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Environmental crisis dire, but not hopeless, say Brian Eno and Beatie Wolfe at SXSW

Omar L. Gallaga
Special to the American-Statesman

If Brian Eno, the legendary musician and music producer, is right, billions of people are already working to help fix the environmental crisis humans have gotten themselves into.

“This is the biggest movement in human history,” Eno said in a featured session at South by Southwest on Tuesday morning. “Billions of us are working on this. We are where the power is.”

Eno, beaming in virtually from his home in London — he says he gave up flying about three and a half years ago — appeared in conversation with musician Beatie Wolfe, who has also made a name for herself as an musician attuned to climate change.

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As a teenager, her life was transformed when she saw Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” She wrote a song called “From Green to Red” that eventually became a data visualization video using 800,000 years of climate-change data, presented at the Nobel Prize Summit last year and shown during Tuesday’s talk.

The panel got off to a slow start, with Wolfe and Eno pontificating on the nature of art and music to change minds for a solid 20-plus minutes. “We can imagine other worlds and see how we feel about that,” Eno offered as a definition of how music works.

But it did eventually tie into how art, and music in particular, can penetrate where scientific information alone cannot. For “Green to Red,” Wolfe said, her challenge was: “How does one take this data that is cold and unrelatable to most people and turn it into something everyone can understand?”

“Science discovers and art digests,” Eno said, before he discussed his own project, EarthPercent, which allows musicians to donate a portion of their royalties, say 1 percent of a music tour, to environmental organizations vetted by this nonprofit. 

“The good news,” Eno said, “is there are organizations making a difference.” He also expressed optimism that more women are getting involved in higher echelons of economic policy making, which he believes will lead to more equitable distributions of wealth. “We’re starting to think differently,” he said.

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Both artists said that contrary to the notion that climate change is irreversible and hopeless, we can all do things to reserve the trajectory, from choosing to take fewer flights each year to eating vegan and locally. “Often, it can feel overwhelming, but we have much more power than we realize,” Wolfe said.

Most surprising moment in the panel: Eno revealing that his favorite thing is an a cappella group he’s a part of that meets at his studio every Tuesday. “This is the most beautiful thing I do in the week,” he said. “I love it more than anything else.”