Sarah James & Michael Pollan at Bioneers 2009

Bioneers co-founder Kenny Ausubel, as seen in Anchorage in October 2006 via asatellite feed from the main conference in San Rafael, California.

Bioneers co-founders Nina Simons & Kenny Ausubel, as seen in Anchorage in October 2006 via satellite feed from the main Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California.

Per Wikipedia (in an article mostly written by me back in March 2007),

Bioneer (root: “biological pioneer”) is a neologism coined by filmmaker, author and eco-activist Kenny Ausubel. According to Utne Reader, a bioneer is “a biological pioneer, an ecological inventor who’s got an elegant and often simple set of solutions for environmental conundrums.” As coined by Ausubel, the term describes individuals and groups working in diverse disciplines who have crafted creative solutions to various environmental and socio-cultural problems rooted in shared core values, including whole systems, (anticipatory) thinking, a view of all life as interdependent, and sustainable mutual aid.

The article goes on to discuss other usages of the term bioneer, including what looks to be independent coinages relating it to biotechnology — an area which is pretty much antithetical to what Kenny Ausubel intended by the term. As the article later says,

In the book Nature’s Operating Instructions: The True Biotechnologies (coedited with J. P. Harpignies), Ausubel has made a clear distinction between corporate biotech, including genetic engineering, which he decries, and what he has termed “true biotechnologies” based on biomimicry, natural design, and the restoration of natural capital.

Kenny’s coinage gave the name to an annual conference that he cofounded with Nina Simon in 1990, Bioneers — about which you can read the Wikipedia article (yes, I did some work on this article in March 2007 too), or better yet, visit the main Bioneers website.

One of the really cool things Bioneers did a few years back was to start their Beaming Bioneers program, through which plenary sessions from the main conference are broadcast through live satellite feeds to local conferences held simultaneously at sites throughout the U.S. & Canada — including, since 2004, Anchorage.  The Anchorage conference, called Bioneers in Alaska, is being held this weekend at University of Alaska Anchorage.

Jeffrey M. Smith was the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Bioneers in Alaska conference in October 2006.  He wrote Seeds of Deception, a detailed look at the deceptive practices of the biotech industry, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply, and their effects on health.

Jeffrey M. Smith, keynote speaker at the 2006 Bioneers in Alaska conference. He's author of Seeds of Deception, a detailed look at the deceptive practices of the biotech industry, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply, and their effects on health.

And I’m not there.  Well, I am at UAA — in my office, at lunchtime.  I’d like to have attended Bioneers this year, but personal economics plus my strong strong need to focus on writing kept me away this year.  In fact, I’ve been unable for various reasons to attend since 2006, when one big focus of our local conference was on food security & other food issues, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — in fact, our local keynoter that year was Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception about the dangers of  GMO agriculture & foods. (You can see my pics of Bioneers in Alaska 2006 in my Flickr photostream.)

Despite my inability to attend this year, though, I still got in on some of the action: turns out that this year Bioneers decided to livestream two of its plenary speakers each day of the conference, just for people like me.  So this morning, I tuned it & listened as I worked to Gwich’in Athabascan elder Sarah James & Michael Pollan, one of the most important thinkers and writers on our dismal industrialized food supply system.

I did manage to snap a couple of photos as I listened.

Sarah James

Sarah James, a Gwich'in Athabascan elder from Arctic Village, Alaska, spoke on "Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change: Report from the Arctic."

Update: You can still hear Sarah James’ speech: it’s archived here.

Sarah James is already a familiar name to many Alaskans, as she’s been a force in the struggle to protect the Porcupine Caribou herd, upon which her people depend for subsistence, from the push to explore for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  She did talk about ANWR and the caribou; she also talked about the difficulties faced by Alaska Native villagers on the Lower Yukon River with the environmental changes & poor fishery management practices that have led to poor salmon runs, & possibly starving populations this winter. She talked about global warming & climate change — which Alaska Natives in Interior & northern Alaska are witnessing the effects of firsthand.  “Climate change is real, some say it is up to god,” she said. “We have to meet the god half way.” (h/t Erinely.)

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan spoke on "In Defense of Food: The Omnivore’s Solution"

Update: You can still hear Michael Pollan’s speech: it’s archived here. He’s introduced by Kenny Ausubel.

Michael Pollan is the author, among other things, of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, & writes & speaks extensively on the effects of the industrialization of food production and agriculture on human health and the environment. I take a lot of what he says very personally: first, I live in Alaska, where most of our food is shipped long distances before it gets to us.  That makes it especially important for us to support local farmers & other efforts to address food security issues & sustainable practices — like the development of Alaska-hardy apple varieties by the UAF Cooperative Extension Service that I tweeted about a couple of days ago. Second, the products of our industrialized food system, with its emphasis on cheap, shelf life, & etc. as opposed to healthy & tastes good are, as far as I’m concerned, why too many people I know are suffering from diabetes, heart disease, & other lifestyle diseases.  It was my mom’s death from complications of diabetes in November 2005 that led me to finally overhauling my diet in order to prevent myself from also living the remainder of my life suffering from chronic & very unhappy diet-related illness.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to listen to the other four keynoters that Bioneers will be livestreaming, but in case you can:

On Saturday, October 17 starting at 8:00 AM Alaska time (give or take them being behind schedule, as they were this morning):

On Sunday, October 18, starting at 10:30 AM Alaska time (again, give or take):

  • Jerome Ringo will address the reality of green jobs in our re-made economy.
  • Annie Leonard will help us find our way beyond the Age of Stuff.

In addition, both today and tomorrow (Saturday) at 3:30 PM AKST, they’ll webcast a panel &workshop on sustainable social media, in partnership with InfluenceXchange.

To view these live streaming webcasts, go to:

Most of the speeches & discussions from this year’s conference will become available on DVD at some point by way of the Bioneers store, or on the Bioneers radio program, which I sometimes hear broadcast on KSKA-FM, Anchorage’s public radio station.  For more info, see the Bioneers website.

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