Creativity and Renewable Energy at SXSW: What is Your Commitment?

On March 10th, 2012, the Human Impacts Institute (HII) was honored to be the facilitator for a panel at one of the biggest gathering of media, design, and creative gurus in the country– SXSW Interactive– in Austin, Texas. Alongside leaders in design, media, and music, HII led a conversation on Creativity and Renewable Energy to an audience of about sixty SXSW participants. The panel featured Tara DePorte of the Human Impacts Institute (facilitator), DJ Spooky (Paul Miller), Ed Morris of the Canary Project, and James Slezak of and challenged the panelists and audience to ask, “what’s keeping us from 100% renewable energy in our communities?”


Q: How do we push beyond awareness and inspire action around climate change and renewables? The panel opened showcasing each of the panelists work and views on renewable energy and creativity. As Morris showed images from the Green Patriot Posters, he emphasized that action stems from stimulating five key components in people: A sense of urgency, solidarity, hope, anger, or one that “I can make a difference”. His view was echoed by Miller, who highlighted past movements–both for positive change and otherwise—that have engaged people through collective action and focused messaging. Miller also emphasized the battle between “facts and stories” that are plaguing the climate discussion in the U.S., particularly. DePorte, while agreeing with the need for clear messaging on issues of climate and renewable energy, emphasized the need for “making it personal” and truly engaging people in solutions and a “story that makes sense for their community and culture”. Although she agreed that it’s necessary to dispute climate deniers, she emphasized the need to understand what would engage right-leaning communities in supporting renewable energy solutions, as opposed to closing the dialogue before reaching solutions. It was in this discussion of what makes people rise to action in their communities, that the panel was challenged to describe how and what creatives are doing to help in this process.


Q: What is the role of artists, musicians and other creatives in the movement/shift to renewables? Miller showed examples of his recent work–The Book of Ice—and others bringing together strong imagery and hip hop culture to inspire people for climate action, emphasizing the fun that can be had with creative messaging. Slezak showcased the importance of design and ease-of-action, particularly for online tools dealing with renewable energy. While showing examples of a Purpose project that is helping a renewable energy company engage potential customers in energy choices, he showed how making it fun, interactive, and collaborative has the potential for getting people to both purchase renewable energy and to actually be excited about the process. He also pointed out that, according to research by Purpose, consumers are very supportive of “clean energy”, with 77% of those polled supporting it, but when it came to actually purchasing clean energy, only 0.4% were on board. It is this gap between awareness and action that many of the panelists saw as a key space for creative engagement in the issue.


Q: What do we want our leaders to do for renewable energy in the U.S.? It was unanimous among panelists that the overall goal is to have 100% renewable energy in the U.S., however there were differing views as to how we get there or why we aren’t there yet. Morris emphasized fossil fuel subsidies as something that are massively impeding the shift in the U.S. Miller argued that the political system, particularly the conservative right, is blocking any progress towards clean energy in the U.S. with rhetoric and false claims. DePorte emphasized the need for renewable energy to be marketed both as the environmental choice, but also as the social and economic choice for long-term sustainability and healthy communities. DePorte also challenged the panel and the audience to ask “what is clean energy?” noting that many put nuclear energy and/or things like “clean coal” into the clean energy basket. She argued that any technology that has inputs or outputs that are hazardous waste or intensive extraction methods are not “clean” and certainly not renewable.

It was amidst this discussion that panelists had some differing views on the effectiveness of politicizing both climate and renewables.


Q: How political do we want the climate/renewables discussion to be? Morris emphatically called for politicizing the discussion and emphasized the need for both conflict and a “revolution” to address global issues of climate change. Miller supported the idea of making climate more political, particularly in the face of continued attacks on climate facts from the political right of the U.S. Although DePorte agreed that the issues of climate and renewables are already heavily politicized in the U.S., she disagreed with other panelists that this was the most effective way to get us closer to our goals of 100% renewables. She argued that keeping an eye on subscribing as many people as possible to the solution (i.e. renewable energy) is the goal we have to keep in mind and that over politicizing the point shuts off the discussion for many Americans. Overall, all panelists acknowledged the intensity of the current discussion around climate change and renewables in the U.S.–with climate change consistently being attacked as part of a liberal agenda and renewables being seen by too many as either an impossibility or an improbability in the face of Big Oil.

The big question still remains: If our goal is to shift to 100% renewable energy in our communities, how are we going to get there and what are you committing to the shift?

Let us know! Send us your ideas in comments to this post!

  • What is your vision for renewable energy?

  • What is your ask from your government for renewable energy?

  • What is your personal commitment to renewable energy?

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