The Wonders of Our Planet

As Earth Day nears, we’re sharing insights into the wonders of our planet and what we can do to keep her healthy. Below, you’ll hear from a Native ecologist on what it means to respect plant life, pick up tips for human collaboration based on the intelligence of superorganisms, discover the pure magic of mushrooms, and more.

Gearing Up for Bioneers 2018

From Co-Founder Kenny Ausubel:

We’re living in a thriller that only reality could write. Breakdown and breakthrough – death and rebirth – creative destruction writ large. As this year’s Bioneers Conference will exemplify, there’s as much cause for hope as for horror, and the ground truth is that how this story turns out is up to us. Nothing less than a step change in human evolution will do. Never has it been more important for us to exercise our vision, our agency, our solidarity and our voices. Read more.

A few of the keynote speakers we’ll welcome this year:

  • Michael Pollan – author and journalist
  • Patrisse Cullors – co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter
  • Rebecca Moore – leader of Google Earth Outreach
  • Kevin Powell – political activist and writer
  • Justin Winters – executive director, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
  • And many more.

The Big Question: Sexual Fluidity Under the Sea

Research has revealed that many sea creatures see their sex assignments as guidelines rather than rules. Take, for example, one silly, striped species of fish, which has the ability to switch sexes to fill gaps within their community’s hierarchy. Pixar didn’t tell this story. Can you name the species? (Read to the bottom of this email to find the answer.)

Wise Words

“It’s a sign of respect and connection to learn the name of someone else, a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Yet the average American can name over 100 corporate logos and 10 plants. Is it a surprise that we have accepted a political system that grants personhood to corporations and no status at all for wild rice and redwoods? Learning the names of plants and animals is a powerful act of support for them. When we learn their names and their gifts it opens the door to reciprocity.”

—Robin Kimmerer, Potawatomi Indigenous ecologist, author, and professor, in an inspirational keynote address

Video to Watch: Fascinating Fungus

Paul Stamets: “Mushroom Magic”

Paul Stamets, world-renowned mycologist, author and founder of retailer Fungi Perfecti, shares the many astonishing ways in which mushrooms can be used to help solve some of the world’s most puzzling problems.

This Week on Bioneers Radio

  • Fire in the Belly: Women Leading Social Change: Harm to one is harm to all—and prevention is a question of human survival. From oil refinery accidents in California to the aftermath of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf South, leaders Pennie Opal Plant and Colette Pichon Battle are on the frontlines, organizing their communities to stop the harms of the extraction economy and climate disruption. Activist-attorney Adrianna Quintero is making sure the voices of those most affected are heard helping awaken the “sleeping giant” of Latino voters.
  • Growing Collective Intelligence: Democratizing Technology and Citizen Science: A new wave of technologies designed to regenerate people, planet and democracy is emerging in ingenious ways. Designers are creating online software for democratic group decision-making that weaves diverse perspectives into a coherent whole. And citizen science is spreading low-tech, high-impact tools that empower communities to work directly with data and mapping that can save them from harm and hold perpetrators accountable. With: democracy technologist Ben Knight of Loomio, and citizen scientist Shannon Dosemagen of Public Lab.

Book to Read

Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World by Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker

The superorganism way of life persists, even as the world changes. And believe it or not, there are societies even more successful and ubiquitous than these. Beneath the soil you walk on lies a half-billion year old pulsing nutrient superhighway of fungus—a dense fuzzy network of genetically distinct individuals on the hunt for matter to digest, minerals and water to absorb. If a meal is there, they will find it, and when they do, it will flow throughout the system, shuttling wherever it is needed most—because the fungi are fused into one. Each fungal cell gets more as a member of the network than it could on its own. Together, these fungal patches thrive—making up a quarter of all terrestrial biomass.

I’ve studied the evolution of social systems my whole life—everything from baboons and bonobos to orcas and insects—even slime molds and fungal networks. How do they cooperate, and why? What does working as a superorganism mean for individuality, personal freedom, and creativity? How does the fractal, ebb-and-flow math of collaboration and competition contribute to evolutionary change and complexity? And, how do these most ancient societies work to compound their value from one generation to the next? Superorganisms are everywhere, just like we are, and their footprint on the land isn’t small. And yet, we don’t see them choking on smog or stuck in traffic. The fungi aren’t counting carbon credits or worrying about the Pacific Garbage Patch, and termites and honeybees don’t have slums. These colonies have the same kind of metabolic requirements we do, yet they survive and thrive, sustainably—regeneratively—for hundreds of millions of years, through radical waves of change that turned other populations into fossils. Can we do the same?

After nearly thirty years of studying every kind of social structure, my conclusion is that we can. I know that, because it‘s been done before. The math is simple and universal. Botanical philosopher Michael Pollan says it well: “our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum…as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.” Other superorganisms have done it, and they can show us the way.

Read more here.

Attend San Francisco’s Earth Day Event: Learn About Protecting Sacred Sites

Native American land-defenders are always at the front lines to protect their sacred sites. These sacred sites are in the middle of our cities, in our hometowns, and in our national parks. While these battles are under-publicized, they are ongoing. This Earth Day, attend San Francisco’s Earth Day celebration, and hear Bioneers’ Alexis Bunten lead a panel in which Native American leaders share their heartbreaking and inspiring campaigns to save the West Berkeley shell mound; Juristac near Gilroy; and Oak Flat near Superior, Arizona. All of these places are sacred ceremonial sites, and all of them are under threat to be destroyed forever by mining and development.

Learn more here.

Around the Web

  • Proving an alternative-energy future is possible, mainland Portugal generated more renewable energy than it needed in March. (via EcoWatch)
  • Providing major insight into how birds navigate, recent research suggests a protein in their eyes allows them to see Earth’s magnetic fields. (via Science Alert)
  • Rights of Nature progress: The Colombia Supreme Court of Justice issued a decision declaring that the Amazon region in Colombia possesses legal rights. (via CELDF)
  • Ready to get your garden going? Microbes in soil have been shown to have similar effects to antidepressants on the human brain. (via Gardening Know How)
  • Take a trip to Sweden to see the world’s first electrified road. It charges vehicles, providing a big step toward fossil-fuel independence. (via The Guardian)

The Big Question, Answered: Sexual Fluidity Under the Sea

Clownfish like Nemo are just one of several sex-changing underwater species. “Many oysters also know sex—in the biblical sense—from both sides of the bed,” writes Dr. Marah Hardt in Sex in the Sea. “The most popularly consumed species, including those Bluepoints and Belons, Sweetwaters and Wellfleets, Kumamotos and Pemaquids, in all their wondrous, buttery, salty, smoky, earthy, fruity merroir—all have the potential to morph from male to female.” Read more here.

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