I was fortunate to receive a badge to the South by Southwest Eco Conference this weekend. Since moving to Austin I have been a big fan of SXSW Conferences, namely the music “conference” when free parties, complete with mediocre food, drink, and music, take over most of Central Austin. It is baldfaced indulgent consumerist hedonism and, since I am human, I enjoy it. It is kind of like New Orleans at Mardi Gras when the whole town shows up to eat and drink the worst products that the culinary capitol of the South has to offer (seriously, king cake?) and fight over stands of molded plastic crafted by undoubtedly exploited people in a developing country. Mardi Gras has a built in reckoning though – Lent, a period of time for the whole city to face their shame in the vomit soaked bead strewn streets and try to be better people until Jazz Fest starts. At least I think that is the idea.
After SXSW Austin needs a moment of collective shame to reflect on what just happened. Instead, almost eight months later we get SXSW Eco where, as I found out, attendees learn that the climate is changing, oceans are dying, and the best thing any person can do is reconsider their landscape design and buy wedding rings from a company that promises to invest in clean water.
I want to be clear that I am not being critical of the ideas or companies that were present at the conference but I do think the conference itself was deeply flawed in two ways. First, I think the themes of the conference are not shame inducing enough. The tracts with by far the most sessions were Business and Finance and Behavior and Design with titles such as “How Consumerism Can Actually Save the Environment” and a whole lot of “Startup (Mad Lib a noun or verb)”. I realize it is kind of the premise of the conference but this is not a town that needs more self-congratulatory attention for being a hub of profit-driven innovation. We need shame to maintain balance and remain grounded in reality otherwise there is no nagging voice in our head to remind us that there are always tradeoffs. Where are the sessions on mining rare earth minerals and the increasing amount of energy it takes to run the planet’s server farms?
Second, I do have a problem with the “solutions” that were presented. Almost without exception the conference was thinking around the edges of the issue: What should I buy? What app should I use to buy it? What energy solutions should I implement to illuminate it? When it turns out to be made of a hereto unknown carcinogen should I recycle it? Most importantly, what green tourism experience should I enjoy to celebrate successfully maneuvering its product life cycle? When the problem is the wide-scale destruction of the entire plant, the extinction of the majority of species on it, and the probable collapse of human civilization as we know it, shouldn’t we discuss more potent solutions than xeriscaping and jewelry? Granted I did not go to all of the sessions because I am not magical but not once did I hear or see anything about the single most impactful thing that almost every person can do every day to drastically reduce water consumption, preserve wildlife habitat, and reduce our carbon foot print: don’t eat animals.
Last night, since I already purchased tickets to see Cowspiracy, I decided to risk one more nail in my Eco-emotional coffin and we went to see the documentary. I didn’t love everything about it but the facts behind the film are worth checking out. Here is a little synopsis of the highlights:
- Livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. That is the majority.
- Growing feed for livestock accounts for 56% of water consumption in the United States. No amount of xeriscaping is going to make up for a hamburger habit.
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Unless your appreciation for life on Earth is limited to soy, cows, and chronically ill people, then stop eating meat.
Take that disruptive technology.
Finally, since this is a food blog here is a photo of what I had for lunch and the recipe:
Steamed Green Beans
This is a healthy Thanksgiving side or a quick tasty lunch that will have you hungry again in time for dinner.
- 1 pound fresh green beans, washed
- 1 clove of garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place a steam basket in a soup or stock pot with an inch of water. Add first three ingredients.
- Cover and steam beans over medium high heat until tender, about ten minutes.
- Remove from heat and season to taste.
Serving recommendation: Steam baskets make a convenient and rustically pleasing plate if you are eating alone.