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Why “Environments”?

These are difficult times for educational and cultural institutions increasingly impaired by an epidemic of public disinvestment. Moreover, the last few years have seen the global rise of media markets that traffic in fanciful simplifications, fake news, bigotry and denialism, while dismissing evidence-based knowledge and basic human empathy. But this is also why we see a renewed urgency for the Arts and Humanities to reclaim a position of centrality in public discourse; to weigh in on the big issues of our time, from climate change denial to the rise of fundamentalism and authoritarianism around the world. The Public Humanities provide crucial spaces to help us reimagine, transform, and regenerate our world.

This year’s 3-day Festival will feature talks, music, performances, community debates, and other activities on the theme of “Environments,” focusing on issues of environmental justice and economic sustainability, local and regional activism and planning, and the global climate change crisis.

We hope you will join us for what is guaranteed to be a dynamic conversation between authors, scholars, activists, artists, and the Western New York community – pushing forward our visions for the future through this festival of ideas.

Stay tuned for the announcement of all of this year’s participants!

 

 

image: Global Action Day in Copenhagen. December 2009. america.govhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/americagov/4179185792. Transferred from da.wikipedia to Commons by Thomas81 using CommonsHelper. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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2017 Spotlight Speaker: Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist who in 2014 was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ His 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages; he’s gone on to write a dozen more books. He is a founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty  thousand rallies around the world in every country save North Korea, spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement.

OilAndHoney-LowResThe Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize, and holds honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities. Foreign Policy named him to their inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers, and the Boston Globe said he was “probably America’s most important environmentalist.”

A former staff writer for the New Yorker, he writes frequently for a wide variety of publications around the world, including the New York Review of Books,National Geographic, and Rolling Stone. He lives in the mountains above Lake Champlain with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, where he spends as much time as possible outdoors . In 2014, biologists honored him by naming a new species of woodland gnat— Megophthalmidia mckibbeni–in his honor.

American Startups Work to Bring Solar Powered Electricity to Parts of Africa

A June 26, 2017 article by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker titled, The Race to Solar-Power Africa explains the reasons why implementing an electric grid on the continent presents a unique challenge. McKibben writes,

“There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady.”

The demand for reliable and accessible electricity has prompted some entrepreneurs in the West to launch solar companies in Africa. It has some advantages over the traditional electric grid infrastructure but comes with its own set of problems relating to the newness of technology being used, engineering challenges, and uncertainty around financial feasibility, both for the consumers and for the companies.

“The Uninhabitable Earth” Provides a Heavy Dose of Reality

David Wallace-Wells of New York Magazine wrote an article earlier this month titled, The Uninhabitable Earth, that brings vague anxieties about climate change into clear focus. The link to the annotated version of this article is highly recommended as it reveals a clear path from the scientific evidence to Wallace-Wells’ assertions of the enormity of forthcoming global challenges as the Earth’s temperature rises.

 

An Economic Perspective on Energy Efficiency

The term “energy efficient” is common enough, used to describe everything from dishwashers to windows. A Freakonomics Radio podcast episode titled How Efficient Is Energy Efficiency? explores the complicated relationship between energy efficiency standards and their real world outcomes. Arik Levinson, an environmental economist and professor at Georgetown University, discusses the 1974 California Energy Commission whose regulations were the first of their kind in the nation. Levinson’s paper on energy consumption as affected by these regulations asserts,

“There is no evidence that homes constructed since California instituted its building energy codes use less electricity today than homes built before the codes came into effect.”

This conclusion, based on Levinson’s research leads the host, Stephen Dubner, to question the validity of his statement and to explore the reasons why energy efficiency regulations are still such a major part of the United States’ climate policy.