We all know the meaning of pioneering and pioneer, right? The latter, per the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th edition), is “1. A person who is first to explore or settle a new country or area. 2. An innovator or developer of new ideas or techniques. 3. A member of an infantry group preparing roads or terrain for the main body of troops.” The word comes from the French cognate pionnier, meaning a foot soldier or pioneer in the first and second sense. But BIONEER? What can that mean? Well, bios is the Greek word for “life.” Hence, a “bioneer” may be an explorer or innovator with issues regarding life. And so it is. According to the organization’s website, www.bioneers.org, Bioneers “is an innovative nonprofit organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Founded in 1990 in Santa Fe, New Mexico by social entrepreneurs Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons, … [it] act[s] as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.” Together we are more powerful than as individuals...
Our housemate Phil, a soon-to-be 76-year-old master carpenter and Boulder resident since the 60s, has been a long-time Bioneers aficionado who regularly attends the organization’s annual conferences and for a time ran a local Bioneers Salon here in Boulder. During Covid, to be sure, in-person meeting were canceled in favor of online ones, mostly panels and talks. Phil convinced Cedar and me to watch with him in those years, and we were sufficiently impressed that we agreed to tag along with him to the 2023 in-person conference at the University of California at Berkeley. There, between April 6-8 we joined some 2,000 attending all-morning plenum sessions and afternoon workshops. Each day began with drumming by an all-woman trio. It didn’t surprise me that many of us in Zellerbach Auditorium got up and boogied down. It was hard not to and proved a good way to start a day of sitting and listening. Now generally such meetings are attended by highly educated liberals of a certain age. Yet Bioneers has made affirmative efforts to use scholarships to attract young activists in their teens and twenties. Also, based on the founders’ belief that indigenous people have more wisdom than the non-indigenous when it comes to preserving and enhancing life on Planet Earth, there were representatives present from several dozen tribal groups from the Americas and beyond. In addition, there was a significant number of persons of color as well as individuals from abroad in the audience.
My wife, Cedar, took copious notes. The conference’s main themes per Cedar were decolonization, intelligence in nature, the Green New Deal, psychedelics, the rights of nature, dismantling systems of oppression, regenerative architecture, and carbon farming. For our part, we should ally ourselves with the Bioneers movement by educating ourselves, listening with humility, preparing for discomfort, becoming open to change, educating others, asking what is needed for help, and, not least, taking action. I could share a lot more, but to sum up, I’m sorry I missed Holy Week at church, but being at this conference felt holy too. I plan to return next year.