By Bonnie Hulkower, New York, New York on 10/21/09
Bioneers 2009 wasn’t your typical conference, and especially not a typical conference on climate change, which can give off an underlying feeling of doom and gloom. Bioneers represents a welcome change, as, even when dealing with the sensitive critical environmental issues of our time (sea level rise, tropical diseases, megadroughts, hypercanes, failed states) the annual conference still always somehow manages to seem upbeat. Every year the conference highlights environmental luminaries (including TH’s own Ken Rother!) and this year was no different.
Begun in 1990 by Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simmons as a forum on the environment, health, clean tech and social justice issues, this weekend was Bioneers‘ 19th anniversary and it felt like a mix between a family reunion, a college alumni event, and a rock concert.
Friday alone was packed with an all-star cast, including: Brock Dolman, Jack Hidary, Michael Pollan, and Sarah James. While other conferences may have some of these speakers, rarely are so many of them under the same roof mingling with attendees. Plus, interspersed between some of the talks were musical interludes, native, shofar-like sounding instruments, as well as a young dj Ellen spinning hip hop. The music really helped amp up the feeling we were all a part of building a positive movement.
Although the mood was upbeat, the speakers stressed that the next few years are absolutely crucial, Kenny Ausubel urged that what we need are essentially eco-SWAT teams who can be deployed in the case of an environmental emergency. These “rapid response teams” will be launched in the U.S. at the State of the World Forum in Washington, D.C. in late February 2010. The goal of the campaign is to reduce CO2 emissions 80% by 2020, not 2050.
There were almost 3,000 attendees in the auditorium and another couple of thousand streaming the conference over the internet in cities around the U.S. including Anchorage, Ithaca, Boulder, Salt Lake City, Houston, and Los Angeles. This was great because it gave the room a sense of magnitude and community that a bunch of environmental folks sitting in Marin otherwise might not have had. Nationally and globally, we need to harness the momentum to combat climate change.
It was hard not to think about the connection between climate change and water in the Bay Area this past week. Following Tuesday’s record breaking storm, which brought us 2 inches of rain and 62 miles per hour winds, Saturday was bright and sunny with temperatures in the high 60’s, and the weird weather was the talk of the town.
While other people (myself included) tried to avoid the rain and keep dry,Brock Dolman, a biologist from the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center who teaches week-long watershed workshops, embraced it. Mr. Dolman’s love of water was no secret to the audience. He has spoken at Bioneers previously, and once even dressed up as a Totem Salmon at a Sonoma County Board of Supervisor’s meeting.