When Art and Science Collide

   Antony Turner and Jo Confino at SXSW Eco

Antony Turner and Jo Confino at SXSW Eco

The three day SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas is a very cool event. I was reminded of this attending and speaking for the second time this year. The ‘Eco’ conference is an offshoot of SXSW, a huge music festival held in Austin the ‘live music capital of the world.” This is a slogan well earned: it seems that every bar, hotel and even the airport has a singer or a band. At SXSW Eco the mix of environmentalists, artists, entrepreneurs and green finance people is truly exciting.

Participating in the event got me thinking again about how we engage people in the climate / energy challenge. I don’t mean the small percentage of committed greens or sceptics at either end of the spectrum. We are talking here about the man and woman on the street – the majority who we need to engage to support, rather than block, the transition to a low or zero-carbon future.

I met Jo Confino at SWSX Eco, both enjoying the creative atmosphere and considering how best to communicate about climate change. Take a look at his recent Guardian article – Climate change: just ‘don’t be a dick’ - where he asks: ‘Would telling people to “stop being dicks” be more effective in tackling climate change than trying to give them a better business case for action?’

The title and question comes from comments made by the street artist Frank Shepard Fairey at SXSW Eco who also said “if you don’t connect with people emotionally, they won’t pay attention.” Jo contrasts this sentiment with those of Greg Barker, the UK's minister of state for Energy and Climate Change. Barker stated that “…the best way to counter the sceptics, the doubters, the people in the media finding a way not to act, is with hard facts and robust analysis that has been peer reviewed.”

How about turning up with great visuals that in themselves tell the facts? That’s our aim.

Jo’s article points out that Fairey talked of “…the importance of using images, rather than just good arguments, of appropriating iconic symbols and subverting them, of using art to be evocative and provocative.” Although I loved Fairey’s performance at SXSW Eco (I too heard that very impressive talk), I believe it’s important to realise there are many ways to use imagery.

In the article Jo highlights the need for collaboration, to take this work on communicating to a more engaging and informative place. I whole heartedly agree. Within this is the ability to combine creative communication through visuals which not only presents “hard facts” and “robust analysis”, but also engages people in a creative and emotional process.

Jo ends his article with a final quote from Fairey “I do not want to wow you with the facts but deliver you to the doorstep of the people with facts.”

How about turning up with great visuals that in themselves tell the facts? That’s our aim.

Note: Antony Turner organised a panel session at SXSW Eco 2013 entitled ‘Making Carbon Visible in Cities’. Fellow panellists included Seth Schultz, C40, Conor Riffle, CDP Cities and Mica Vehik, Environmental Defense Fund