, there was not a gram of uranium-235 available, and within six months, we had produced 50 kilograms using mass spectrometric separation techniques, enough material for the Hiroshima bomb.

That was an experience that had a very profound effect on my thinking about what one can achieve in science, when there is a concentrated focus on a particular task.

But since I talked about it before—I don’t think I said very much about what happened after the dropping of the bomb, and the reaction of the scientists to the fact that we now have nuclear weapons in the world.

There were four of us who got together. Just that small group of colleagues, we were all about the same age. We were fully aware that there was no secret, in the sense that one could keep how you make an atomic bomb a secret. You cannot defend against it. It should never be used again, and how do you prevent it from ever being used again?

We had this notion of sending a letter to 150 leaders, what we considered world leaders, in science, politics, in the arts. We asked, “What is their opinion as to how to prevent nuclear weapons from being used again?” We got 100 replies to this letter. Amazing! Including letters back from people like James Bryant Conant, Vannevar Bush, and Albert Einstein.  

The predominant response was that, “We have to have some international control of this, because other countries are going to develop nuclear weapons. We need an international way to control their spread, and perhaps find ways of preventing their future use.”

A particularly interesting letter we got from Albert Einstein, who very much felt that we need a world government. He wrote extensively about this in 1945 and 1946 to, for example, Reader’s Digest

Albert Einstein recognized in his letter to us and in other writings, how difficult it would be to persuade nations to give up their sovereignty to the extent necessary to implement such a thing. He was not naïve about establishing a world government . Of course, it has not happened.

Those letters and the report that we put together based on them, is in the archives of the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago. Those are all documented, and anyone who would be interested in looking at those letters can do so by going to the Regenstein Collection.

But we were not the only ones that felt strongly about this issue. There was an organization founded in Oak Ridge called the Oak Ridge Engineers and Scientists. I have, in my files, copies of some of the early issues. We had a weekly issue dealing with those questions during 1945 and 1946. The other laboratories, like Los Alamos and University of Chicago and Berkeley, had similar organizations concerned with those questions.

Scientists working on the Manhattan Project became, many of them, very concerned about issues that we’re still talking about today. That is, how to control the spread and the use of nuclear weapons, recognizing that we are living in that new age.

For example, at the University of Chicago, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded at almost exactly the same time as the Oak Ridge Engineers and Scientists, and has continued publishing to this very day. Their clock, which appears on every issue of the Bulletin, is set once a year to reflect the coming and going of how close are we to what they call “midnight.”

All of us, humanity as a whole, we face two existential questions. The two existential questions are annihilation by nuclear weapons, or by climate change. Those are the two existential questions that are faced by humanity. We must, somehow, achieve -- our demise is avertable. We can prevent this. We have all the means possible to prevent it. It is up to us to develop the Cultural Darwinism, if you like, to be able to control our fate. We must do that.

I feel very strongly about it, because I have spent my entire life in the field of alternative energy. After leaving Oak Ridge, I then pursued studies for a Ph.D. in chemical physics at the University of Chicago. I came back to Chicago and continued my scientific studies, and have had a career in, what I would call, energy science, working at the Argonne National Laboratory.

The Argonne National Laboratory was established in 1946 as a result of the passage of the McMahon Bill in the Senate. It’s interesting that while I was at Oak Ridge and active in this organization of Oak Ridge Engineers and Scientists, that at that time, right after World War II, there were two bills, the May Bill in the House of Representatives, and the McMahon Bill in the Senate. The May Bill would give control of nuclear power to the military, and the McMahon Bill to under civilian control.

I took it upon myself to keep track of the Senate hearings on the McMahon Bill. In the evening, I would get transcripts of those hearings, I would write a newspaper article based on those transcripts, and the following morning, drive to Knoxville and deliver my article to the Knoxville Journal, and they printed it. They kept the Knoxville public informed of the hearings that were going on in Washington.

The McMahon Bill won the day, and nuclear power, atomic energy, was put under civilian control. But of course, as we know, the nuclear weapons, which constitute a very major fraction of the total budget of the Department of Energy, is really controlled by the military. Nuclear weapons are part of the Defense Department, really. The distinction between military and civilian control to a considerable extent has disappeared because several of the national laboratories that were established are really defense-related laboratories.

