Holding It Together by Holding It—Together

Following are Bioneers Co-Founders Nina Simons and Kenny Ausubel’s opening remarks for the Bioneers 2020 Conference.

Since many of you are experiencing a Bioneers conference for the first time, we’d like to share a bit about where we’re coming from and who we are as a community. We are living through a transformative moment of systems crash. We’ve reached the biological high noon of a losing confrontation with our planetary home.

We’ve also reached the breaking point of the clash between democracy and plutocracy. The two are intimately related.

We stand at the threshold of a pivotal passage in the human experiment: To reimagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other, and future generations.

To move from breakdown to breakthrough, the coming years will be the decisive turning point in the viability of human civilization. The future of life on Earth is at stake. It requires the reinvention of everything.

The good news is that we’re witnessing a profound transformation taking hold around the world. It signals the dawn of a human civilization that honors and imitates the wisdom of nature’s design sophistication. After all, nature has 3.8 billion years of R&D under her belt. Nature has done everything we want to do, but without destroying the planet or mortgaging our future.

This historic shift to become an ecologically literate and socially just civilization heralds a declaration of interdependence. Taking care of nature means taking care of people—and taking care of people means taking care of nature.

It’s a revolution from the heart of nature and the human heart. The solutions residing in nature surpass our conception of what’s even possible.

Nature has a profound capacity for healing, and we can act as healers in a regenerative process of supporting nature to heal itself. It’s a partnership, and we’re the junior partner. Together, we can heal our relationships with ourselves, each other and the Earth.

It’s true that what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves—but equally important, what we do to each other, we do to the Earth. We will have peace with the Earth only when we practice justice with each other, which is a process that never ends.

This transformation is rooted in values of justice, equity, diversity, democracy, inclusion, mutuality, respect and peace. It is grounded in valuing and bridging our differences.

In the early 1970s, facing the specter of a world on a collision course with nature and each other, we began asking ourselves what we could do about it. Were there real solutions? One, by one, we came across remarkable individuals who appeared to have come up with fundamental solutions to many of our most pressing environmental and social crises.

A pattern emerged. They approached these challenges with systems thinking because, just as everything in the web of life is connected, human systems and natural systems are one interdependent system. They took a “solve-the-whole-problem” approach, spanning the rich arc of the human endeavor.

These people had peered deep into the heart of nature and living systems in search of cues and clues. The most basic question they asked: How would nature do it? They found endless solutions.

We came to call them “bioneers”—biological pioneers who looked to nature as source, not resource. Of course, the original Bioneers are Indigenous peoples – the old-growth cultures who’ve long held this knowledge for how to live on Earth and with each other for the long haul.

Because the only constant in nature is change, resilience is the grail—enhancing our ability to adapt to dramatic change and restructure our ways of living in concert with natural systems and with respect for human dignity.

The heart of resilience is diversity. In nature, diversity is the very fabric of life.

Damaged ecosystems rebound to health when they have sufficient diversity. So do societies. It’s not just a diversity of players; it’s what ecologists call “response diversity” —the myriad strategies for adapting to ever-shifting challenges. Diverse approaches improve the odds. Diverse cultures and ideas enrich society’s capacity to survive and thrive.

Independent of its utilitarian value to people, diversity is also the sacred tree of life with intrinsic value and the right to life.

This journey ultimately led us to found the Bioneers conference and organization in 1990. The intent was to connect and highlight the visionary work of these leading social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. When people understand real solutions exist, it leverages the momentum for change.

What quickly became clear was that the solutions to our environmental and social crises are largely present—or we know what directions to head in.

Bioneers became a living co-creative system, a celebration of the genius of both nature and human creativity.

For the past 31 years, we’ve acted as a kind of star search for social and scientific innovators who are both visionary and practical. We’ve provided a platform for them to connect, and we’ve become a media amplifier for their voices. Often these are the greatest people you’ve never heard of, including those who are often the most marginalized and least often heard, including First Peoples, people of color, women, and young people.

In essence, we communicate, connect and catalyze solutions-based work that educates and inspires leadership and engaged action, year ‘round.

Over the years, Bioneers has grown into a community of leadership in a time that we’re all called upon to be leaders. The complexity of the world’s challenges today is so vast that they can be solved only through extensive interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaboration and a spectrum of approaches, cultural perspectives, and ideas.

Humility is our constant companion in the recognition of how little we know—or perhaps can know. We’ve served as a trellis on which countless leaders and movements have grown and grown together. We are a network of networks and a big tent featuring diverse movements.

At Bioneers, cross-pollination is a way of life—where the power of connection and collaboration generates engaged action, innovation and greater power to affect change. At the end of the day, it’s about the symphony, not the soloist.

In 1990 when we founded Bioneers, it was a hopeful time of a national and global awakening to the interconnected crises of the destruction of nature and the extreme concentration of wealth and power that are antithetical to democracy and justice. But at this teachable moment of wide awareness and calls to action to avert these looming crises such as climate change, powerful corporate interests stole the slim sliver of time we had to jump-start the transformation and avert the Great Unraveling.

As a result, the world has been slouching toward sustainability—at least until recently. In truth, although it’s one minute to midnight on the ecological clock, and too late to avoid large-scale destruction and disruption, we can still dodge complete cataclysm if we act boldly and quickly.

Around the world, the transition off fossil fuels is irreversibly underway, along with countless other basic changes in how we organize human civilization and relate to one another. From here on, the challenge is to alter the “mindscape” and to shift our structures, cultures and lifeways to fast-forward the transformation. It begins with a change of heart that celebrates the unity and intrinsic value of all life.

Over and over, it’s the story of how great a difference one person can make, and how community makes the difference. In community lies our resilience. As Sarah Crowell of Destiny Arts puts it, “The way we’ll hold it together is to hold it—together.

Perhaps above all, the real story of this time is the power of social movements, which is also the story of Bioneers and of this conference.

In 1990, Bioneers put forth the proposition that in great measure the solutions were becoming visible, if you knew where to look for them. Thirty-one years later, it’s impossible to keep up with the avalanche of strategic and systemic solutions, creative responses, and the dramatic shifts occurring in global consciousness.

Over these 4 days of the Bioneers conference, we invite you to experience a kaleidoscope of solutions, models and innovators with breakthrough solutions for people and planet. We’ll explore the vibrant landscape of transformative social change—a living embodiment of weaving the world anew.

It’s primarily the swelling social movements of the past decades that have valiantly held the line against the doom machine. Now is the time for us to translate these movements into systemic change.

Ideas that may have seemed radical not so long ago now look like a big “duh.” Although it’s not going to happen overnight, there’s much that can happen quickly, especially at local, municipal, state and regional scales—where horizontal alliances from the bottom up are beginning to go to scale.

And, as we tend to our actions in the world—building power, reaching across divides and making real structural change—we need also to tend to our inner states. To shedding the false narratives and identities that limit our best flourishing and that of others.

We can unite ecology and economy, equity and democracy around values founded in the “we” —shifting from a ‘me’ culture to one that lifts each other up, shares power and values all of life. As Heather McGhee says: “We need a ‘we’ to survive.”

The critical human transformation we’re making is from tribalism to pluralism—from anthropocentrism to kinship with the entire web of life. The Mayan people call it “a world where many worlds fit.” In john a. powell’s words, it’s a world that moves from othering to belonging.

These are some of the worlds we’ll be exploring together over these coming days. We are so grateful you’re choosing to join us to explore and co-create this revolution from nature and the human heart.

It’s all alive—it’s all connected—it’s all intelligent—it’s all relatives.

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