From March 10–19, I attended the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festival in Austin, TX. SXSW is an annual event that connects people from around the world to share ideas and discover new trends in various fields and industries. The conference and festival feature a variety of events, including keynote speeches, panel discussions, and networking events. My particular focus while there was events and meetings on the Climate Change Track.
Below, I highlight some of the sessions and events I attended:
At this meet-up, I met folks from around the world, including Brazil, Australia, and Ireland, working on climate change and clean energy. I was particularly impressed with Gen Z activists I met that are working to bring a youth perspective to this existential climate crisis, creating innovative communications strategies, and working on the front lines to help clean up their communities. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and diligence.
This session featured Last Energy CEO Bret Kugelmass in conversation with HuffPost reporter Alexander Kaufman. They discussed the state of play for nuclear energy and the work of this commercial small modular reactor (SMR) company. Kugelmass depicted nuclear energy as the great overlooked "cure" for climate change — wrongly undervalued and feared for decades. He went on to say contemporary enthusiasm for traditional nuclear in the U.S. is often hampered by "constructability" issues that governments and companies abroad have been able to resolve such that they can build multiple plants efficiently and cost-effectively, with the same components and workforces. Last Energy has emulated this model, but with SMRs. The company aims to manufacture autonomous standardized SMRs that can power small municipalities. I found Kugelmass' overly optimistic on the ultimate widespread deployment of the SMRs in the U.S. and openly frustrated with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s pace of licensing operations.
The speakers at this event — scientists and moms — were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about how best to convey the seriousness of climate change to diverse audiences. I was particularly interested in their discussion of how everyday people can use climate data to hold governments and businesses accountable for their actions. Folks must understand the cause-and-effect of actions and policies before moving to the next steps of holding people in power responsible for protecting their communities. And before any of that can happen, institutions have to invest in collecting and analyzing good climate data from myriad sources.
This session, led by Black visual artists, was especially impactful because it centered visual storytelling's positive and transformative aspects across media, such as through the selection of stock photos. The session featured an example of stock photography that was sourced from Kenya and depicts scenes from the life of a Kenyan mother. I was particularly interested in the discussion of how communicators can use visual storytelling to encourage empathy among diverse audiences. Presenters made a strong case that this work is essential for creating a more just and equitable world: Visual storytelling can help us to connect with others on a deeper level and understand their experiences.
I left the conference admiring the young activists I met who are innovating daily on how best to reach, communicate with, and organize their peers. Gen Z and others, when they understand the reality of climate change, have motivation and determination on these issues like no other, because they were born after the widespread acceptance of the science. It is clear how important meaningful youth engagement and involvement are to our success in bringing about a "just transition" to carbon-free energy sources.