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Let’s Bioneer a New Future

Posted by kevinwolz on October 18, 2010

For the last four days, I have been in San Rafael, California attending the 2010 Bioneers Conference. Bioneers is an organization geared towards “inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other, and future generations.” Anything more detailed than that description would probably ruin it. I can’t possibly share the full extent of my conference experience here, but I will mention my overall reaction and specific highlights below.

I’m all about the systems approach, but the conference really reinforced the fact that it’s all connected. My agricultural endeavors, social aspirations, environmental advocacy, educational reform, desperate hopes, and wildest dreams are all one in the same. Everything is interrelated and dependent on each other. Reductionism will only dive us deeper into this mess and has no place in the solution. Activists need to band together, cultures need support each other, and specialists need to become collaborators. Furthermore, the conference served as a refreshing insurgence of motivation and energy in my own aspirations and dreams. Now it’s time for action.

The best plenary talks included:

James Hansen (NASA climate scientist & climate change activist): The content of Hansen’s presentation was nothing new to me, but I just really like his no-foolishness approach and the how engaged he is compared to most scientists. This was yet another slap in the face to do something about climate change. Sadly, the plan to meet him at some point didn’t work out because he ended up skipping his panel and flying home right after his keynote. Oh well.

Gary Hirshberg (CEO of Stonyfield Farm & organic agriculture activist) on “Win7 Economics: Restoring Natural Order as if People and the Planet Really Mattered”: I had heard of Hirshberg before, and knew he was on top of things, but I had no idea that he was this cool! He was very engaging and to the point, which made for a very motivational talk on the economics associated with converting to and scaling up organic agriculture. This really lit the fire underneath me: we need to scale up sustainable agriculture fast.

Mary Gonzales (Chicago native & legendary community organizer) on “The Environment and its Relationship to Equity and the Economy”: I had never heard of Gonzales before, but she was by far the most enthusiastic speaker at the conference. Her passion was overwhelming and energizing (presenters that don’t shout a few times in their talk aren’t doing it right). Gonzales told several stories to explain how to engage and empower communities to create change. Even the most timid people in the audience were shouting by the end. Her main point was that environmental and social issues are inseparable. The environment is strictly tied to equity and the economy, and environmentalists need to begin realizing this! Environmental problems cannot be solved unless we empower people to take them on.

Anthony Cortese (Second Nature & the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) on “From Leonardo da Vinci to Higher Education: Lead Us to Survive and Thrive”: I actually met Cortese last spring when he visited UIUC. He is the pioneer increasing education of sustainability and related topics in higher education, and he really knows his stuff. His talk was very passionate, and I have now been further moved to fix engineering curriculum in particular. Our engineers are not screwing with the environment because they are evil or want to do that. They are doing it because they don’t know any better! It’s time to stop blaming the engineer and start blaming the education system.

John Warner (Warner-Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry) on “Intellectual Ecology: Green Chemistry and Biomimicry”: I’ve actually read this guy’s book before, but I hadn’t really connected the science of it with the overall concept of educational reform until now. First of all, this guy is one of the most published and respected organic chemists in the country, but that’s not even his strong point. He is the leading advocate for science (primarily chemistry) education reform. I can totally vouch that chemistry is the most poorly taught subject in college. But on a whole separate level, have you ever wondered why we have carcinogenic food dyes and endocrine-disrupting plasticisers? Why would chemists even design these compounds in the first place? The answer is quite simple: they are not taught not to! NO industrial chemist is required to take a toxicology or environmental impacts course. It’s not apathy. It’s lack of knowledge. (Video of talk)

Jane Goodall (Primatology and Conservation Goddess) on “Gombe and Beyond: The Next 50 Years”: Dr. Jane was by far the most well-known conference attendee (although Leonardo DiCaprio was in the audience…). Her work in conservation and engaging youth are practically unparalleled in the world. She said she travels over 300 days a year and never stays in the same place for more than two weeks, all in order to spread her powerful message of habitat and biodiversity conservation. Her voice was powerful and her aura was strong. Afterwards, I got to put my arm around her and get a picture with her…no big deal or anything.

As if these talks weren’t enough, other highlights of the conference include the following:

  • I met and had great conversations with both Michael Ableman and Anna Lappé, who are two of the most prominent advocates/activists for sustainable food/agriculture systems. I was also able to get autographed copies of their latest books, but this didn’t really seem like a big deal anymore after chatting with them and seeing how down to earth they are. As an interesting coincidence, Lappé’s latest book includes a chapter on one of the farmers I worked with over the summer!
  • AMAZING fresh, local, responsible food at every meal!
  • A really cool roommate from Washington who’s totally on top of things and I got along with really well.
  • Beautiful California. I began my stay on Friday morning with a run out to the Bay to catch the sunrise over the mountains and water. I then ended my stay with a night of wandering around the lovely San Francisco, eating fresh seafood and clam chowder.

As I write this, I am sitting in the plane on the way home…by far the worst part of the trip. Why? Not because of comfort or anything like that. No, it’s the view. I have to stare out my window at the ecological and economic wasteland we call the breadbasket of the world. On they flight out, I got super depressed. Now, I see a vast opportunity before my eyes.


One Response to “Let’s Bioneer a New Future”

  1. Joan said

    Sounds like a super-wonderful time in California.
    You are so upbeat….
    I think you should run for President of the United States some day and then you could really make a difference in our world!
    Put it on your to-do list!!!


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