by Tom Payton on
Oct 14, 2014 (8:10 am)
Like any relatively media savvy, basically progressive person who finds himself living in Texas, I have longed to attend a SXSW-something. I finally did, and I'm glad I choose SXSW Eco.
Now completing its third year, this international eco-hip conference seeks to facilitate discussion about a broad range of fairly predictable interdisciplinary topics about all things green. The real focus is on not just debating and sharing, but turning ideas into action. Complete with a strong workshop-hackathon-venture capital focus, new ideas emerge to be applied to new world problems in practical and tangible ways. It even seems downright revolutionary at moments.
This sensibility rings true to me. The reason I diverted my career path some twenty-six years ago from the practice of architecture and urban planning into books and publishing was, I later had the perspective to realize, for the same goals I'd studied architecture to begin with. Architecture like publishing, for many practitioners, is about creating the new and changing the old within society, rather than simply provide shelter. It is about looking forward -- albeit sometimes that requires a good look back -- to imagine solutions to new and old problems; finding new ways for people to live. Age and experience has allowed me to see this clearly, and to connect my two avocations in a way that makes complete sense to me now. More than to simply entertain or inform, books -- for most of the inspiring people I've had the privilege of working with over the years -- are meant to spark debate, facilitate understanding , and lead to ideas and solutions in society in need.
I was in Austin for SXSW Eco with somewhat of an old world goal: to discover new writers and acquire books for publication. However, on day one I found myself feeling a bit under-armed: not up on all the latest eco-lingo, connected with plenty of wireless devices yet in awe of the "techcreativity" surrounding me, and simply not finding many people who wanted to talk about the book business. Or, so I thought. That worry wanes quickly and, as the sessions unfolded, I found that almost every speaker had written one or more books. How "old school" of them!
Of the many sessions I attended, a few stood-out most. Meeting Dr. Robert Bullard, widely known as the father of the environmental justice movement, was a highlight. Favorite panels included: organic farming in an age soil quality crisis; exploring the fashion industry as the largest consumer of resources after the petroleum industry; discovering ways to re-tool cities in an age of climate change; and, developing new models to demonstrate the economic viability if not vitality of environmental stewardship. All opened my eyes and sparked my own ideas. Along the way, other topics as well: updates on oceans, questioning eating versus feeding, imagining the future of the travel industries, optimizing technology to study endangered animal species behaviors, how to market the urgency of the eco message to a largely unaware or misunderstanding public, and innovative redesigns of public spaces. My favorite, however, was "Slow is Fast," about intentional tourism in our own community, and slowing down to learn what is around us; by a couple of guys who spent months traveling the California coast by bike to discover on a micro level what makes their state great.
So, amid all of this talk of intentional disruption, social revolution, and energized eco-optimism, I was curious to discover that the backbone to much of this was the good old-fashioned book. It seems having written a good book remains a true litmus test, intentional or unintentional, for passage to authority status. I wanted to buy, and read, most of them (as ebooks, of course) while also falling in love with myriad new apps to allow my phone to help me restructure my eco-lifestyle.
Alas, in the end, SXSW Eco was an engaging few days and I can see why it has developed such a strong international reputation in such short time. And, I became really good as conversations with prospective authors that began with "So, what are you working on ... next?"
by Rachel Cooley on
Oct 9, 2014 (8:59 am)
Journalist and activist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! spoke at Trinity University Oct. 7 as part of the Maverick Lecture Series. Goodman has received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes termed the "Alternative Nobel Prize" for “developing an innovative model of truly independent grassroots political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.” She spoke about the power of stories—how if we heard the perspective of a mother in Iraq, an uncle in Palestine, or a son in Israel, the space between us would grow smaller. The conversations about the issues would change, just as they have been changed by social movements addressing the economy, or equal rights, or the environment.
As a sociology and English double major, I couldn’t help thinking about the stories we tell and hear—as a culture, as an individual, as a writer—that influence our perspectives in significant ways. A single story can change how we think and feel about an issue, and how we talk about it or express our opinions to others. These stories can be found on independent media sites like Amy Goodman’s, in conversations, in travel, and most powerfully in literature. As Azar Nafisi said during her lecture at Trinity in March, where, if not in literature, do we learn to empathize with both the hero and the villain?
