Prior to 2012 I did not know of the Bioneers organization; didn’t even know they existed. I came across their website and signed up for their newsletter. After reading and pondering what they had to say, I convinced myself that this was a very interesting and meaningful organization and there was probably more than meets the eye. And was I ever right. I signed up and attended their 25th Anniversary Bioneers Summit Conference. It was held near the civic center complex in San Rafael, California. It was a nice drive there and I leisurely stopped along the way taking lots of pictures.
The conference opened with the drumbeats of Deb Lane and Afia Walking Tree; accomplished and talented percussionists. That brought most of the attendees in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium out of their seats moving to their magic beats. It reminded me of events I was part of in my college days. Looking around I saw youngsters, oldsters, people of all different races, people from nearby, and people who travelled across the U.S. and from across the oceans to attend. As each day unfolded, I was in awe at the magic taking place before my eyes. The organizers had something for everybody to get involved with on each day of the event.
The founders, Nina Simons and Kenny Ausubel, followed with their keynote addresses. Ken had some positive comments on the renewable energy efforts going on in California as well as some stories related to women’s roles throughout history, capitalism and corporate evils, and indigenous people. Ken said that “the 60’s are going to look like the 50’s”. Wow, think about that one! He followed that with “the stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones”. Nina threw an idea out to the audience that the reason our brains became bigger was to allow for greater social interaction. Bioneers was founded in Santa Fe, New Mexico by Nina and Kenny. It is written that it is an innovative nonprofit organization that brings together social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. Being at this event was like being in a candy store. There were all these innovators to interact with and I had to figure out which ones I wanted to spend my time with!
The core of the Summit Conference was the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday events. Each day would start with a four hour series of Keynote addresses and performances followed by an afternoon full of tantalizing interactive sessions. Every speaker, every performance, and every session was incredibly rich in content urging us on to be a good steward of this earth, respect all that is living, and protect it for future generations.
A crowd favorite was mycologist Paul Stamets. His talk on “How Mushrooms Can Help Us Survive Extinction 6x” brought the house to a standing ovation. Paul gave an update on his patents and efforts to bring to use non-toxic fungi to control termites and other pests. This cheap (under a dollar) control can replace the two thousand dollar method that current pest control companies use. We are talking about a natural remedy versus one backed by corporate chemical companies.
Paul presented dramatic evidence on the important relationship of fungi and the health of bees. The bees visit rotting logs to harvest material produced by various fungi. This fungi gains entry into the logs through the bear scratches on the logs. By eating the fungi byproducts, the bee’s immune system is upgraded to be able to survive viral and mite attacks. Fungicide use is interfering with this process and bee colonies are collapsing. There you go; another example of the interconnections within the web of life.
Severine V T Fleming , Director of Greenhorns, provided us with a really entertaining talk about supporting new farmers and why it is important to get back to the basics. 40% of the terrestrial land is agriculture. Commodity farming is destroying the earth.
The effect of capitalism and corporate greed on the earth’s climate was highlighted by Naomi Klein; Canadian Journalist, Activist, and Author of This Changes Everything. Naomi emphasized that an economy built on the consumption of fossil fuels is bad for the earth and humanity. She has been encouraged that many local fights are morphing into global principals.
Clayton Thomas-Muller, Organizer for Idle No More, Co-Director of the Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign of the Polaris Institute, shared an idea he hopes we will follow; don’t ask what kind of earth we are going to leave our children but ask how we are going to raise our children to help the earth.
The crowd was inspired by the stories shared by John Warner about Green Chemistry. John Warner, CTO of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, and co-founder of The Beyond Benign Foundation, was very convincing when he told us that industrial chemistry confuses our cells. Companies use extreme pressure and heat and forced reactive collisions to create chemicals that do not naturally exist. Nature does not do this. Nature pretty much uses room temperature and pressure! We need to go down the path of biomimicry using nature’s models and time tested patterns for our own living. Survival of the most compatible and not the strongest will prevail. Did you know that solar panels can be made with water, sugar, and berries?
Robin Kimmerer, professor of Environmental Science and Forestry at State Univ. of NY, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, provided some guidance as to how we should interact with our earth and the living things around us. It is called the Honorable Harvest. Never take the first one. Listen for the answer. Ask permission. Take only what you need. Minimize harm. Use everything that you take. Be Grateful. Share it with others. Reciprocate the gift. Take only that which is given to you. She reminded us that it is not the land which is broken, but our relationship to the land. Her thoughts come from Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of the Grass.
Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani, founders of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in SF, Ca. shared many personal stories related to Glide and how they have been involved with social change. They emphasized that at Glide you will be in the company of unconditional love and radical inclusiveness. “Beyond the Possible” is Cecil William’s book.
There were numerous sessions covering many aspects of technology, water, sustainable farming, green chemistry, climate change, fossil fuels, renewable energy, solar, social change, eco governance, philanthropy, capitalism and corporations, fungi, indigenous people, and community action. To get more information on these well covered topics, I encourage you to visit www.bioneers.org where you will find links to presenter bios and program content.
During the conference we had the pleasure of interacting with many performers. Climbing Poetree is a very powerful duo (Alixa Garcia & Naima Penniman) that mixes spoken word poetry, hip-hop, and other forms of artistic media to tell stories of humanity and community challenges. Everybody looked forward to when the last morning presenter was done. That was the time when “Slam Poet Harvester” Tim Merry would come out and do his thing. While the morning presenters were speaking or performing, Tim was busy composing a poem which would highlight the thoughts of the presenters. He enthusiastically put his whole body and voice into delivering his creation which put everybody into a fun mood to get ready for lunch. The Bioneers 2014 Summit Conference was the most inspiring conference I have had the pleasure of attending. Plan to go next year and I will see you there.
About the Author
Rod Kirk, a San Francisco Bay area native, has held various Electrical Engineering positions in numerous companies in the areas of data storage, networks, and motion control. He has a degree from San Jose State University and an Energy Management certificate from De Anza College. Rod is currently providing Technical Writing services for cleantech, green, and emerging companies.