Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure to Address Climate Change

Day one at SXSW Eco was all about infrastructure.

The conference’s first speaker and opening keynote from Dr. Robert Bullard made this point expressly clear in his address on wealth inequality and climate change.

Dr. Bullard, also known as the “Father of Environmental Justice,” argued that the poorest people in the U.S. have the most degraded environments. He uses the southern U.S. as his case study for this point.

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Since 1980, the South has had more billion-dollar climate-related disasters than any region of the country combined. Now, this region is undoubtedly geographically vulnerable, but its inability to adequately create a sustainable infrastructure that will protect itself from natural disasters has made it exceptionally vulnerable.

The South’s poverty coupled with the amount of man-made and natural disasters has created the perfect storm illustrating that even today in the U.S., where you live affects your chances of living a healthy life. 

We next heard Carbon War Room’s Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah speak on “Creating Climate Wealth.” Both panelists made an effort to implore the audience to think infrastructure rather than the newest coolest when thinking of climate-centered businesses.

“We all want to believe that tech can save the world. But technology doesn't save the world," said Shah. “Infrastructure matters, we need to be in the infrastructure business because Airbnb or Uber are not systematically reducing emissions.”

Davlin and Shah pointed to our rising energy costs as one example of industry with poor infrastructure. Shah noted that the average American family pays $4,000 more for energy than they did in 1999 while incomes have failed to increase significantly.

Even in the final two sessions, “Farming to Feed 9 Billion” and “Collateral Positives,” infrastructure or systems was the focus. Without a sustainable farming, food insecurity will increase. In “Collateral Positives,” the final keynote of the day, Boeing presented what an efficient biofuel system could deliver.

In imagining the experience at SXSW Eco, infrastructure was not something that came to mind. Clean tech, new apps solving big problems, or even new social devices were things expected to be focused on. But day one’s sessions truly showcased that in solving a problem, we must first and continue to address the infrastructure surrounding it, because without it, the solution won’t be sustainable for the future.