Saturday, October 12, 2013

SXSW Eco 2013 - Part 3

The second day of SXSW Eco was a grueling pace of amazing speakers, amazing panels and far too many things to do. The very first panel section on my official SXSW Eco scheduler was packed with 5 different panels and presentations that I felt pulled to. In the end I chose "Who Wins Water," a discussion on the future of water, the lack of fresh water and the impacts of retooling the water design. The issue of water is one that many Americans take for granted because, in most instances, water is "free" or a municipally supported right. The United Nations has, for years now, declared and supported the fact that water and clean sanitation is a basic human right.

This panel was so interesting that I could hardly keep myself from retweeting the entirety of the discussion. This was especially true with Peter Glick who, after researching him is now a personal hero. Not only was he spot on with water issues but he even infiltrated and exposed aspects of the Heartland Institute, who I wrote about earlier in the month. The panel was really great at linking the human and the economic impacts of water and drought.

After the session I had to run to the amazing press room that the staff had set up to prepare for my Online Ocean Symposium hangout. The conversation went well and there will be a highlight reel coming but for now, here is the conversation.

After the hangout and a quick vegetarian bite at a local cantina I headed to a discussion between Bloomberg and VP of Next Generation Climate Action Kate Gordon. Next Gen is an organization trying to create political and personal action on the climate including supporting the green economy and fighting against projects like XL Keystone pipeline. Founded by Billionaire Tom Steyer who has been making some fantastic moves on the effort and some fantastic videos. Kate Gordon went into detail about their project "Risky Business" which tries to educate on the long term detriments of a bad-climate business model.

My next stop was the panel discussion and live broadcast from The discussion, titled "Beyond Extreme Weather: Has the Media Failed Us in Reporting Climate Change?" went into the over all coverage of climate issues, comparing it to other stories at the same time of publication and wording of the articles for adoption. The panel was filled to the brim with great experts and reporters in their field including a previous Hangout guest Kate Sheppard and moderated by the ever wonderful Chris Mooney.

While this conversation was interesting, educational and, in the end impact, the last question that the panel asked bothered me a little bit. An audience member asked "how do you measure the success of your stories." Every single panelist talked to the point of what I call passive impacts. Things like; readers, shares, comments, likes were highlighted as the "end-all-be-all" when these are all very low impact actions. I can not tell you how many articles I have read over the past week. I can tell you how many made me actually call a Senator or go to an event. I wondered if those metrics were considered; how much action and change occurred.

After the panel discussion, most of the action of the convention went to an awards ceremony with a mediocre MC and a far too crowded drink line. Deciding to try and keep to my favorite parts of these conferences, the conversations, I headed to a side event at a local bar. This event showed off an urban farming technique called a "living wall."

While an open bar, delicious foods and fantastic fresh garnishes were all distracting, the conversations were even more amazing. In the end, I was lucky enough to make some fantastic contacts and even had the privilege of riding to my hotel on the back of a motorcycle, driven by a hardcore urban farmer and all around awesome person Paige Hill of Urban Patchwork.

Monday, October 7, 2013

South By Southwest Eco - Part 2

Today was a fantastic opener for my second year at SXSW Eco. After a brief press breakfast with some introductions and TWO different selections of pork-based breakfast sandwiches (of which I chose the fruit) the day began in the bustling Austin Convention center.

This was a new venue and a new field. Obviously bigger than the previous year, this growing festival was alive with energy and excitement. A bustling crowd, or "a sprawling metropolis" as model/eco activist Summer Rayne Oaks Tweeted, had already begun to surround the introductory event. 

After a modest and pre-recorded "hello" from Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary UNFCCC, came one of the first keynote speakers, Ron Finley

This guy blew my mind. I hate to admit it, but when he asked, "how many of you don't know who I am?" I sheepishly raised my hand. His story is amazing; starting an urban garden movement out of getting in trouble for planting one. The very real manner in which he spoke, the passion in his tired voice and how he tied our lost connection to food to our failing school systems to our food deserts. All of it resonated. 

When it ended I was slightly disappointed that I didn't have a chance to chat with him but off I ran to catch the Ocean Conservation through Social Innovation panel which hosted my good friend and Ocean mentor Charlotte Vick and Anna Clark, who apparently worked on the shark fin ban in the Texas legislature at the same time I worked on it remotely. The highlight of this chat was to see first hand footage of Infinite Scuba, a video game that teaches you how to dive, how to deal with "narc"ing and even explore sunken treasures. At my first chance I am going to play the heck out of that game.

Making Carbon Visible in Cities was another mind-blowing panel. Not only did it play to my sustainable cities and Gov 2.0 loves but it tickled my data nerd-dom. I was introduced to a depository of emission data and a company whose sole purpose is to turn that data into digestible, powerful and engaging visualizations

Later on I was also able to catch IBM's efforts in crisis mapping through big data with David Barnes, who is a very enthusiastic speaker, and caught a fairly interesting panel on cities' mitigation and abatement strategies.  The end lesson being we need more data and more accurate data. Like always, there were far too many panels to check out and could only get a few highlights through Twitter

One of the best parts of the evening was being able to go to this first day after party meet up drinking margaritas in the hot Texas air and talking shop with tons of interesting people from interesting backgrounds including chatting a reporter from the Guardian, a blogger from Forecast the Facts and a communications professional from the National Parks Conservation Association about why Google is playing for VERY conservative Senators

Tomorrow I have my hangout to look forward to and I apparently picked 4 different panels to go to at the same time so, again, decisions.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

South By South West Eco 2013 - Part 1

You may recall that last year I was lucky enough to attend SXSW Eco and fall in love with the convention. From the interesting panels to the throngs of data and climate wonks that filled the convention with a bustling hum of excitement. The discussions and interactions that filled the three day conference were invigorating and incredible.

This year the 3000+ attendees are swarming Austin, Texas for hack-athons, thought experiments, and intense discussions all surrounding solving serious problems we are facing. These problems center in the domains of climate change, energy, and running smart cities.

Big data is king here and so is open discussion. The attendees are diverse, from different stakeholder groups. It is not just environmentalists who are going to be in attendance or city employees or policy wonks. There is also going to be large contingents representing industries such as energy, automotive and waste management.

This year, like last, I am representing an ocean contingent which is much more active and in-depth than the previous year. Unlike in 2012 where there where arguably few events focusing on ocean issues and topics, this year there are bundles covering everything from plastic in the gyres to “Ocean Conservation through Social Innovation.”

Another change from last year is that I am officially a member of the press this year. Able to conduct interviews without feeling awkward or pushy. As a result of this new found authority, the Symposium will also be holding a Google Hangout from the event on the 8th. Tomorrow morning, a special breakfast for press.

Stay tuned for coverage and analysis of this younger baby SXSW just breaking its third year. Who knows, might even run into Shepard Fairey. You can also check out the landing page we made for the festival.