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At This Gathering, the Only Alternative Is to Be Alternative

Patricia Leigh Brown, NY Times
SAN RAFAEL, Calif., Oct. 21 – Along with Diablo winds and ripe persimmons, fall here brings with it a migratory phenomenon known as the Bioneers, a three-day pep rally for environmentalists, lefty political activists and young people with “Renewable Energy Is Homeland Security” bumper stickers that transforms the Marin Civic Center into something of a megachurch for the Prius set.

For some 3,200 true believers, and about 10,000 others who were beamed in by satellite from simultaneous conferences in Logan, Utah; Honolulu; and other far-flung places, the Bioneers is part tribal gathering and part support group, encouraging adherents to connect with their inner Al Gore. (The name is a play on biodiversity and pioneers.)

Students, organic farmers, architects, advocates for Pacific dolphins and a growing number of entrepreneurs looking to invest in green technology come to hear the latest thinking on global warming (code word: Katrina) and how to keep the food supply safe (buzzword: spinach). Alternative energy, Bioremediation and environmental justice, once-fringy issues, have over the course of the conference’s 17-year history become part of the national dialogue.

“It’s biology as a metaphor for social change,” said Paul Hawken, an author and a founder of Smith & Hawken, the outdoor supply company. Mr. Hawken double-dipped, speaking at a satellite conference in Marion, Mass., then flying back to Marin. “It’s a parallel universe,” he said.

…“The issues they were raising a decade ago, from local food to rooftop power, have moved into the mainstream,” said Bill McKibben, a writer who spoke at last year’s conference. “The Bioneers has been consistently ahead of the curve. It began as a gathering place for a fairly small number of like-minded people but is now a hatchery for the next wave of important ideas that five years hence people will be talking about in Rotary Clubs.”
(24 Oct 2006)
Shepherd Bliss has covered Bioneers for Energy Bulletin this year and last year.
He crticized the above article in a letter to the NY Times:

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Finally they integrate (or co-opt) what you have been saying and doing all along,” someone famous first said decades ago.

After 17 years of ignoring the growing Bioneers, the New York Times has finally evolved to the second stage of ridicule. The Times’ Oct. 24 article cynically describes the event as a “pep rally,” a “megachurch for the Prius set” and “true believers” and “a monoculture, a love-fest between graying activists and youthful idealists.” As one of those “graying activists,” now 62, I appreciate the Times’ growth into adolescence on covering this important event and await its maturing to support at least some of the ideas advanced by the scientists and others at Bioneers. Perhaps better to be ridiculed than ignored.

…As a professional journalist who has also taught journalism in college, I try to be more neutral and objective than the Times when I write about the recent weekend. But let me admit to my bias toward the intention of the Bioneers to draw biological and other pioneers together to work to restore the Earth. Some still dismiss us with phrases like “tree huggers,” but with fewer trees each year to clean our air, draw water to the ground, and do all the other wonderful things that trees naturally do, I must admit that I have indeed been hugging the redwoods, oaks and other trees on my small Northern California farm.

I can see Shepherd’s points, but I guess I feel more philosophical about it. New ideas – especially totally new paradigms like sustainability – always meet with opposition and ridicule. It’s all part of the process. In fact I was surprised at the positive tone of the article, particularly the prescients quote from Bill McKibben. -BA

Live from Pop!Tech: Live green or die

Greg Lamb, Christian Science Monitor
Some 500 people drive or fly to the Pop!Tech conference on Maine’s scenic midcoast from all over the US, and a few from overseas. They burn a lot of fossil fuels to get here. To make up for that, the conference is sponsoring solar power projects by the Solar Electric Light Fund that it says will save twice the amount of carbon emissions that will be expended by the conference and its attendees.

Climate change and where tomorrow’s energy will come from after fossil fuels are spent has to be on any agenda grappling with the great issues. No exception here. As one speaker put it: Al Gore was wrong about climate change and clean energy: It’s much more serious a problem than he says.

Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist and author of “The World Is Flat,” used his 20 minutes to basically sound out the themes in his book and columns. They’re powerful themes. We have to redefine what we mean by “green,” he says. It’s not all granola crunching and “girly men,” he says, it’s not something “vaguely French.” Green, Friedman says, is the new “red, white, and blue,” patriotic and capitalistic

…Stewart Brand continued the green theme later Thursday by outlining where the environmental movement may be headed. Those with a romantic attachment to Mother Earth will still be on the front lines, but increasingly they’re being joined by hard-headed scientists and engineers. New and better data is pushing everything. The scientists and engineers, many of whom still feel uncomfortable being ID’d as “green,” are more likely to recognize that humans are already “Terra forming,” or changing the natural world using science and technology, to meet their demands. (So we better do it right, he adds.)

…Seeing what’s happening clearly is always the first step. But follow-up sessions from people sharing innovative ideas, like environmental journalist Alex Steffen, show there’s no excuse not to go beyond hand-wringing. “Junk tagging,” for example, is just one idea for an Internet-connected world. Why not point out online the location of one person’s junk to everyone? It might be someone else’s treasure, he says. Technology can “dematerialize” some of the damage done by an industrialized society. Netflix, the mail-based video company, not only has a profitable business plan: It also eliminates car trips to the video store and the video store itself, along with all the energy and materials that are needed to build and maintain it.
(30 Oct 2006)
Also by Greg Lamb: What is Pop!Tech?.