In my case, it turned out that Argonne is not a weapons lab, but was the national center for the development of nuclear reactors. It occupied that position for several decades after its establishment. Much of the work that I did at Argonne, particularly in the early years, was concerned with the development of nuclear power reactors.

The first power reactor that I was concerned with was the Nautilus reactor. Admiral [Hyman] Rickover, a very forceful, very dynamic member of the Department of the Navy, he felt strongly that we needed a nuclear submarine that he would come around even to our laboratory at Argonne, and insist that we work harder to build that particular reactor.

Now there were certain very important problems associated with that reactor that I contributed to their solution. One was the following: the nuclear fuel elements of the Nautilus reactor were clad with zirconium metal, which was resistant to corrosion by salt water. Ocean water would cool the reactor, so if it was zirconium clad, it would not be affected by this very corrosive environment.

The problem is that zirconium, when it is mined from the ground, contains a few percent of hafnium, an element that is chemically very similar to zirconium. The hafnium has a very large neutron-capture cross-section, so you could not use zirconium that contained hafnium as a cladding for the fuel elements. You had to find a way of chemically removing the hafnium. I contributed to that by developing a process for doing that on a large scale. That process was actually put into pilot plant production, but it was then superseded by a different process.

In any event, there was at least one important chemical problem associated with building the Nautilus, which was solved in a relatively short period of time. As we know, Nautilus was a very successful technological development, and the nuclear submarines today represent perhaps the most effective nuclear deterrent that we have in our arsenal in this country. Today, a single nuclear submarine has the power to destroy us all. These are very powerful weapons systems that grew out of the original concept that we covered here.            

Over the years, I worked on problems related to fission energy, and became very interested in the fusion energy and developed the program at Argonne on solving problems associated with the so-called Tokamak Reactors that are a very large plasma machines that today have finally the potential of demonstrating that fusion power could be done on a large scale.

There is a very large fusion reactor under construction at Cadarache in France, which uses superconducting magnets to contain the plasma, which is one of the very difficult problems that have to be solved in order to have a self-sustaining kind of fusion power. It has been a very interesting, a very satisfying career for me that has grown out of my involvement with the Manhattan Project. 

Kelly:  Do you think that other colleagues of yours, who were recruited for the Manhattan Project like you, have—was this kind of a breeding ground for people who are serious about science, and then got excited or got a direction that carried them throughout their career?

Gruen: That’s a very interesting question. I have not explored that. To my personal knowledge, at Argonne there were many colleagues who transitioned from the Manhattan Project to work at Argonne. Many of the first generation scientists at Argonne, in fact, had worked on the Manhattan Project. I know that about Argonne.

I think it’s probably true at the other national laboratories as well, that many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project then continued working at the national laboratories that succeeded. Yes, I think that is probably the case.

Kelly:  Yes, or even more broadly, either through the National Laboratories or universities or in private sectors.  

Gruen: Yes.

Kelly:  It’s interesting that Harry Truman, the President, when he announced the first bomb on August 6, said, “We have now won the battle of the laboratories. What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.” What do you think of that?

Gruen: I think Harry Truman was absolutely correct in that statement. When I reflect my life and my career, I would have to say that the Manhattan Project was the seminal experience for me. It showed me in the most graphic way possible what this country can achieve when we are united, when we have a focus, and when we have the political and national will to solve a particular problem, we can achieve miracles.

What Harry Truman did not know at the time he made that statement is that we might be facing a similar situation again, seventy years after he made that statement. I believe that today, we face another situation that in my mind is similar to the situation we faced with the Manhattan Project. We are in a war. Again, it’s not a shooting war. It is, as I said earlier, a war that has led to an existential problem for us, and that is climate change.

I believe that we are moving more rapidly than many people think to the point of no return. The point of no return is a situation where the global climate is now so warm that we cannot reverse it, that it will be irreversible. These are irreversible processes. The process, in my opinion, must be stopped within the next twenty years, and that is going to require a massive commitment of money, people, and effort in order to achieve it. Because what we’re talking about is to change over from the energy system that we have today, which is based largely on the burning of fossil fuels, to one that does not burn fossil fuels.

There are many people who believe that climate change is, to a very considerable extent, due to our pollution of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which is the inevitable result of burning fossil fuels—even natural gas, even though that doesn’t produce quite as much as coal, but it’s also producing carbon dioxide.

