Bioneers and Beyond!
25th October 2009
There is a growing thread of recognition that Planet Earth’s ecology is in the midst of mass extinction. Ecological destruction, social degradation, and economic downfall are hot on the lips of people all over the globe. So where does the rhetoric end and the action begin? On the weekend of October 14th to 16th, I attended the Annual Bioneers’ conference in San Rafael, California. This event has become a hotbed for social and environmental innovators. People are reframing our planetary catastrophe as an opportunity to transform humanities consciousness.
We can no longer pretend that issues like climate change, and resource exploitation do not illustrate profound truths that reflect the urgent need for us to fundamentally change the way people of the civilized world interact with their environment. Dozens of social activists spoke passionately on issues such as clean energy finance, indigenous wisdom, systems thinking, green jobs, social justice, and food politics.
Michael Pollen, author of the omnivores dilemma, stated that “industrialized food production is at the nexus of climate change, energy independence and health care”—a system which he describes as a “euphemism for the catastrophe of the American diet.” Andrew Weil went further, saying that health care “should be called a disease management system.”
Annie Leonard discussed the depressing link between the rise of Post World War II American prosperity, and the decline of American happiness since the 50’s. One study she mentioned found that “ a quarter of Americans now claim that they have no one to talk to about their personal problems.” She went on to say that our happiness is “determined largely by the quality of our personal relationships.” The constant accumulation of material possessions loses its happy factor after a certain point. Are the majority of trips to the mall a genuine need to fulfill physical needs, or are we driven by a deeper desire for social connection? Market places are a historical hub for social networking but that doesn’t mean we need to buy another useless item with a ‘Made in China’ sticker. Think about shopping at the farmers market. It’s the fastest growing sector of the US food industry. You’ll meet honest people, and come away with healthy food.
Our culture is stuck in a compulsive state of consumption, and we’re willing to dominate and control whatever we need to in order to uphold this irrational paradigm. If you think the dirty work of kicking people off their land to make room for our occidental way of life is over, think again. Chief Almir Narayamamoga Suri, who lives in the northwest corner of the Brazilian Amazon, spoke of his struggle to maintain what is left of his tribal forests. In the last few decades his tribe lost 90% of its people. Almir himself has a $100,000 bounty on his head, and a handful of his predecessors have already been assassinated. His only hope, he says, is to reach out to the western world. You can learn more about his tribe using Goggle Outreach, a new app on Google Earth.
On the last day of the conference a panelist asked a powerful question. “Can knowledge change behavior?” Many of us are perfectly aware of the global situation. What will it take to act on this information? What kind of knowledge leads to changes in the way we relate to Earth and its many people? Eco-Philosopher and systems theorist Joanna Macy spoke of the “Great Turning,” a revolution equal in magnitude to humanity discovering agriculture. Can humanity turn over the current cultural narrative of the industrial growth society, to create a life sustaining society that focuses on the interconnection of all things?
Follow your heart; there is no shortage of opportunities to engage. Join an environmentally minded student organization, plant a garden, lobby congress, spend time connecting with nature, and push your actions into alignment with your ideals. Let us break loose from the dire story of looming disaster so that we may create an audaciously optimistic future.
Bioneers and Beyond!