Al Gore calls on SXSW to turn its focus on climate change

More than 70,000 expected in Austin, Texas as annual showcase begins

Former Vice President Al Gore opened proceedings at the SXSW Interactive event in Austin yesterday by calling on SXSW to channel its tech and online activism focus on climate change. Challenging attendees to think about how they might answer generations to come how they made a change, he said: "Part of the answer may well be that a group of people came to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2015 and helped to make a revolution."

More than 70,000 people are expected to descend upon downtown Austin this week as South by Southwest (SXSW) kicks off with the SXSW Interactive Festival.

Queues for everything from SXSW weekend passes to breakfast tacos are popping up all over Austin as the city braces itself for SXSW 2015.

Start-ups, bands, comedians, and fledgling filmmakers from around the world will all be here trying to stand out from the crowd. Running from March 13th-22nd, the Interactive Festival kicks things off for five days, before the focus shifts to music, comedy, and film.


Climate change

The announcement of Gore as one of the opening speakers redirected focus away from the usual suspects - tech and innovation - onto issues of climate change.

However, with themes including art, science and inspiration, fashion and wearable tech, food and experiential dining, gaming, global impact and intelligent future, there is little that isn’t covered at SXSW Interactive.

While the music and film parts of the festival do exactly what they say on the tin, SXSW Interactive is more of a cultural stew, with a target audience of entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Accelerator and innovation awards are doled out alongside a huge jobs market, a health and medtech expo, gaming, and many different opinions on the importance of social media.

Jedi mind tricks for entrepreneurs, genomics, future creativity, hacking, disruption, big data and other buzz words are stuffed into the titles of almost every talk scheduled for the festival.

From how to succeed in business, why our digital future is utopian or dystopian [depending on the speaker], from Malcolm Gladwell on entrepreneurship to Russell Brand on revolution or Google chairman Eric Schmidt on innovation, SXSW Interactive is hard to pin down.

Even Irish Times journalist-turned-disruptive hacker Jim Carroll is participating in a panel discussion on how to open a pub on $5,000.

“Why is my company more transparent than my family?” is one of the better titles for a business talk that will no doubt attract more than a few veteran entrepreneurs.

Irish delegation

The Irish delegation's presence is larger than ever this year. While the music industry is always well represented, the business community also has an impressive line-up. Enterprise Ireland, who recently opened an office in Austin, will showcase 17 Irish companies.

The IDA are also hosting events in the hope of generating more business for Ireland Inc. Taoiseach Enda Kenny will give a talk aimed at boosting Ireland's international reputation as a tech and innovation hub.

The SXSW phenomenon continues to grow, despite taking place in a city with an infrastructure ill-equipped to cater for it. Traffic is bad in Austin at the best of times, but during SXSW it would drive anyone batty.

Then there’s the issue of accommodation. AirBnBs around the city make a killing every March as demand for hotel rooms shifts to bedrooms before finally to couches. Still, nothing as trivial as where to lay one’s head each night will dampen spirits much during a festival which has put this city on the map.

John Holden

John Holden

John Holden is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in science, technology and innovation