TEDX Event Highlights Sustainability



Social Justice and Diversity Consultant Jessica Pettitt speaks during the TEDx presentation at Evergreen. Photo courtesy of Shauna Bittle.

“Ideas worth spreading,” is the focus of the TEDx events taking place all over the globe. The acronym refers to Technology, Entertainment, and Development. Topics concerning these subjects are presented by public speakers, often in narrative format. On April 21, the event came to The Evergreen State College with six live presentations and two video recordings. The talk was titled “Living in the Anthropocene.” Anthropocene is a chronological term that refers to the period that human behavior has been significantly affecting the biosphere.

The first speaker was Evergreen faculty member Kevin Francis. The professor delved into the different rates of change within the planet’s ecosystem. He said “the response of plants and animals to climate change is not going to happen as fast as climate change can happen.” Francis went on to indicate the responses that a species can exhibit: toleration, local habitat shifts, and long range migrations to new environments. He explained that, should the species fail to adapt, extinction would result. He also implicated the large role humanity plays toward climate change in the “anthropocene” era.

Next up was Olowo-n’djo Tchala. Tchala was born in Togo, a country in West Africa, and he co-found the Alaffia company alongside his spouse Rose Hyde. Their company supports more than 500 women in efforts to foster gender equality and promote sustainable fair trade in developing countries. When asked how to support these practices, he said “Human beings need to be treated with kindness…we need to pay fair wages for the people and we need to take people’s culture into account.” In response to questions concerning multinational banking entities, he said “I certainly condemn the IMF and the World Bank…they help governments that have no credibility with their people…the interest is way too high so the country can’t pay for it.” Alaffia stocks products worldwide and locally, in shops such as the Olympia Food Co-op, Radiance Herbs and Massage, and Traditions Fair Trade.

The third speaker, Bret Weinstein, focused primarily upon the role the emerging generation plays in shaping new thought to answer our ancestors’ problems. Lecturing as an evolutionary biologist, he said “selection has caused tyranny to become the endgame of prosperity.” His lecture suggested that natural selection’s destructive capability must be channeled towards higher purpose. He finished by saying “If we are to become wise ancestors…we must cease being foolish descendants.”[pullquote_right]Selection has caused tyranny to become the endgame of prosperity. If we are to become wise ancestors…we must cease being foolish descendants.”

– Bret Weinstien[/pullquote_right]

The next segment of the event was a video demonstration of a previous speaker at a TEDx event, the designer Thomas Thwaites, who attempted to build a toaster “from scratch.” This endeavor included traveling to mines to produce ore, as well as deriving plastic from oil before constructing the product on his own. Although the toaster was not the prettiest or most effective, it proved a point: modern technology relies upon a vast network of specialists and technologies.

Kevin Wilhelm, the author of two books and CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting, was the next live speaker. His presentation was centered on the concept of sustainability as not only a moral practice, but an effective business strategy. He compounded this point by saying “If you’re not making money with sustainability, you’re not doing it right.”

The fifth lecture was from Evergreen professor Larry Gerri, who brought up the issue of energy and the obstacles society faces toward securing sustainable sources, such as cultural issues and corporate interests. He stressed that the true answer to these problems is within the individual’s hands. “Reframing your energy life…if more people did that…we could have a much more sustainable energy system,” he said.

Prerecorded speaker Mike Biddle was next on the list. He was responsible for patenting a system that recycles plastic and requires less than a 10th of the energy needed to create new plastic product. In regards to the inspiration for his project, he said “we took our clues from mother nature. Mother nature wastes very little, reuses practically everything.”

Ju Pong Lin was the fifth live speaker, and discussed the effects of modern technology production upon developing countries. One example provided was vanadium mining in South Africa, where she said “It makes people urinate blood…it has caused the deaths of hundreds of South Africans and destroyed many ecosystems.”

The last speaker was Jessica Pettitt, who brought up the idea of efficient activism. She argued that the best way to have a greater impact was to focus on appealing to and inspiring those who are already empathetic to a cause. Speaking about the risk of alienating the seemingly resistant and apathetic with overly aggressive or judgemental strategies, she said “the biggest stumbling block for us doing our work is what I call, us versus them.”

The gathering was a mix of both information dissemination and strategic inspiration for affecting change. Evergreen has hosted TEDx for three consecutive years. These events are available for anyone interested in bringing them to their community to organize and fundraise, and are becoming a widely popular worldwide phenomena that fuses education, activism, and entertainment all in one modern package.