Slow Food movement has global outreach
Farmers, producers share knowledge at Italy convention

Carol Ness, SF Chronicle
Americans who think of Slow Food as an elite supper club for snobby food purists would be stunned by the scene unfolding inside the former Olympic speed skating arena here over the past four days.

Senegalese cereal farmers in purple satin and matching headdresses trade packaging tips with Peruvian potato growers in traditional red embroidered garb. Goat cheese makers and Hmong long-bean growers from California find common ground with their Italian and Eastern European counterparts. Israeli and Palestinian farmers, along with Iraqi and American food producers, share space and the excited chat that food never fails to stimulate.

This is Terra Madre, a gathering that is the Olympics of the international movement to deindustrialize food production. That means putting taste back at the heart of food, saving heirloom fruits, vegetables and animals, keeping small farmers in business and in local communities, and pushing farming back on sound environmental ground.

…It’s the second such gathering organized by Slow Food International, which is based in the nearby town of Bra. The first Terra Madre, in 2004, generated an astounding force field around the ideas of Slow Food, which started 20 years ago as a way of saving inexpensive Italian restaurants serving tagliarini with butter and sage and other traditional foods from the wave of nouvelle cuisine that put salmon with dill on plates around the world.

Now, Slow Food has grown into an international movement, with 80,000 members in 50 countries, including 12,000 in the United States.

…Health problems like obesity and diabetes, widening economic disparities across the world and environmental issues like global warming show that the current system “defined by speed, abundance and waste” can no longer sustain itself, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini told the conference, which concludes today.

The time is ripe, he said, to bring food economies back to their local roots.
(30 Oct 2006)

Coming to a theater near you: carbon-neutral movie

Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters
The critics raved: “Tender and touching!” “Beautiful and poignant!” “A sweet gem!” But the makers of the independent film “Sweet Land” seem just as pleased with another accolade: carbon-neutral.

This means that all of the carbon dioxide emitted by the filmmaking process — lights, cameras, transportation — was totaled up and offset by comparable investments in renewable energy. Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

“For me, it’s less of a political statement about global warming, and more just, there’s got to be a nicer, cleaner way to do this,” said film director and writer Ali Selim in an interview before the movie’s Washington opening on Friday.

“Sweet Land” cost about $1 million to make, Selim said, and from the beginning, he and the cast and crew worked to minimize their environmental impact.

Filming in Montevideo, Minnesota, population 5,346, Selim used sunlight instead of film lights whenever possible during shooting and had actors carpool to the set instead of driving on their own. He kept them at the location rather than paying to have them fly back and forth.

He also used the practice of “shooting out” each location before moving on to the next, that is, getting every necessary shot, so that transporting the entire costly enterprise from one place to another was kept to a minimum.
(27 Oct 2006)

Energy: use less, save more by John Clift & Amanda Cuthbert

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
A Review of “Energy: Use Less, Save More” by Jon Clift & Amanda Cuthbert. Green Books, Totnes, Devon.

energyThis excellent little book’s eighty-four pages offer 100 tips for saving energy around the home. Highly readable, it covers all aspects of energy use in our lives, cooking, heating, keeping things cool, washing the dishes and so on. Its tips are all practical measures that you can go and do as soon as you have finished reading. It is designed to have a mainstream appeal, and its solutions appeal to that market. For example, the section on keeping things cool is full of excellent tips on making the most of your fridge/freezer, but it nowhere suggests that perhaps you might get rid of the fridge altogether, and use a larder and a stone bowl with water and a wet cloth instead.
(23 Oct 2006)

Greening the planet, one backyard at a time
Tracey Millen, ECOS (CSIRO)
Nestled in Clayton, in a south-eastern pocket of Melbourne, a typical suburban home inhabited by three everyday tenants was the scene for some big ideas.Dan Palmer, Adrian Wedd and Cat Moore transformed their quarter-acre backyard into a permaculture paradise. The food they grew provided them with roughly 75 per cent of their total needs – an impressive figure given they started their garden a mere two years ago, and more reason why an urban backyard garden is becoming an increasingly popular part of living sustainably.

Using permaculture design principles, which aim to mimic natural ecosystems in organic farming, the trio nurtured a produce garden that featured a worm farm, compost heap, chook tractor and ducks for pest control, to name a few of its components.While food production was at its peak in the summer months, Dan, Adrian and Cat learned to adapt their garden to all seasons by using a variety of plants and techniques.

What was the inspiration behind sacrificing a good deal of what was originally lawn on their rental property? Palmer explains: ‘We thought it ecologically irresponsible to maintain large areas of purely cosmetic lawn while relying on supermarkets, and hence environmentally destructive industrial agriculture, to meet our food needs.’

This sentiment seems to be growing as other city dwellers start to think more seriously about sustainable agriculture, and what they can do to help. Urban area under horticulture is increasing significantly each year around the world as it becomes clear that better food can easily be produced on small plots, more cheaply, and with less overall impact on both the environment and the body when compared to much of today’s commercially grown and transported
(Aug-Sep 2006)
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