Photo: SXSW Eco

We are at war.

We are at war with our planet, with each other, with our future.

Bill Nye, the ending keynote at SXSW Eco in Austin, challenged the thousands of attendees to become the “Next Great Generation.” He boldly compared World War II — and the collective, all-hands-on-deck efforts from the Greatest Generation it took to win, both at home and abroad — with the war we all need to wage against the climate crisis.

It was sobering, but contrary to how it might sound, his speech was inspiring. It was a call to arms, for all of us to use our collective creativity to come up with new solutions that will spur jobs while being kind to our planet.

His blunt words reminded the crowd that the WWII generation “played the hand that was dealt to them…so let’s quit wringing our hands and do something.”

Like change the world.

The evidence is undeniable. The ubiquitous “hockey-stick” graph shows the recent radical rise in temperatures, supported by 17th-century bubbles of air trapped in Greenland’s ice. 2016 is on track to be the hottest year ever in a string of hottest years. Massive storms, massive rainfall, massive droughts, massive impacts on our everyday world.

True to his Science Guy ways, Nye’s explanations made simple sense. His words were lime koolaid for a roomful of environmentalists already drunk on saving the world and yet provided a new perspective for those of us well-versed in climate change rhetoric.

It was a welcome perspective: optimism.

Suggesting that climate change drop the “political” in front of “issue” and just become an issue, for all of us to work on, together.

Photo: SXSW Eco

Photo: SXSW Eco

It’s the message in his latest book, UNSTOPPABLE. The book challenges readers to think that “with a combination of optimism and scientific curiosity, all obstacles become opportunities, and the possibilities of our world become limitless.

With a scientist’s thirst for knowledge and an engineer’s vision of what can be, Bill Nye sees today’s environmental issues not as insurmountable, depressing problems but as chances for our society to rise to the challenge and create a cleaner, healthier, smarter world.

We need not accept that transportation consumes half our energy, and that two-thirds of the energy you put into your car is immediately thrown away out the tailpipe. We need not accept that dangerous emissions are the price we must pay for a vibrant economy and a comfortable life.

Above all, we need not accept that we will leave our children a planet that is dirty, overheated, and depleted of resources. As Bill shares his vision, he debunks some of the most persistent myths and misunderstandings about global warming. When you are done reading, you’ll be enlightened and empowered.”

His optimistic vision was a similar message to the central theme of Raleigh’s Hopscotch Designfest just a month earlier: the power of design thinking.

A methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, a design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution-focused and action-oriented to create a preferred future. According to Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work, “Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer).”

It might have been on a much smaller scale than solving the climate crisis, but IBM’s workshop at Hopscotch Designfest on design thinking showed the way to jump-start this whole-brain creative process. Attendees worked through a four-step role-playing exercise to brainstorm new solutions to a well-defined problem statement, such as someone with a disability finding and accessing a park.
1. Create an empathy map: what a persona (i.e. father with autistic son, graduate student with a broken leg, 60-year-old woman with limited sight) might do, think, and feel in a certain situation
2. As-is scenario: assess the current situation
3. Pain points: where in the process does your persona have trouble?
4. Big ideas: say “yes to the mess,” don’t judge ideas but let them flow and then evaluate.

This empathetic thought process was the natural followup to Terri Irwin’s ground-shifting talk on transition design the day before. The head of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University and just one of Hopscotch Designfest’s many outstanding speakers, Irwin explained that as entire societies to transition to sustainability, it will require systems-level change.

Transitions can be at the scale of horse vs. car, changing every aspect of modern-day life, but small, strategic interventions — such as a tech innovation or breakthrough — have the power to shift systems over time.

Like Nye, she encouraged the crowd to “be actively engaged and thinking about these things.” By shifting the scale of design onward and upward from “producing posters and toasters” to “actively trying to disown transition design by open sourcing it” means “you’re not the expert anymore” and that we should work together, instead of hiding alone behind a computer screen, to get where we all need to be.

So, how can we end the war?

Turn off the news. Focus on the good. Be nice.1

Find a way to collaborate with someone outside your field. When artists, architects, scientists and designers work together, magic can happen.

Have an actual conversation with someone 30 years older or younger who’s NOT family.

Or someone who doesn’t see the world in the same shade of red or blue as you do, and try to find some common ground.

And if all that fails? You can always just laugh.

Start here.


  1. According to Ask the Sherwins, another session at Hopscotch Designfest, an astounding 25% of Americans have posted some malicious content online…trolling, name-calling, bullying, racial slurs, misogyny, homophobia.
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