Today marked the final day of SXSW ECO, the inaugural event for fostering sustainability among corporations, consumers and communities that was held in Austin, Texas. This event was headlined with an important keynote speaker who told a story about how a journey of exploration led to the pursuit of conservation.
A young man in France sought to become an aviator in the early 1900s. The outdoorsman always had an affinity for the sea. After graduating from Ecole Navale as a gunnery officer, he realized that his real goal was to become a naval aviator to fly over the seas and oceans that he loved so much while he would be serving his country. During the summer before he was to begin his training, the soldier was traveling along a long winding mountain road on his way to visit his girlfriend who was later to become his wife. Yet driving the treacherous country-side road led him to a serious car accident that broke his back and ended his pursuit of aviation. His doctor prescribed the most important therapy for his arduous road to recovery: to swim daily in the Mediterranean Sea. The long days of swimming for several weeks and months allowed the young man to explore the depths of the Mediterranean through his translucent goggles. After enjoying the spectacular views of fishes, underwater plants and the colorful hues of the sea, Jacques Cousteau decided to dedicate his life to the exploration of a world which humanity knew very little of at that time: the beauty of Planet Earth’s oceans and seas.
At least two generations have benefited from the knowledge that Captain Cousteau shared in the TV series known as The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau (1966-1976). Perhaps the greatest contribution that Cousteau made was when he changed his mission from exploration to conservation after seeing how man-made pollution and waste was having adverse effects within the Red Sea ecosystem. Cousteau rapidly became the world’s premier advocate for water conservation and global ecology. He has been credited for the invention of the aqua lung and Calypso, an underwater vessel that enabled Captain Cousteau to traverse the ocean planet for nearly 50 years while unveiling the mysteries, beauty and fragility of the seas.
As Philippe Cousteau (Jr.) continued his SXSW ECO keynote that was inspired by his grandfather (Jacques Cousteau), his father Philippe (who died when Philippe Jr. was only a few months old) and his mom, he continued to remind the audience of the lesson that his grandfather taught: “We are all interconnected.” He concluded with a story he repeats to many children as he visits schools throughout the country to engage them with the initiatives of Earth Eco, a non-profit group dedicated to raising public awareness of the need for a renewed march toward global environmental sustainability.
Philippe always asks students in his audience, “How many of you can make a difference?” Without hesitation, all students raise their hands. With a long pause, Cousteau replies, “Well, it’s not true. You can’t.” Immediately after his reply, the teachers in the audience have a puzzled look and wonder why they invited him to speak. Yet after the deafening silence, Philippe smiles and says, “Everything you do makes a difference.” And he reassures all that kids’ power to change the world can happen now, not when they get older, for they have an enormous influence over what we adults do.
Philippe also seeks to stretch our efforts as he concluded in his summary, “Every single person on this Earth has the right to walk on clean, green grass; to breathe clean air and to drink clean water. Together we can build the world we deserve to live in – through innovation, questioning, critical thinking and being engaged to change. So begin by doing four things:
- Work on energy efficiency at work, at home and on the go;
- Stop wasting water (over 1 billion people lack clean water to drink on a daily basis);
- Make better choices in your diet; Americans (on average) consumer 260 lbs. of meat per year. I’m not saying to avoid eating meat; I’m saying to balance your food choices with fruit, vegetables, etc.
- Choose wisely who you vote for on a local, state and national level, for policies and regulations can make a positive difference.”
Although the SXSW ECO keynote did not end with John Denver’s Calypso song, listening to the song with a Cousteau video montage is a fitting tribute to what Captain Cousteau sought and grandson Philippe Cousteau is seeking to accomplish. Click here for the link to Calypso You Tube video and the tribute to Captain Cousteau.
What other ways will you seek to make an Eco impact? Your comments are welcome.
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© 2011 by Ed Valdez
Trademarks and Logos are properties of their respective companies.
Calypso lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., BMG RUBY SONGS
About SXSW Eco
SXSW Eco is a three-day conference acknowledging the need for a concerted, cross sector approach to solving recognized sustainability/environmental challenges. The inaugural edition of SXSW Eco will be held October 4-6, 2011 at the Hilton Hotel in Austin, Texas. With a wide range of 50+ sessions and 130 Eco Speakers and Eco Leaders gathered, SXSW Eco has sought to engage the attendees about how to find solutions that will limit and mitigate the environmental impact that our businesses and actions have on society.
Just as the SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences & Festivals are an acknowledged annual launching pad for new creative content, SXSW Eco provides a singular atmosphere for fresh approaches to the most pressing challenges of our time.