Did you know that crows aren't just those birds that dive at your head in parking lots or parks -- they're actually, like, super-genius winged creatures? We didn't either, until we attended the TEDxMIA conference last Friday night at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden.
You've probably heard about TED Conferences. For the past 25 years, TED has been, according to their mission, "devoted to ideas worth spreading" through gatherings of the world's intellectual, political, and scientific elite. Featuring world leaders like Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton, writers like Isabel Allende, and even Jane Goodall at their world conferences definitely has kept people listening and learning.
It's a lecture series for the smartest and most motivated of us, intended to spark discussion to change the world. So why, you ask, would they come to Miami? Well, through TEDx, a local, self-organized wing of the organization, these people are taking TED all over the globe. At Fairchild, the topic of discussion revolved around how to save Mother Earth and about teaching science to children.
A walk through Fairchild brought us back to the field trips of our youth. The beautiful gardens were fragrant with night blooming jasmine and ylang-ylang. Will Ryman's majestic red rose sculpture was an impressive landmark on the path that led to the TED tent.
The night included both local speakers and videos from international TED conferences. We learned about the beauty of pollination by Louie Schwartzberg; it's a love story of survival. Mitchell Joachim showed us that man can graft trees together to grow houses. He also developed chunks of meat, without animals, in a lab that can be used to construct houses. Meat houses are possibly the grossest concept ever.
Local non-profit founder Nick Gunia entertained us with a story about his journey from Enron lawyer to creator of Dream in Green, which teaches children to affect climate change -- positively, of course. This includes things we can all do to conserve energy, like shutting the lights off when you leave the room, for once. Come on, people.
Fairchild's director Carl Lewis was one of the night's most compelling speakers. While home sick from school one day in his childhood home in upstate New York, his mother brought him a stack of books from the library. One was written by David Grandison Fairchild. This sick day read inspired his career, and now look at what he's doing! He spoke about the philosophy behind the growing Fairchild Challenge, a scientific educational program run by Director of Education Amy Padolf. They service 250 Miami-Dade County Public School students. He describes the program as similar to a science fair, but so much more than that. He said, "What we're trying to do is increase the scientific expertise and develop talent in science here in South Florida, especially science focused on the environment."
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Bruce Greer, president of the board of trustees, noted on the conference, "Fairchild is a leading conservation entity in Dade County, and it's a great chance to bring people here and tell the Fairchild story, which is education and conservation." We were wondering why TEDx came to town, but his answer was simple: "We got in touch with them because there's a lot of people on our staff who love TED."
The night sparked some conversation between participants during the intermission. We personally can't stop thinking about these damned crows that are about as smart as chimps. Speaker Joshua Klein trained them to problem solve with a vending machine. These beasts use cars driving by to crack nuts; when faced with a challenge -- meat in a tube and only a wire to get it out -- they turned the wire into a hook on their own, without training. They're like smarter than five year olds.
The point of the conference was to bring Miami into a larger discussion on finding, as the third part of the night was titled, Complex Problems, Simple Solutions. Maybe we humans can take a tip from the crows and make a hook out of a stick to get Mama Earth back in gear.