Sunday, October 30, 2011

SXSW: Finally my Final Thoughts.

My apologies, loyal readers.

Among the varied reasons I rarely travel is that fact that it tends to throw the rest of my life into some disarray.  Missing an entire week of classes and research responsibilities added substantially to that disarray, and the process of catching up.

I have also been turning over the conference, and attempting to figure out what I actually thought of the experience.  Even now, nearly a month after the fact, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

The last day of the conference, I did not attend any of the morning sessions, but took the time to mosey around Austin a bit, and see more of the city.  The final keynote was delivered by Philippe Cousteau Jr., and he did a fine job.  He told a few very good stories about how he arrived on the scene, beginning with the events that turned his grandfather from someone who was first an explorer into an environmentalist. His delivery sagged in a few points, and he dodged a fewer of the tougher questions put to him by the audience, but effectively delivered the core of his message, which lined up well with a lot of what was put forward by many at the conference:  That as a movement, environmentalism has stalled out because of the cultural divide in the US, and that if we wish to make progress, we have to put aside ideology to find common goals, and regain some lost ground.

And it's here that I run aground.  It's not that I disagree, because I don't.  But this is actually an incredibly difficult proposition, for individuals as well as organizations.  The political atmosphere in the US might be termed "ionizing"; even the most neutral proposition will be struck by outside forces and laden with charged political issues.  SXSWEco was full of rhetoric and statements about making common ground, setting aside ideological issues, and being practical... and that is all well and good. But how are we supposed to do this?

This is a strategy that one uses because of a lack of power and leverage.  It requires finding allies within the edifices of power to be effective.  This does not appear to be possible on a great many issues.  Anthropogenic Climate Change is regard as more or less a fact of life by the US military, who plan accordingly, but denied by the majority of hawks in the US government, to the extent of altering or suppressing EPA scientific reports for political ends.   How does one find common ground on issues with this crowd?  Particularly when working with an environmental group may open them up to criticism from within their own ranks?

So I remain torn.  I think that many of the discussion that were had at SXSWEco were useful, and needed to happen.  But the over arching theme of diversifying the message and setting aside ideological positions ultimately lacks practicality and vital substance.

I would consider attending again next year, on the hopes that more practical issues could be addressed (and assuming the costs come down, given that it was far more expensive than an event like ESA).  This might be unlikely to occur, given that SXSW as an organixation tends to focus on ideas and innovation, but implementation is incredibly important, and cannot be ignored in these discussions.

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