As the cold finally settled down the city, TEDxRanier lit up Seattle with the warmth of hope, dreams, and positive possibilities for the future.
Musicians, CEOs, congressmen, photographers and more gathered to explore the theme for this year’s conference, “The Known and the Unknown,” on November 22nd at Seattle Center’s McCaw Hall. All the speakers succeeded in stretching the minds of the audience — both as individuals and members of a community — to spark curiosity and deeper engagement on major social issues.
Below are highlights from each session, with speakers on topics as diverse as climate change, technology education, and homelessness.
Session One: On Penguins, Climate Change and Computer Science
Dee Boersma, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington, and dubbed the “Jane Goodall of Penguins” by the New York Times, opened the conference with a demand of creating a governing body to measure the impact of climate change.
As director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Penguin Project, she has dedicated almost three decades to tracking them in the South Atlantic. Boersma explained how using “nametags” — numbered metal bands — she and her team have followed hundreds of individual penguins to learn where they go, what they eat and how they survive to the next breeding season.
Boersma considers penguins ocean sentinels, helping us understand the effects of pollution, overfishing and climate change on the marine environment. She delved into the concept of “externality,” or the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. Particularly with respect to penguins, she explained how they were paying the fatal price for oil dumped into seawater.
Another early highlight included Hadi Partovi, an entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to expanding educational opportunities in computer science. Partovi made a compelling argument to make computer science opportunities accessible to all students. “We need to start in elementary school, where the playing field is still relatively level,” he said.
According to Partovi, computer science is all about creativity, logic, and problem solving, and should become a foundational course in public schools, as opposed to vocational. He shed light on how computers are revolutionizing industries and replacing jobs, while public schools lag behind in educational opportunities. He posited that this could have drastic effects on employment opportunities for students in the future. There is some hope, however, in the form of Code.org and the “Hour of Code” program, which have reached 50,000 students in an attempt to provide more opportunities to learn Computer Science basics.
Session Two: A New Perspective on Sustainability
Activist, Silicon Valley CEO, founder of the nation’s first MBA program in sustainable business, and grandson of the country’s first National Forest Service Chief, Grifford Pinchot III, gave the standout talk of session two.
Pinchot urged the audience to first “lighten up and forgive everyone to be blamed” for climate change, and to look for creative ways to address the challenge. Pinchot introduced the audience to a formula he coined, the “Happo-Dammo Ratio,” or, the ratio of happiness produced by an activity divided by the damage done by that activity. It explains how we, human species are singularly focusing on personal happiness over larger good.
According to Pinchot, focusing on communal good is possible with sustainable, profit-driven business environments, which are far more inexpensive than we’d expect them to be. He shared examples of successful efforts such Soup Cycle, a for-profit meal-delivery business based in Portland, and Wangari Mathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement environmental organization in Kenya that, both of which have been highly sustainable and successful.
Session 3: Boldly Facing Homelessness
Who knew, in America, one in forty-five children experience homelessness or that over thirty one hundred in Seattle are living unsheltered – up by 14 percent from 2013? Rex Hohlbein illuminated that fact for the audience in his moving session on facing homelessness.
Hohlbein is a Seattle-ite, a practicing architect by profession and a photojournalist and community activist by accident. He found himself connected to people who hit on hard times, and yet made it possible to actualize both his paradoxical callings – designing affluent homes on one hand and providing basic necessities to homeless in Seattle on the other.
Moved by a seemingly mundane encounter of having tea with a homeless man in his office, in 2011 he began the Facebook Community page “Homeless in Seattle” as a photo-journalism project to build community awareness for those living without shelter and other basic needs.
Through the sharing of photos and personal stories, he highlights the unique beauty of each person, asking the viewer to break through the negative stereotype against those living on our streets and open their hearts to create a new connection of friendship. By focusing on the beauty of each person through imagery, storytelling, and community building, he aims to humanize the issue of homelessness as a means to end it.
The ‘Homeless In Seattle’ site currently has over 12,000 followers, representing forty-five countries, and is a project under the nonprofit Facing Homelessness, for which Rex is the founder and current Executive Director. His touching display of compassion received a standing ovation and moved some in the audience to tears.