[truthout] Bioneers to the Rescue
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Environment Editor
The annual Bioneers conference has a reputation for creative and deep thinking about sustainability and the environment, but during all my years as an environmental activist, I never managed to attend. On October 19-21, I finally made it to the conference in San Rafael, California. It was an opportunity to feel the pulse of the environmental movement today and reflect on how it has grown and changed since Bioneers began in 1990, the same year that I became a full-time environmental activist.
In 1990, I was working as a signature-gathering coordinator for a California forestry initiative that would have ended clear-cutting in California forests. I organized volunteers to hit the streets with petitions throughout the East Bay, and not just the street corners in Berkeley where signatures were as easy to gather as apples on the ground. Looking toward the election in the fall, I recruited the two housewives in working-class Freemont who would staff a table at the mall on Saturday, and the lone environmentalist in conservative Concord. But one day, at my table in Oakland, I was approached by an elderly black man with anger in his eyes.
« What are you doing, worrying about trees, » he said, « when black people are still dying on the streets. » The civil rights movement wasn’t finished, he told me, and he couldn’t understand why liberal whites had given up and turned their attention to frivolous things like trees. I had no idea how to respond, but later, a middle-aged black woman came by my table and told me how important it was to save forests. She shared her memories of her Louisiana home and the forests she had known there. A few weeks later, on Earth Day, we were invited to bring our petition to a church in the refinery town of Richmond, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson would speak. …
While these two speakers were highlights, Bioneers had much more to offer. The Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers was present, along with many other indigenous speakers. And there were women. Alice Walker, Eve Ensler and Joanna Macy were high on my list of admired women. This was one of the few conferences I have attended where I did not leave thinking that women didn’t get equal time at the podium. To the contrary, there was a strong acknowledgement everywhere that a revival of the feminine principle in politics and life is essential for building a new culture that can live with the earth without destroying it.
Bioneers makes connections between culture and environment. It also encourages a new approach to technology, using a concept called « biomimicry. » Biomimicry is technical innovation inspired by nature’s designs. One example is new tough materials that are created with a low-temperature process inspired by abalone shell. Another is identifying new medicines by observing what plants a sick chimp or monkey chooses to eat from the forest. Still another example of biomimicry is designing gardens that mimic natural ecosystems for improved productivity in a small space.
As the planetary environmental crisis grows more threatening and impacts more people, the environmental movement will continue to evolve. The idea that we are all one people on a small planet has, like Jay Harman’s water tank mixer, been stirring the heart of humanity for some time. This, more than any particular technical innovation, is what will solve our ecological crisis.