SXSW Eco and TribFest: Festivals for the Rest of Y'all
Sate your inner policy wonk at these two fall favorites
By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 14, 2012
Some people seek music for their festival pleasures. Some crave the communal solitude of the cinema. But when policy wonks want to get their fall freak on, there's something in Austin for them too. Two gatherings – SXSW Eco and the Texas Tribune Festival – give them a reason to mix Barton Springs with informal briefings.
After debuting last year at the Downtown Hilton, SXSW Eco enters its sophomore year with a move to the AT&T Executive Education & Convention Center, Oct. 3-5. The environmental outrigger of the SX empire is the only part of the brand scheduled away from spring break; instead, it's the last stop for researchers and advocates on the summer convention circuit. No, there aren't any bands or red carpet premieres, but then, people made the same complaints about SXSW Interactive when it started. SXSW Eco enters into its second year following the same model as Interactive and the brand's other junior sibling, SXSWedu: Put the smartest and most tech-savvy thinkers in a room, and see what solutions they can innovate.
The big speaker will be former U.S. senator-turned-novelist Byron Dorgan, who has made a career of connecting the dots between outsourcing, vulture capitalism, and economic and environmental collapse. If he wants some advice on the SX format, he can just ask last year's keynote speaker Philippe Cousteau Jr. – grandson of oceanic eco-pioneer Jacques Cousteau and a powerful advocate for the environment himself. The Ryan Gosling of the enviro set returns to talk about the University of Virginia's new watershed simulator, the Bay Game, and sign his new kids' book, Make a Splash!: A Kid's Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands. For hardcore environmental number-crunchers, Earth System Science Center Professor Michael Mann will be explaining the pivotal "hockey stick graph" – the millennium-long analysis of climate data that shows exactly how horrific the last century has been for the planet. Expect an easier entry into the complexities of global climate change from Annie Leonard, the director of the Story of Stuff Project whose stick-figure animations help break the fight for survival into bite-sized chunks.
If you're looking for something with a more local flavor, on Sept. 21 the Texas Tribune continues its quest to become the state's one-stop-shop for policy talk with the second annual Texas Tribune Festival. The three-day wonk-o-rama gathers the great, the good, and, depending on your point of view, the worst villains of Texas political life together for verbal sparring and debate.
While SXSW Eco takes a global approach to the singular issue of the environment, this Texas-centric affair takes a provincial approach to a broader curriculum. It breaks down policy into six key sectors: race and immigration, law and order, trade and transportation, public and higher education, energy and environment, and health and human services. The Tribune may have secured Gov. Rick Perry as the keynote speaker, but the main event will undoubtedly be Cruz vs. Castro: GOP U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz goes mano a mano with San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, debating the political impact of immigration policy. Each man is being talked up as the hot Hispanic hope for his party, and after high-profile speeches at their respective national conventions, this could be a taste of battles to come.
Austinites looking for familiar faces will see the hometown crowd heavily represented. Council Member Mike Martinez will debate the future of light rail, while Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Mark Strama will try to predict the shape of the 83rd Legislature, and Rep. Donna Howard joins the debate on family planning. For a more somber examination of some of Texas' problems, three men who lost decades of their lives to the state legal system – Michael Morton, Billy Smith, and Kerry Max Cook – will discuss their criminal convictions due to faulty science and their exonerations through DNA testing.
For details on these events and others, see our Fall Arts Calendar.
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