SXSW Eco: Searching for a New Environmentalism

At SXSW Eco in Austin, Bill McKibben and other top environmentalists debate the direction of the green movement. Will old ways work, or is change needed to come to grips with the scale of climate change?

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I was fortunate enough to head down to Austin, Texas last week to attend the second annual SXSW Eco conference. It’s an offshoot of Austin’s fast metastasizing SXSW interactive, film and music conferences, and it proved a pleasant chance to hear from some of the smartest thinkers in energy and the environment. (Also, BBQ and hipster honkey-tonk.)

Some of those thinkers gathered on a panel I moderated on the morning of Oct. 5, when founder Bill McKibben, National Wildlife Federation president Larry Schweiger and Breakthrough Institute chairman Ted Nordhaus debated—passionately—the past and the future of the environmental movement. I’ll be writing more about the panel and the conference in my Going Green column tomorrow, but I wanted a quick YouTube clip of the beginning of the panel. In the video McKibben—a environment writer turned full-time activist who has emerged as the new voice of the climate movement—lays out his thoughts on the fight against global warming, and the desperate need for immediate action.


There is more desperate need for immediate thinking.  Immediate action could be dangerous.

Bill McKibben is no doubt convinced of his righteousness in urging austerity in various ways, especially in regard to coal.  While there is need to think seriously about CO2 in the atmosphere, the disruption of energy supplies is ill advised.  It could lead to a depression so severe that the suffering shown in Ken Burns' history of the Dust Bowl look insignificant. 

Constructive solutions exist, where the emphasis is on increasing productivity while improving efficiency.  Such pathways are blocked by environmentalists who have become over-zealous in their campaigns.