In 2006 Rebecca Solnit (author of The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness) offered advice to graduates of the University of California, Berkeley: “The universe is made out of stories—go change them, tell them, bury them, give birth to them. A difficult task, but not an impossible one. Not if you remember, as readers and scholars might, that we are living in an impossible world already.” Though it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by societal issues and discouraged by endless debates that rarely reach conclusions or create change, I see telling stories as a source of hope, a place to start change from the bottom up.
Democracy Now! video of Amy Goodman covering the San Antonio Esperanza Peace and Justice Center's campiagns against fracking and militarization.
by Rachel Cooley on
Oct 7, 2014 (1:32 pm)
We’re always looking for authors who describe new ways to think about the craft of writing. As an experienced teacher, editor, and writer, Carter Wiseman, author of Writing Architecture, is just the person for the job. We asked him to share some matter-of-fact tips from his book, for architects and students of architecture—and for writers in any field or genre.
What challenges and fears do individuals face when beginning to write, and how can they overcome them?
Most people—including architects and architecture students—have a completely appropriate fear of writing. Our brains do not work in full sentences and paragraphs, so trying to clarify our random thoughts in a way that others can understand is not “natural.” However, simply spewing out whatever is on our minds is not likely to make much sense to others; we can’t expect them to read our minds. Organizing the mental chaos and expressing it clearly takes work, and most of us would prefer to avoid it.
How can architects develop their own writing style and tone?
People who write about architecture often worry about style and tone. They also worry about a related issue: audience. Insecure writers tend to think that using big words and convoluted sentences conveys an impression of profundity. It doesn’t. What it does convey is that the writer has not thought the subject through sufficiently to make a direct statement. That is why so many in the profession rely on “archispeak,” using words likemateriality, discourse, and intervention when they could say materials, debate, or action. The best writers always use simple English. Their style and tone emerge naturally from their choice of words. Hemingway didn’t set out to write the way he did. He wrote that way because of who he was. Writers should not try to be what they are not.
What must architects consider about the built world to write persuasively and clearly about it?
To write persuasively and clearly about the built world, architects need to identify at the outset what it is they want to say. Writing rarely leads to thinking; thinking often leads directly to writing. Is the goal of a project to keep the rain out, or to inspire? Both are valid, but the reader (client, patron, critic, voter) should have no doubt about which is which.
Why is clear writing important for architects specifically?
Clear writing is important to every profession, but especially to architecture. The reason is that the stakes are so high. Architects make things that last a long time, and if those things are designed in response to a murky program or unclear specifications, the impact will be felt for years. An architect friend of mine once said he thought the greatest challenge of bad writing in the profession was not the difficulty of being understood, but the danger of being misunderstood.
Why did you write the book and what do you hope readers will gain from it?
I wrote Writing Architecture to give students and practitioners—as well as users—of architecture some ways to appreciate the value of the art, and therefore to advance it. Most clients are not trained to read architectural documents, so a floor plan is likely to seem mysterious. If an architect can write a proposal that convinces the client to go beyond mere building to create something uplifting, civilization takes a step forward.
by Rachel Cooley on
Oct 1, 2014 (12:41 pm)
October 4 marks World Animal Day, set aside to consider how animals enrich our lives and how we can be in a respectful relationship with them. The day was created in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence, Italy, who wanted to draw attention to endangered species.
I’ll be thinking of the earth’s animals and the role of pets that have enriched my life and become members of my family. The connection between human and pet can mirror the connections between humans and the natural world.
As early as the second century, many Roman philosophers, Claudius Aelianus among them, were obsessed with documenting animal characteristics. The conclusions Aelian comes to in On the Nature of Animals are sometimes humorous, sometimes fanciful and disproven by modern science, and sometimes insightful. His book constitutes an early encyclopedia of animal behavior, affording unparalleled insight into what ancient Romans knew about and thought about animals—and about animal minds.
Below are some of the descriptions I found especially amusing and interesting. Many species Aelian catalogs are now endangered, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.
