SJMC Attends SXSW Eco 2015

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Last week, Oct. 5-7, a group of SJMC students and faculty had the opportunity to attend SXSW Eco in Austin. In its fifth year as an annual offshoot of SXSW, the three-day conference covered a variety of eco-conscious topics. From the future of food production to using memes to raise climate awareness, Texas State professors and students dove head first into a realm where the world’s problems are being solved through creative innovation.

SJMC part-time lecturer Jordon Brown was impressed by the range of technologies being used for ecological and social good:

As someone who has attended several other SXSW events (a few i’s, a couple Edu’s) I wasn’t prepared for the absolute insane vision of the future that was SXSW Eco. In the span of three days, I heard about a method of transportation that moves at the speed of sound, meat being grown in labs, self-driving cars, a town that’s moving to 100% renewable energy (in Texas, no less!), and crowd-sourcing satellite imagery that identifies areas of need after natural disasters. As someone who is an advocate of tech, Eco and I got along splendidly. My main takeaway from Eco: the future is here, the future is amazing and I want to be a part of it.

Several panels discussed gendered global issues. SJMC graduate student Josh Morrison found out what gender has to do with sustainability at one of his favorite panels:

Panelists at Sex and Sustainability: Youth Reproductive Rights couldn’t help but joke that it was the only conference session with the word “sex” in the title. Far from being an opportunity to talk about sex, the panel was an insightful exploration of issues of the body, specifically reproductive rights, and their implications in the struggle to care for our planet. Advocacy is imperative for the implementation of reproductive regulation tools in parts of the world where they are culturally taboo. Cat Lazaroff and Jade Begay of Resource Media stressed the importance of communication in social advocacy. I spoke with Cat Lazaroff after the panel to find out more:

The conference offered a platform for both independent businesses and government agencies to talk about new projects. SJMC graduate student Sara Shields got some insight into what’s next for energy:

Reinventing Energy at the DOE was my favorite of the panels that I attended. David Danielson, Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Energy, led the session. Danielson revealed some interesting (and a little bit frightening) findings from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA discovered that this year had the hottest temperatures measured globally, and July was the hottest month ever recorded. The DOE has been working with startups to combat climate change. Although there has been progress, Danielson emphasized, “we can’t be too optimistic. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Other sessions focused on the importance of social media as a tool for outreach. SJMC graduate student Becca Silvas learned some tricks of the trade for social media engagement on climate:

It comes as no surprise that Climate Action: Now Meme’ified! was a favorite panel among the Texas State SXSW Eco group. We heard from Purpose, a company committed to building and accelerating movements via technology to tackle the world’s biggest problems. In addition to using memes as an entry point to bring people to the climate change discussion, the panelists encouraged the creation of campaigns that connect on a personal level. I asked panelist Jessica Lauretti for her tips on gaining visibility for these campaigns:

What’s SXSW without a little friendly competition? SJMC undergraduate student Ben Slade got to witness the competitive side of SXSW Eco:

One of my favorite sessions was the Place by Design competition. The Data & Tech Place By Design session featured many interesting data projects including Hello Lamp Post, a project launched in Austin that allows people to have conversations with objects such as lamp posts, fire hydrants and trees. The competition ended in a tie between Cyark 500, a free 3D online library of cultural heritage sites at risk around the world, and Pure Tension Pavilion, a sleek, portable solar powered charging station for your electric car that fits in your trunk. It was both eye opening and inspiring to learn about these incredible innovations. Check out all of the finalists here.

The future of food production was a popular topic at SXSW Eco. SJMC graduate student Becky Larson caught up on the latest innovations for the world’s food supply:

Leave it SX to discuss the problems associated with factory farming not in terms of eating less meat, but in terms of harnessing technology to create an endless supply of meat that neither negatively impacts our environment nor contributes to the inhumane treatment of animals. It’s discussions like Isha Datar’s Food of the Future: The Post-Animal Bioeconomy keynote that make me grateful and excited to be involved with the tech industry. Technological leaps and bounds of the last decade are being applied to some of the world’s most challenging problems. However for the vast majority of the technology we find ourselves implementing these days, we have no idea what future repercussions there may be, and there’s already an enormous amount of indecision regarding our current food practices.

That’s a wrap on SXSW Eco 2015. Thanks to our friends at SXSW for the opportunity to attend! See you next year.

Story by SJMC graduate student Becca Silvas

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