By Jenifer Parnell
The 2012 Bioneers conference hosted a throng of green activists and provocative thought leaders. Topics included Restorative food systems, indigeneity programs, youth leadership, women's leadership and education for action.
Sustainable: Food, Media & Girl Scout Cookies
Beginning with several talented and inspiring women speakers who captivated the audience with their strength, intelligence and dedication to their causes, the Executive Director of People's Grocery, in Oakland, CA, and Co-Founder of Live Real, Nikki Henderson told her story of how she went from the environmentalist movement to the food movement and found her niche in “using food to build bridges and heal divides.”
Many ground breaking restorative food projects have developed all over the country in recent years, but especially in California (check out Food Shift, Generation Waking Up, and Seed Matters). The focus shifted from sustainable food practices to sustainable media when Women's Media Center's founding President Carol Jenkins took the stage to discuss how she used media as a tool to fix our broken democracy.
Cable TV leaves many people feeling as if “they are outsiders who see little reflection of their own contributions to society,” she said.
Its why all her projects relate back to the single goal of implementing ways to increase the voices of those not heard, especially those of women and minorities.
Also using the media as a means to build social awareness are two young girl scouts, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen. Through their campaign, Project ORANGS, the girls wanted to help protect the orangutans in Indonesia, where the rainforest is being transformed into palm oil plantations at a disturbing rate. When these girls realized that they were selling cookies containing very same palm oil, they began the campaign to make Girl Scout cookies rainforest-safe.
After years of hardwork, they recently managed to meet with Girl Scouts executives where they are researching possible solutions to the issue.
Bill McKibben Does The Math, Recruits Tea Party
Bill McKibben has spent much of his life educating people about climate change. Author of the first book about global warming, The End of Nature, and co- founder of 350.org, McKibben gave a moving and heartfelt presentation about his campaign to end our reliance on fossil fuels and the Do The Math Roadshow, which started on November 7, 2012.
The objective: to travel to 28 U.S. cities in 28 days to speak about the terrifying math that shows that we can potentially harm the planet to the point of no return in this generation, if we continue to consume as we do.
McKibben asked people who join the protest to wear ties and dresses to emphasize that this is not a radical movement. As he put it:
“People who go against the laws of physics, logic and sanity: that is radical. Big oil companies know the facts about climate change, but their profits matter more than humanity.”
Many people are getting involved, including hundreds of coalitions across the U.S. for cleaner energy. 350.org has activists in every country except North Korea, he said. In the last six years of fighting with big coal companies, 170 proposed coal plants have been defeated (that's 600 millions tons of carbon in the ozone STOPPED).
McKibben identified that this movement is for everyone, not only environmentalists.
Interestingly, his efforts have gained support from Tea Party members in Texas to stop the Tar Sands pipeline. He explained, “The spell has been broken and change is being embraced. People are realizing that we need to burn less and collect more.” He also claimed that his best referrals for the solar industry were Tea Party members in Arizona and Texas. “Fifteen more years of fossil fuel dependency and it will be emergency response from then on. We won’t be able to reverse the tide anymore,” he ended.
Environmental Heroes Silva and Steingraber Take The Stage
On a similar topic, Marina Silva and Sandra Steingraber took the stage to discuss how their unflinching dedication to protect the earth, no matter how tough the battle, was finally showing results. The first rubber tapper to be allowed in the Brazilian Senate, Marina Silva, spoke of her dedication to fighting deforestation as the Environmental Minister of Brazil.
Inspired by the work of Chico Mendes, she has reduced deforestation by almost 60 percent from 2004 to 2007. Activist, author and ecologist Sandra Steingraber compelled the audience to listen to her story of how fracking irreversibly damages the earth and communities. As a cancer survivor, she was very aware of the harm caused by the exposure to toxic waste left behind after a place near her home was fracked.
As a result, she started the campaign New Yorkers Against Fracking, which she calls, “a Fracking abolitionist movement” and has managed to shut down several plants. Having won a Heinz Award for her work as an environmental and health hero, Steingraber and dedicated the $100,000 prize money to the fight against fracking.
Drug Policy Alternatives and Social Sustainability
As if fracking, girl scouts, environmental activism and media sensibilities wasn't enough, Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, took the stage to urge the audience to think of alternative solutions to yet another critical area of concern: drug prohibition. The science is clear, he said, and the evidence is widely available that the system of incarceration has a 90 percent failure rate and is very expensive.
A new film, The House That I Live In, in fact, goes into the details about the failures and injustice of the War On Drugs. Nadelmann explained how racism has motivated each new policy as it was created with the narrow lens of mass media perpetuating the acceptance of such illogical and inhumane policies. This is why media outlets like Women’s Media Center and Mother Jones magazine are important in exposing hypocrisy and giving real democracy a chance to flourish, he emphasized.
Nadelmann also proposed that we make changes to current drug policy that would replace incarceration and probation with real education and treatment. But this would require a radical transformation of political opinion about drug addiction. If drug addiction were treated as a health issue, we could reduce our reliance on the criminal system while still protecting public health, Nadelmann said.
Drugs sales provide the number one source of revenue for organized crime. Other countries have drug policies that have far better results (e.g., Switzerland, Netherlands, U.K., Portugal) where addicts are treated as patients rather than criminals.
Bottom line: we need to look for alternative solutions.
Whether its working for environmental causes, restorative food projects, social sustainability projects, drug policy alternatives or any other campaign that helps us move from “breakdown to breakthrough,” these Bioneers have the right idea.
We have seen the evidence and heard the call to action: Now it is up to us.
About the Author:
Jenifer Parnell is a teacher, writer and linguist.