The fossil fuels we have because during the Carboniferous era, plants used photosynthesis to convert sunlight to chemical bond energy, which is a stored form of energy. It took hundreds of millions of years to create those stores of energy. We’re using them up in a hundred or two hundred years, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

But while we are burning them, we are increasing carbon dioxide, we are changing the balance of our very delicate environment. Our atmosphere is a very delicately balanced system that is delicate in terms of the absorption of sunlight and the re-emission of the energy. When we upset that balance—which is relatively easy to do, because we’re doing it now—then we will have no way of going back, of counteracting it.

It is a feedback process, which will continue. Even if we were not burning fossil fuels, it would continue. Because there is this balance between sunlight being reflected by the Arctic and the Antarctic ice sheets, and when they melt and become water, the Arctic Ocean will absorb sunlight and not reflect it. That is a feedback process, and it will continue at an ever-increasing rate. It’s a very, very dangerous situation that we find ourselves in.

Therefore, we must make the sun our global energy source. In one hour, we get enough energy to last all seven billion of us for a year. There’s plenty of sunshine around. Now, photosynthesis is very inefficient for the conversion of light to electricity. The solar cells are more efficient, about 10% or 15% today. But we can do better. We should become 30% or 40%, even 50% efficient.

We have the technology to do it, for the conversion of light to electricity. Light is a form of energy. Electricity is a form of energy. We can convert light directly to electricity by shining it on a solar cell. We can also convert light indirectly to electricity by first converting the light to heat, and then the heat to electricity. We can combine these two methods in a hybrid cycle, and decrease the amount of money it takes to build a solar plant so that we can make solar electricity competitive in the marketplace with fossil fuel-generated electricity. Perhaps in that way, we will be able to achieve the transition.

We should not sit quietly and passively. We should think about that problem and see if we can agree to mount a global Manhattan Project to bring this about. Because this is going to be a massive effort. It’s going to be a massive effort, which will be very capital-intensive, technologically intensive. We need to develop techniques for doing what I just outlined. It will use the best science that we have.

We have technological revolution now in information technology, IT. We need a similar revolution in ET, energy technology, that has lagged behind. We need to apply the best and most sophisticated methods that we are capable of to increase the efficiency for the conversion of light to electricity. That’s the basic problem. It’s a very good scientific problem that can be solved if we put the effort into it.

Kelly:  That was great, I like that a lot. That is a very strong message. It’s interesting, and it sort of fits with this program. Another Oak Ridge Manhattan Project veteran, Alvin Weinberg, who became the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well, but as he said basically, “Scientists improve with age,” saying, “Much of science comes not out of brilliant flights of fancy, but from viewpoints and techniques growing out of a lifetime of scientific inquiry.”

Gruen: It’s interesting you mentioned Alvin Weinberg. He was a friend of mine. He really worked on the Manhattan Project in Chicago originally, and then went to Oak Ridge, and as you say, he became the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

He was a very distinguished theoretical physicist, who had a brilliant idea about making a safe nuclear reactor. He developed the concept of a thorium reactor based on the element thorium and uranium-233. It was a molten salt, homogeneous reactor.

He used his considerable prestige and power as director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory to start a large program to build such a reactor, and that reactor was built and operated for years at Oak Ridge, and very successfully. I contributed very considerably to that effort and I used to visit Oak Ridge in those years—this was the ‘50s and ‘60s—to very frequently to attend meetings that Alvin Weinberg had periodically to review progress on this thorium reactor.

Now, what happened to the thorium reactor? There was a political situation that developed in Washington. The reactor was shut down. Alvin Weinberg was fired because he insisted that he wanted to continue the reactor. He remained it Oak Ridge—there was an energy institute which he headed—but he was no longer was director of the laboratory. That whole program on the thorium reactor was shut down, and essentially disappeared until fairly recently. Today, the British and the Chinese have active programs reviving the thorium molten salt reactor.

I agree with Alvin’s statement that some scientists improve with age, some don’t. I like to consider myself in the first category. I still have an interest in science, I’m still fascinated by certain aspects of it, and I hope that I can still make a contribution based on a lifetime of experience.

Science is a creative and very complicated thing. Just as some artists burn out early and others continue into their eighties and even nineties, some scientists and composers and other people are able to continue. I feel very fortunate in having still some active interest in this, and I agree with Alvin Weinberg’s statement. I think he is an example of that. He maintained his interest in science into old age. He was an outstanding man, and a very brilliant man.

