2013-09-26 / Front Page
TEDx delivers big concepts
I t started with an idea. Atlantic Highlands resident Brian Smiga and a team of fellow volunteers decided to stage a TEDx conference in New Jersey, bringing together some of the nation’s top minds to ponder the Jersey Shore’s future.
In only a matter of months, that idea became a reality. On Sept. 20, a world-class lineup of scientists, academics, entrepreneurs and executives came together at Brookdale Community College’s Lincroft campus, transforming central New Jersey into an intellectual hub. “Who would have thought it would be as successful as it is?” said Atlantic Highlands resident Brent Sonnek-Schmelz, who was able to buy a ticket to the TEDxNavesink conference before its 360 seats sold out.
It was standing-room-only at Brookdale’s Performing Arts Center on Sept. 20 — less than six weeks after the conference was announced.
The event, which is an independently organized offshoot of the internationally popular TED Talks, brought some of central New Jersey’s best and brightest minds together with internationally renowned thinkers, innovators, artists and professionals.
Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Sandy Hook-based nonprofit Clean Ocean Action, began the all-day conference with a talk about the need for the proposed Clean Ocean Zone off the coast of New Jersey.
“This is our Grand Canyon, our Grand Tetons,” she said, explaining how her group had campaigned for more than 15 years to end ocean dumping. In calling for new restrictions against offshore drilling, seismic exploration and the exploitation of finite sand resources, Zipf said the protection of New Jersey’s most valuable resource must start in the minds of the public.
“When we started back in 1984, there were so many who said, ‘There is no way you’re going to end ocean dumping. There’s just too much power behind it,’ ” Zipf said. “But the power of the people spoke out, and we won that victory. I’m asking you to make this TEDx talk yours.”
The ocean was a strong theme throughout the conference, as filmmaker Ben Kalina and worldrenowned climatologist Ben Horton explained how sea-level rise and climate change will lead to potentially disastrous developments in the years ahead.
Kalina, who spent years before superstorm Sandy making a documentary about Long Beach Island, spoke about the “New Jersification” of the coastline, where jetties, groins and expensive beach-replenishment projects have become the norm in protecting vulnerable communities.
“In the future, no one really expects that the government is going to pay for all of these projects,” Kalina said. “So if you come to rely on them, what do you do? This isn’t a problem that is going to go away. … Perhaps the next ad campaign could be something along the lines of ‘Smarter than the storm.’ ”
Horton said the Atlantic coast is sinking at a rate of 2 millimeters per year. Combined with higher global temperatures, the expansion of water molecules and the melting of millions of miles of ice shelf, this could spell disaster for an unprepared region, he said.
“In the last 20,000 years, temperatures have risen by about 5 degrees Celsius, melting two-thirds of the ice on our planet and raising sea levels by 120 meters — over 350 feet,” Horton said.
“We have committed ourselves to a further 5-degree Celsius rise, unless we do something about climate change. … We have over 60 meters of ice on our planet. I would say to you that we can afford [to lose] maybe 2 to 3 percent at best.”
Other talks were less intense, focusing on the historical and artistic relevance of “selfie” photographs, the history of surfing in New Jersey, and the evolution of Asbury Park’s music scene. One of the most discussed talks of the day came from author Harrison Owen, who described the relationship between chaos and order, and how — without hurricanes — there would be no beaches.
The event closed with a talk by noted inventor Robert Lucky, the former head of research for Bell Labs in Holmdel.
Lucky catalogued the downfall of Bell Labs and the other facilities that he said had made New Jersey a scientific “mecca” in decades past. While lamenting the closure of Fort Monmouth, which he called “a terrible mistake” that cost the area $3 billion and 15,000 technical jobs, Lucky said there is hope.
“A lot of the children and families from that environment still live here in the community, and they are thirsty for things like we have here today,” he said.
The conference also featured musical acts and multiple networking opportunities for speakers, organizers and attendees. One speaker, the founder of Second Life Bikes in Asbury Park, began talking with the co-founder of crowdfunding platform RocketHub about a fundraising initiative to expand her operation. And during a lunchtime Q-and-A session, two local farming advocates spoke with Brookdale President Maureen Murphy about a student-sponsored gardening initiative.
Those interested in attending a TEDx conference next year may sign up at www.tedxnavesink.com.