I recently attended the eighteenth annual Bioneers conference, which is hosted in San Rafael, California and broadcast live via satellite to nearly twenty cities in the U.S. The event's purpose is to discuss and elaborate ideas for creating an ecologically sustainable society. Presenters focus on practical strategies that environmentalists, social activists, and community leaders can use to affect positive change in the world.
The ceremonies of the satellite conference in Boulder, Colorado opened and closed with acoustic drumming, chanting, and music, and a ritual invocation of the four directions. We were reminded to think of the plants and animals as our relatives, who we bound with in an intimate ecological relationship, realizing that our future health is dependent on our ecology's health. Here are some highlights from the plenary speeches that I was present for.
Bronx-born African American social activist Majora Carter described her team's efforts to "green the ghetto" and make the South Bronx a more beautiful place to live. She began by presenting a startling statistic about the American prison system: the fact that our country has 5% of the world's population, yet is is responsible for incarcerating 25% of the prison population of the world. Carter then drew a link between the location of prisons and the environmental conditions of a community. She defined the South Bronx as a "regional sacrifice zone", a place which has been deemed of little value by city planners and therefore is designated to house a concentration of the more detestable by-products of our modern society: toxic chemical plants, industrial waste, landfills, etc. Carter urged the audience to not ignore the social costs of our current system of economic production. She suggested that we learn new ways to make equality profitable, by employing "green collar" workers on sustainability projects on a scale reminiscent of the Marshall Plan of the late 1940's. In her effort to make this happen in her own community she runs the Sustainable South Bronx non-profit organization which, according to their website, "addresses land-use, energy, transportation, water and waste policy, and education in order to advance the environmental and economic rebirth of the South Bronx, and to inspire solutions in areas like it across the nation and around the world." Probably one of the most provocative statements made in the plenary speeches was when she asserted that "environmental justice is civil rights for the 21st century."
Ocean scientist and animal rights activist Wallace J. Nichols reminded us that the ocean is experiencing a massive crisis. Nichols noted that 80% of Earth's animal habitat is in the oceans, and rampant pollution and destruction of undersea species is threatening this vital habitat. Some scientists have predicted that by 2048 all of the ocean fisheries could "collapse", meaning that more than 90% of their previous population has been destroyed. Nichols cites the mind-boggling fact that in some areas of the ocean there is six times the amount of plastic as there is plankton in the water. He urged for the development of an "ocean revolution" to protect this aqueous ecology.
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