Today was the official beginning of the 21st Bioneers conference. We were welcomed by Joanne Campbell a Coast Miwok Elder, one of the indigenous people from this area for thousands of years. Sometimes I think that we forget what a young nation we are and that there are many who may be far wiser than us, who have been living on these lands far longer than us and certainly more harmoniously with the earth than us. As I heard in one of the panels today, industrial agriculture has been the experiment (not organics) and we see that it is not working well.
But do we have the will to change this, because change must involve many more of us than are engaged today. If I can sum up the message that I heard today it would be that we all need to re-engage in our political system, in our communities and with the youth of this country and the world. We need to become political activists letting our leaders know that we care about the food that we eat and the environment. To let them know that we are aware of the serious issues that we are facing but that to ignore them is no longer an option because they will not go away…and this involves issues as far reaching as immigration as well as ending our use of coal, not to mention a trillion dollar military budget.
A lack of political will, and integrity, in the face of lobbyists has brought the US to being a real loser in the shift to renewable energy and the creation of a dynamic green sector. China is the largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels-maybe this should come as no surprise since we have been more than willing to shift so much of the manufacturing sector in a myriad of industries to China. Germany has almost as many jobs in the green sector as they do in the auto industry and Sweden is implementing new food policies that will transform not only the countries diet but also their use of fossil fuels in utilizing low carbon farming methods. Kenny Ausubel, one of Bionners founders and co-CEO with Nina Simons, reminded us that nature rewards cooperation and that interdependence is unavoidable, two concepts that we must adopt in facing the issues of the day. The new goal of the economy needs to shift to resilience.
Nina opened her remarks with the news that recently Santa Fe was 14 degrees warmer than usual. But she went on to talk about a new way of leadership that allows us, actually demands of us to utilize all aspects of ourselves to put forth our greatest creativity and abilities. We need to dream big so that we can connect with what we love, for that is when we will be unstoppable. Sounds like a call to feminine leadership if I have ever heard one, and this does not mean excluding men but rather embracing a new approach for all of us.
David Orr’s introduction of James Hansen was really moving and brought us right to the heart of one of our greatest challenges, climate destabilization. When David Orr said that we were “evicting ourselves from our Eden” he also reminded us that we have had signs of this for 50 years but have largely ignored this reality. We can no longer afford to procrastinate or finger point.
“We have reached an emergency,” Dr. Hansen told us in no uncertain terms. This respected and acclaimed scientist had hoped that the evidence from his work would be able to speak for him, but motivated by his grandchildren in recent years he has become an activist being arrested on more than one occasion. He also told us that because of the failure of governments to deal with climate change it will become the political and moral issue of the century. But there are things that we can do and one of them is to participate in a letter writing campaign led by Dr. Hansen, Bill McKibben and Lester Brown. It is up to us to let our leaders know we are serious about solutions to climate change. We need to take such action now to avoid major disruptions that will be forthcoming-so if you think sending a letter seems like a big effort imagine the dislocation of millions of people.
Dr. John Francis also delivered a message about our making a personal commitment to create change. I loved that he spoke of people also being a part of the environment and that our first opportunity for living more sustainably is how we treat each other. Lately I have been pondering the idea of what the world would look like if we were all kinder to each other. After 17 years of silence he told us that the message he realized was that educational, race and gender equality were our first chance to treat the environment in a sustainable way. He is an incredible example of what can happen when we make a commitment to making a difference-we may be very surprised where it may lead us.
We also heard from Jessica Rimington, a young woman who at the age of 16 traveled to Soweto as one of two US youth representatives at a World Sustainability Conference. She returned with the knowledge that we needed to deal with one another empathetically as human beings but that a new skill set would be needed especially for youth to face the problems ahead of us. She went on to form the One World Youth Project, which brings youth together on a global scale through a “youth for youth” program. It is an exciting project that has gone from a volunteer only basis to having full time employees and working with universities to bring programs to 6-12th graders. With this project we will truly begin to create empowered, discerning, empathetic leaders for tomorrow.
The concept of empowerment sounds good, but is it really effective to create systemic change? Mallika Dutt told us of her project in India to stop domestic violence against women, called Bell Bajao-Ring the Bell. It is an educational approach to stop abuse brought to the pubic in the mass media as well as on a local level through classes and the power of theater to deliver a message. UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon has joined in making this a global campaign. Through the training received youth, as well as the larger population, are being empowered to take action if they hear or know of domestic abuse. There can be no environmental justice without equality and social justice and this starts in every community, right here, right now.
Gary Hirshberg is the inspired Founder, Chairman, President and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm-the world’s leading organic yogurt producer. Many were shocked (including myself) in 2001 when Stonyfield entered into a partnership with Groupe Danone, but it has allowed additional growth to the tune of over $360 million in annual sales. Now that is a lot of milk, and that is organic milk, to make all of that yogurt. What an incredible savings to the environment in pesticide use on feed, plus antibiotics and growth hormones that are regularly given to conventionally raised cows.
Stonyfield is a living example of how business can be a part of the solution. They focus on farmers’ profitability, help farmers transition to organic and have a fair labor tool kit that their suppliers must follow. The reach of such a large business to do good is very wide. We see with this example that organic can be more efficient and a footprint reduction can be made in many areas, including carbon. The myth that this is not possible is being proved to be just that, a myth. Stonyfield has had a compounded annual growth rate of over 20% for almost two decades…now that is a business model to emulate.
Less than 1% of all farmland in America is organic and this can and must change. The good news is that we as consumers can make this happen by buying organic. We can be activists every time we make a choice to buy organic rather than conventionally produced food. It is up to us to force this transition because our government is not taking the lead. Monsanto alone has spent $15 billion on lobbyists since Obama became president. Gary really emphasized the importance of all of us becoming active and taking back our planet for ourselves as well as other species.
So that was the morning session at Bioneers, plenty of inspiration even in the face of some daunting facts. Hopefully more of us will realize that we are the ones who can make a change, and that we all have a role to play in solving these problems. It is time to engage to take back our democracy as well as our education system, food system and to bring liberty and justice for all…
We can do this when we realize that each and every one of us does make a difference.