It's all relatives 

Bioneers: hope’s pendulum

Imagine a gathering of brilliant minds, people whose scientific, creative and courageous activist work has engendered respect throughout the country and beyond. Then imagine you’re there, too, attending their speeches and workshops, but also having a drink with them afterward or chatting it up while waiting in line for vegan cookies or even spiraling ’round the dance floor to a DJ’s pumping beats.

What happens in San Rafael at the annual Bioneers convention doesn’t stay in San Rafael.

People come from all over the United States and when they leave, they spread the words they have heard. This is what Bioneers co-founder Kenny Ausubel called “decentralized intelligence … engaged in the restoration of the world.” Sound ambitious? Why not. Bioneers is now in its 17th year of showcasing new innovations in environmental technology and grass-roots activism. It’s all about sustainability, biodiversity, social justice and wiggling out from under the yoke of the corporate state.

And yes, eating, drinking and dancing.

Eighteen satellite cities, including Bloomington, Ind., also participated, swelled the festivities to some 10,000 participants.
As Bioneers co-founder Nina Simons put it, “It’s all relatives,” meaning we’re all connected to each other, to the Earth, to space. And every single speaker, every workshop, every spontaneous gathering is geared toward understanding that connectedness. Sound warm and fuzzy? Why not. It is warm and fuzzy, but it’s also devastating as one speaker and panel after another peeled back yet an additional layer of ignorance or obliviousness. Sorry, things are even worse than we imagined; nearly every single measure of our environmental health is declining.

But there’s hope

Paul Stamets, who admitted to a profound fear of public speaking, nevertheless held us spellbound with stories of how mushrooms can be used to clean toxic waste — a process he called “fungal bioremediation” — or get rid of termites without pesticides. Stamets’ new book is called Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World and among his many inventions is the Life Box, a simple cardboard box that contains seeds. Say, you buy shoes and take them home. Just spread the box out, place soil on it, then water. Soon you’ll have plants or vegetables growing from the cardboard. No more discarded cardboard; hello reduction in greenhouse gasses; see

Some other highlights:

• James Hillman’s (The Soul’s Code) observation that “liberals have a thinking problem … [their] minds have been separated from action.”

• Michael Pollan’s (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) reminder that if your organic food travels half the world to find you, what’s the point?

• Lois Gibbs, whose experience fighting Love Canal led her to found the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, unveiled her new campaign to educate about the harm caused by PVC plastic:

• Amy Goodman’s (Democracy Now!) chilling remark: “Beware of mothers who have nothing left to lose,” referring to mothers who have lost their sons in the military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Oh wait, give up hope after all

Pennsylvania-based lawyer Thomas Linzey is helping common citizens learn how to fight the collusion between government and corporations with his Democracy School seminars. He said that the fundamental problem is the “assumption that we live in a democracy.” We are deluded by thinking that “if we just perfect our tactics we will win.” In fact, “We never had a democracy in this country … Welcome to the Corporate State.”

Linzey paused, then, and looked out upon the packed auditorium. It’s time, he said, “to give up hope.” Giving up hope strips away any illusion that government is going to save us.

Linzey cited real progress:

• On Sept. 19, the Tamaqua Borough Council in Schuylkill County, Penn., unanimously passed a law declaring that sludge and dredge corporations possess no constitutional “rights” within the Borough. Tamaqua thus becomes the fifth local government in the country to abolish the illegitimate “rights” and privileges claimed by corporations. Those constitutional “rights” and legal privileges have been routinely asserted by corporations in other localities to nullify local laws.

• On Oct. 16, the Blaine Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance banning corporations from mining within the township. Passed to confront concerns about corporate longwall coal mining in the township, the ordinance prohibits corporations from engaging in mining activities. With its passage, the township becomes the first municipality in the United States to ban corporate mining.

For more success stories of ordinary people gaining control, see

The point, Linzey told us, is learning how “to litigate without lawyers … Start asking, ‘What do you want?’ not, ‘What can we get?’’

He related that someone had asked him recently, “Why fight at the local level?”

He replied, “Because the local is all we have left.”

Recordings from this year’s Oct. 20-22 bioneers conference are available at

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Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser

Jim Poyser is Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, a statewide organization that was one of over two dozen nonprofit partners in Greening the Statehouse. A former managing editor of NUVO, he won HEC’s Environmentalist of the Year Award in 2013.

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