Human Impacts Boston: Putting the STEAM in Climate Innovation

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In 2013-2014 the Human Impacts Institute is partnering with the Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany to explore how we can make climate change personal to our communities and re-communicate climate issues to the American public in creative and engaging ways through our “Creative Climate” Human Impacts Salons series. Working with local partners in eight U.S. cities and in Berlin, this year-long tour brings together creative visionaries with community leaders, environmental experts, and activists in a salon-style event of performance and in-depth discussion to highlight local action, resources, and solutions to addressing one of the most pressing issues of our times–climate change.

Last Thursday, the Human Impacts Institute joined forces with the Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany to devote an evening to climate action and educating for innovation. Human Impacts Boston: Putting some STEAM in Climate Innovation was a one-night collaboration between NYC-based Human Impacts Institute and several Boston groups including the Goethe-Institut Boston, Together Boston, and the German Consulate General of Boston.

Thursday’s event was the 5th in a series of “climate salons” curated and developed by the Human Impacts Institute with the goal of re-communicating climate issues in meaningful ways while highlighting local specialities and promising solutions. In Boston, the presence of STEAM education-- science, technology, engineering, arts, and math-- is almost palpable. Boston is home to 134 public schools and 50 universities and colleges, including MIT and Boston University.

Accordingly, the discussion focused on the intersection between education and climate awareness, the role of the arts in climate communication, and how to approach problems and climate and education productively. Tara DePorte moderated the conversation and posed questions to a panel of local specialists, including: “Does more information lead to more action?” and “How do we keep up with the change?”

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Brian Swett, Chief of Environment and Energy for the City of Boston, framed the problem succinctly: “We use the word ‘belief’ around climate instead of “do you understand” climate science...we don’t ask people if they believe smoking causes cancer anymore. We ask, “Do you understand that smoking causes cancer?” His point is a crucial one: the issue of climate hasn’t afforded the same public response that others do when science is involved. In contrast, Dr. Georg Maue, Germany’s First Secretary of Climate and Energy, suggested that emissions reductions Germany has experienced in their national energy transition was in part due to strong support from citizens.

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What Brian Swett and his fellow speakers established, in essence, is that the problems climate change pose require not only innovative solutions in the fields of technology and science, but also new approaches for educating and communicating the information. David Wang, in-house Rocket Scientist at NuVu, is well versed in this. NuVu is a space that encourages team-based projects geared towards solving problems and has gained national renown since its inception in 2010. As the conversation shifted towards educating for climate solutions, the role of places like NuVu as well as the role of schools, educational programming, etc became central to discussion. How do we encourage the development of technology we can’t even imagine? According to Wang, a team-based, collaborative atmosphere is one method.

“I like to think that everything we’ve invented was built upon the shoulders of others,” Wang told the audience.

Susan Israel, one of the leaders behind Boston’s Energy Necklace Project and LEED certified architect, added: “Art is one way that speaks personally, that speaks to everybody. If we’re able to be creative, and be collaborative, we can tackle these problems.”

In keeping with the “salon” format, discussion was complemented with several unique performances, beginning with Beethoven's Piano Sonata, Opus 26, performed by MIT Media Lab technologist Xiao Xiao. Creative interludes from Kemi Alabi, poet and spoken word artist, as well as Jimmy Hughes, an experimental electronic artist followed. A complete list of speakers and performers is included at the end of this article.

In closing, moderator Tara Deporte asked the panelists and attendees to write down one “outrageous, impossible thing you will you do for climate.” Given the surprising nature of innovation, what we come up with in response to this question may not be so impossible after all.

This event would not have been possible without the support of the Goethe-institut Boston, The Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany, and Together Boston.

Key speakers included:

  • Deputy Consul General Mathias Kruse Opening remarks

  • Brian Swett, Chief, Environment & Energy at City of Boston

  • Susan Israel, The Energy Necklace Project

  • Hannah Sevian, Associate Professor of Chemistry at U-Mass Boston

  • Georg Maue, First Secretary of Climate and Energy of the Federal Republic of Germany

  • Xiao Xiao, Pianist and Technologist of the MIT Media Lab

  • David Wang, In-house Rocket Scientist at NuVu

Inspirational live performances from:

  • Xiao Xiao, Pianist and Technologist of the MIT Media Lab

  • Jimmy M. Hughes, Electronic Musician

  • Kemi Alabi, Spoken Word Artist

By Tess Clark, Development Manager

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