2009 Northland Bioneers Conference: Solutions frame environmental challenges


Starting in 1989, at a now annual national conference in San Rafael, California,  Bioneers has become a growing environmental movement, interweaving sustainability with the planet and social/economic justice.. This year eighteen cities, from Houston to Detroit, will participate, with the Fourth Northland Bioneers Conference, October 24-25, at Willey Hall on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. 

“It’s all solutions oriented,” is conference co-producer, Oram Miller’s mantra.

“Our focus is, ‘What can I take home with me? What can I do about it?’ We’re asking how nature solves problems,” co-producer Emily Barker, emphasizes.

“People from all cultures and genders are in the mix with people from around the world, “Miller explains. “Early in the process, we wanted to emphasize youth. All ages are on the steering committee and we’ve made it affordable for students to come.”

The term “bioneers” merges pioneers and biology. Bioneers say they are shattering past stereotypes of environmentalists as  “middle-class whites” through a global perspective. Among the speakers at the Minneapolis gathering:

  • Arturo Sandoval explores what Latin America and Mexico cultures can teach us about sustainability.

  • Gwich’in Elder, Sarah James, from Alaska talks about how climate change is already impacting indigenous peoples in the Arctic and their response.

  • Lily Yeh shares her Rwanda Healing Project, applying it to environmental justice.

  • Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui describes the Surui people’s fight for the Amazon Rainforest.

  • Panels led by youth, include Brower Youth Award winner, Kari Fulton, talk about the youth climate movement.

Keynote speakers are Jonathan Foley, Director of UM’s Institute on the Environment and Susan Hubbard, CEO of Eureka Recycling.

“At Bioneers, I want to talk about, how do we get to the point of slowing ourselves down so that the pursuit of our physical comfort, security and pleasure doesn’t end up being the EXACT thing that  THREATENS our comfort, security and pleasure,” Hubbard says. “Bioneers is an emerging culture of  social and scientific innovators. They’re creating ways to have comfort, security and pleasure but, not do it neurotically in a way that’s hurting us. That’s a dialog all the speakers are part of, from food to arts.”

The conference  includes screenings of national speakers to roundtables of local activists, including Michael Pollen (author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) on re-designing our food system, “green”  architecture, and clean energy; Dr. Andrew Weil on environmental health and medicine, and taking on the controversial issue of population; Joanna Macy on spiritual activism and freeing ourselves from  the dependencies and delusions of what she calls  “industrial growth society.”

Emily Barker highlights a core value driving bioneers, “Recognizing the interconnectedness of us all,  between all peoples—and animals, too. Recognizing that what we do has impact on people on the other side of the world. We have to work together if we’re going to be successful to not destroy ourselves and the planet.”

Hear interviews with Emily Barker, Susan Hubbard and Oram Miller, Friday, October 16 and 23, 11am on KFAI Radio, 90.3fm/106.7 fm. Live-streaming/archived for 2 weeks after broadcast at: http://www.kfai.org/catalyst