Inside the TEDxDirigo conference

By MIKE MILIARD  |  September 14, 2011

Some of the ideas put forth by the 18 presenters and performers were more coherent and compelling than others. But all of them were worth hearing. Some of them were abstract, some of them were notional, and some of them were already under way outside — living up to the event's billing as a "catalyst for positive change in the state and world, where new ideas are funded and supported for the greater good of all."

There was an engineer. A poet. An ocean scientist. A technology exec. A singer-songwriter. A surgeon. A marketing expert. An improv troupe. A farmer. Here's a necessarily non-comprehensive sampling of some of what they had to say.


Find energy

Habib Dagher, director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at UMaine, presented the TEDxDirigo crowd with a sobering statistic: by 2018, accounting for transportation, heating, and electricity, the average family in Maine will be spending 40 percent of its budget on energy. But he also offered a hopeful number: the potential exists for a full 149 gigawatts of energy to be generated offshore in Maine. (By comparison, Maine Yankee produced 0.9 gigawatts.) The good news is that with help from "two small companies" called Cianbro and Bath Iron Works, plans are well in motion to harvest the first five gigawatts of offshore energy by 2030. The first prototype will be in water the next year — off Monhegan Island, invisible beyond the curvature of the earth. The hope is to scale up quickly from there. Oh, and the turbines? They float. Beyond the energy savings, the project stands to create thousands of jobs. Aside from an oblique mention, at one point, that he was talking about the previous administration, Dagher didn't acknowledge the changed political landscape in Maine since the wind project got started. Nor did his funny animation, showing a cartoonish tugboat dragging a turbine out to sea, say much about other real-world concerns, like the effects on offshore fishing grounds. Instead Dagher just made clear the urgent need to get moving on such a potentially transformative project. "We're on a mission," he said. "But the timeline is important. We have to work together."

Take a stand

Steve Wessler, executive director for the Center for Preventing Hate, has seen plenty of "disturbing and destructive" things in his career. One of the first hate crimes he prosecuted with the Maine Attorney General's office — a terrifying home invasion — happened just five minutes away from where we were all sitting. And he's counseled too many Somali women whose days are marred by jeering strangers on sidewalks: "take that rag off" and "go back to your country." But, said Wessler, he's also seen "remarkable acts of courage." He told another story about an unnamed small rural Maine town that only avoided being the next Jasper, Texas, or Laramie, Wyoming, thanks to the brave intervention of a near-victim's friend. Wessler's discussion was affecting, especially for his anecdotes about the racial animus that often percolates, under-reported though not unnoticed, in this relatively peaceful state. One almost craved more of a marching order to help counter it. But he simply challenged the audience to be more vocal when witnessing such prejudice. "This [younger] generation is not the problem, this generation is the solution," he said. And we have a responsibility as adults to be examples for them, since silence in the face of bigotry is tantamount to approval. "When nobody interrupts that language, the process of escalation begins."

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Related: Spreading Maine ideas, The potential of TEDxDirigo, Twelve sweet ideas for Maine in 2012, More more >
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