“Though they are without reason, animals do not bother one another and are frequently clement. I once heard this story: A hunter had a LEOPARD that he had found as a cub and raised since then, caring for it as he would a friend. He loved the leopard dearly. One day he brought it a kid to eat. The leopard had already eaten and was not hungry, so it left the kid alone. On the second day, though it needed to eat, it left the kid alone again. On the third day, even though it was plainly hungry—even its voice sounded hungry—the leopard did not harm the kid, for they had been together three days, and the kid was now its friend. The leopard ate another kid, though, that was brought to it. Yet men betray their brothers, their parents, their lifelong friends. We know of many examples.”
The Amur leopard is critically endangered.
“Indians and Libyans tell different stories about animals, based on what they have seen. In India, if an adult ELEPHANT is captured, it is usually very hard to tame and so bent on regaining its freedom that it becomes quite bloodthirsty, and if you try to tie it down it will only make the elephant angrier. The Indians try to placate such an elephant with nice food and treats, but the elephant will have none of it. So the Indians do this: they take an instrument called a skindapsus and play music, and the elephant listens, and in time its anger subsides and softens, and it takes notice of the food and eats. When this happens the elephant’s bonds are loosened, and it eats and eats and has no thought of running away, because elephants love music.”
The Sumatran elephant, Asian elephant, Borneo Pygmy elephant, Indian elephant, Sri Lankan elephant, and African elephant are all endangered or vulnerable species.
“The DOLPHIN is said to love its own kind, and here is proof. A dolphin was captured at Aenus, in Thrace, and wounded in the process. Smelling its blood, other dolphins came racing into the harbor and jumped around, subtly threatening the fishermen. The people of Aenus, frightened, freed the captive, and the other dolphins escorted it out of the harbor. People, on the other hand, will barely lift a finger to help a relative, man or woman, in need.”
The Ganges river dolphin, Hector’s dolphin, and Indus river dolphin are all endangered species.
Many of us can recognize the human-like emotion and intelligence in animals that Aelian notes. What animals have touched your life or reflect the qualities we ascribe to the human world?
by Kathleen Dean Moore on
Sep 26, 2014 (11:00 am)
Reposted from The Orion Magazine Blog with permission from author Kathleen Dean Moore. Please visit the website for Moore's book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril.
The main event of the People’s Climate March took place on Sunday in New York City, but demonstrations were held around the world. Orion contributor Kathleen Dean Moore sent us this note from a gathering in Eugene, Oregon. Photograph courtesy of Mark Watchman.
This is a bad day for pipelines and export terminals and tankers and coal trains.
This is a bad day for the Koch brothers, and Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil, and anyone else who would trade the life-supporting systems of the Earth for obscene profits.
This is a bad day for universities, holding on to their last investments in fossil fuels, insisting on their right to profit from death and extinction—even as their own scientists warn them, warn them that fossil fuels will carry us, smoking and stinking, to the end of life as we know it on this planet.
This is the last day for despair. It is the last day to say it’s too late, that there is nothing anyone can do. It is a day to awaken to the fact that we are not helpless at all, that we have the knowledge and the courage and the joyous communities it will take to make the great turning away from death and toward a reinvented life.
This is the last day for lies and excuses and delay. It is the last term in office for elected officials who will not or cannot protect the future. It is the last day that anyone can be silent about climate change.
And so, this is a great day for the hoofed and winged things. It’s a great day for small children of all species, a great day for ice and oceans, a great day for reliable rain.
This is a great day for justice, and the right of all beings to clean air and clean energy.
This is a great day for sanity and imagination. Imagine a world without wars for oil. Imagine a world without the din and dirt of internal combustion engines. Imagine democracy without the corrupting wealth of coal barons. Imagine a world powered as plants are powered—by the sun.
Today is the day when everything changes. In every struggle for justice, there is a turning point, a tipping point, when what was unimaginable becomes inevitable. It is the day when the people pour into the street to reclaim their futures and the future of all the glorious lives on Earth.
Life is not a commodity, to be bought and sold, wrecked and ransacked, for the profit of a few sullen and frightened men. The profusion of life is a sacred trust, a great and glorious gift, to be honored and protected, and passed along, intact and singing, to the next generations of all living things.
Kathleen Dean Moore’s newest book is Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, which makes the moral case for halting climate change and honoring our obligations to future generations. Her most recent piece for Orion, “The Rules of the River,” appears in the September/October 2014 issue.