Bioneering…Who are the Bioneers? by Judy Tart

Here is that wise woman extraordinaire Judy Tart’s grounds-eye view of the groundswell movement, bioneering….JGR

Judy Tart in Valley of Fire, Nevada (On Vacation)
Judy Tart, on vacation in Valley of Fire, Nevada

This year I went to the Bioneers conference in Marin for the first time, out of curiosity to see what they were up to and what I might learn or be able to put into action. If you don’t know who they are, you can find out more at

The Bioneers are basically environmental activists who have an optimistic outlook about the future and a number of innovative approaches to achieving change and reducing our toxic impact on the planet. “Biomimicry,” for instance — learning how nature does things to develop materials and processes without untoward side effects.

Overall, it was a pretty interesting, informative, and intense gathering of around 3000 people of all ages (with another 10,000 at number of satellite locations around the country). Many young people, encouragingly, were there along with many tribal peoples from all over North America. The best part was hearing so much enthusiasm and up-beat, can-do spirit on the global environmental problems we face, when the usual attitude is to either ignore them or find them immobilizingly depressing. The worst part was hearing some intensely bad news on a number of fronts – the health of the oceans, for instance.

Going a little more deeply into some of the areas covered may give you a better idea of the conference.


Taking cues from nature and natural processes, people with mainstream positions at major universities and people running innovative companies are coming up with products that work.

For instance, one guy uses the spiral shape found in conch shells to make an impeller which can mix water in large storage tanks (200 feet across) to keep it fresh without using tons of chemicals – and the energy equivalent of 3 light bulbs.

Another has found that the glue secreted by mussels to adhere to rocks can replace the formaldehyde-based glues in plywood to
keep this toxic compound out of our houses and air. Companies are adopting these (slowly) when they see that not only are they safer, but positively impact their bottom lines.

Environmental justice

Several speakers spoke of the devastation of the poorest neighborhoods, such as South Bronx and West Oakland, by having to live next door to toxic factories, power plants, dump sites, and freeways. Innovative solutions are also proposed: For instance, Van Jones, a black Yale lawyer from rural Tennessee, is working with kids from the Oakland ghettos to provide “green-collar” jobs for them, installing solar panels and other hands-on approaches to saving the environment and helping them out of poverty at the same time. You can find him on the internet – this is the second time I heard him talk and he’s one of the most charismatic speakers I’ve ever heard – if he ever decides to go into politics, he will have a big impact.

It wasn’t all gloom and doom. Everyone had success stories to tell aswell as painting the stark pictures of what is happening. There were artists, such as Judy Baca, who uses murals in Los Angeles for social reconciliation and to tell the story of the people of color whose voices are unheard. Eve Ensler (the Vagina Monologues) told about her vision to stop violence against women, world-side. A psychologist works with the psychically wounded soldiers from our wars to reclaim their souls. A group of women, including Alice Walker and Jean Shinoda Bolen, shared their wisdom.

And the Thirteen Indigenous grandmothers, ( shared their visions and blessings. Beautiful sculptures of animals, made from layers of recycled wood, shimmered on every stage. The exhibitors included groups dedicated to every kind of activity and planetary healing.

All in all, it was a rich – almost too rich – feast for heart and mind. I am letting it sink in, waiting to see what will emerge as the area I want to explore more deeply. It is also making me question my Buddhist orientation that everything is best solved by working on one’s own enlightenment, thereby becoming a person who can truly best help others. It seems to me that the crisis on this planet, ultimately illusory as it may be, will not easily be solved by this approach – that the problems are too deep, and too immediate, to take the long, serene view.

To read more of Judy’s report from the Bioneering Conference 2007, on Nuclear Power, Oceans, and Toxic Chemicals, click here.

Nuclear power

Whether we should build more nuclear power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a big question in California right now – a measure may be on our ballot putting this to a vote. There was a panel discussion on this topic, and I’m giving a fairly full report on it here because everyone will increasingly be required to decide where we stand on this issue.
One person on the panel, Steward Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), claimed to be somewhat for nuclear power – citing other greens, such as James Lovelock, Jared Diamond, and Paul Erhlich as also more or less pro. He mentioned Gwyneth Cravens’ forthcoming book on the subject as well. Brand’s comments were that we must try everything, that we need constant base-load which alternatives won’t give; that nothing else we have now can replace coal – and that we are certain our energy needs
are going to go up, worldwide, as poor people move from the impoverished countrysides to the cities to better their lots. Nuclear waste can be concentrated and kept local, whereas coal waste goes everywhere; the scale of climate change is too large to be
handled on a local level – but must be dealt with at the government level of the US, China, EU, and India if we’re going to get anywhere.

The other panelists, and the audience, were more or less adamantly opposed. Peter Warshall thinks nukes are not necessary, and that the large amounts of money required for construction etc. could drain funds away from more important projects. He believes all our electrical energy sources should be greenhouse gas free, and many local small-scale power sources could and should replace giant plants. – distributed generation. All meters should be bi-directional so potentially every house could be generating power. Energy efficiency – if the US increased our energy efficiency by only 1%, we could hold our emissions steady at 2000 levels for 200 years.

Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information and Resource Center feels that the big power companies are using global warming to sneak in their plans to build nuclear plants. Even if we were to accept that they were necessary, the process for building these plants would take too long, 10-15 years, Besides, the number of plants thought to be necessary, world-wide, to achieve our goals would be 1500-2000 — 400 in the US. The total number now planned or projected for the US is 32 – nowhere near enough in any case.

Right now, according to him, the whole world has the ability to build about 10 reactors per year – at this rate, it would take 150-200 years to acheive the # needed – and the costs are staggering, and delays in construction and huge over-runs are the norm.

Last to speak was a First Nations woman from Saskatchewan where yellow-cake is mined – why should her lands and peoples be destroyed to produce this toxic product and then store the waste on their lands as well, as is being planned by the Canadian government?


A number of speakers addressed the devastation of the oceans – the dead zones, the pollution – sewage, chemicals, fertilizers – running off every continent into the seas. The overfishing of all major fish stocks – all fisheries will collapse by 2048, it is predicted. One large tuna in the Tokyo fish market fetched $173,000 – by taking the largest fish we are preventing restocking. Shrimp trawling is the worst offender – 90% of their take is “bycatch” – everything but shrimp – simply destroyed. Slides showing dead birds and animals and the amazing amounts of plastic taken from their bodies that killed them. Tiny plastic particles in the
ocean outnumber krill six to one.

Toxic chemicals in the environment
There are 200 tested chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. The accepted ratio of boy babies to girls born is a little higher than 50-50 (since boys are somewhat more fragile at birth) – but now that ratio is falling all over the world, and in the Arctic, twice as many girls as boys are being born. Sperm counts are lower, and testicular cancer is on the rise in young men.

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