Kelly:  What would you tell people who are climate change deniers?     

Gruen: There are very extensive theoretical treatments of the effect of CO2 on the absorption of sunlight. We know, in great detail, the way in which carbon dioxide interacts with light. That is, the spectroscopy of the CO2 molecule is such that it prevents sunlight from being re-radiated into space. It absorbs it, and it turns to heat. Now, that is a very well established scientific fact. We also know precisely, when we burn a ton of coal or a gallon of oil, or a cubic foot of natural gas, how much carbon dioxide is produced. We can measure, very precisely, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We have scientific data and very detailed theoretical treatments to show the effect of this on the atmosphere, and the effect of the absorption of sunlight on the average temperature.

The scientific background, and the scientific data at our disposal, says that everything that we’re measuring in terms of the increase in temperature, which recent studies show exceeds what people predicted when they made the Paris Agreements. There were 200 countries that agreed to limit carbon emissions in the Paris Accords last year, 200 countries agreed to limit carbon emissions, and they all looked at this data and said, “They’re accurate.” There’s international agreement that there is climate change.   

Now, there will be some people that claim that scientists are misleading the public, that they’re over-interpreting the data, and so on and so forth. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to their own facts. As a scientist, I believe in factual data.

Climate change is a very complicated business, obviously. It’s a very complex business and so far, as near as I can tell, every year is warmer than the year before.

I am personally going to be affected this year because Aspen, for the first time in forty or fifty years, has had very little snow. The temperatures are like from 40, 45 degrees, so I probably won’t be able to go skiing this year.

The amount of money that we’re spending to repair the damage caused by hurricanes, by wildfires, by mudslides, is in hundreds of billions. In Miami they’re building seawalls costing hundreds of millions. I’m told that when they have a high tide, Collins Avenue is flooded, or something like that. There’s signs all around.

Part of my family evacuated from Boca Raton. They went to Atlanta. They evacuated because of [Hurricane] Irma. Well, they got to Atlanta, and they had an even worse storm there.

I don’t have to worry about it. My children, my grandchildren, I now have a little great granddaughter, I’d like for her to lead the same kind of life that I’m leading. I love this life, this is what I call civilization. We have nice surroundings, we have food.  

There are a lot of people that they say, to some extent, what’s happening in Syria is due to a drought. If we don’t pay attention to this, we could have civil strife in the world that we can’t cope with. Because when people can’t do farming anymore, they don’t have enough water to grow the food that they need, we’re going to have the kinds of problems that we have today, with sixty to seventy million people on the move from places that they can’t live anymore. We have these regional conflicts that may in part be due to global warming. We don’t know.

But there are a lot of places in the world that don’t have enough water. We can make water like what I’m talking about, with solar. We can heat water and distill it, and we get clean water. Today they use reverse osmosis, but that requires electricity. But if we use the sun, we could just heat the water and distill it, and make all the water that we need that way. Technologically, we could solve these problems. As a world, we’re not getting together to do it, but we should. We can do it, that’s the point. We’re not helpless.

[Singing] We could do it, but we have to change our way of living and if that is not enough, I’m going to change the way I strut my stuff. We have to change, we have to change, and we have to make certain changes.  

We have to all agree that they’re important, and not fight each other. That’s what I find so upsetting in this country today. You have a political discussion with someone. You used to be able to have a rational political discussion with someone. You have your opinion, I have my opinion. But you can’t do that anymore. People are so determined to believe what they want to believe.  

Kelly:  That’s great. Well, I believe that you’ve done a great job.

Gruen: Well, thank you.

Kelly:  That was great.

Gruen: Thank you, Cindy. You’re doing a great job, I admire what you’re doing. You have devoted your life, pretty much, to this effort. It’s very worthwhile, I think, establishing a historical record of what happened during a critical period in the world’s history.

It’s important, and if we forget, then we’re going to repeat the mistakes of the past, and you’re helping to make a record and a correct record. You’re so conscientious about what you’re doing, it’s just amazing to me. I admire what you’re doing.

Kelly:  I enjoy what I do in large part because it’s brought me together with people like you.

Gruen: Well, I have a particular perspective. I’m a rather peculiar kind of person. I think about these things, and many people prefer not to think about them. Most people don’t want to think that way.