Bioneers 2016: Highlights and Questions

Bioneers is, by definition, a recurring utopia. Sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s a conference!

Everyone is happy: beaming, grateful, present, and kind. For example, a stranger brought hot tea for my friend Katie who was volunteering outside for hours, because she noticed my friend’s hands were cold. A co-volunteer, Jake, persistently attended to a disabled man, ensuring that, despite the constraints of the room and AV equipment, that man got to ask his question and receive an answer. This is what the Bioneers community is like.

One of the biggest highlights for me was a mini reunion with my biomimicry tribe: eight out of about twenty students from the inaugural cohort of the Biomimicry for Social Innovation Immersion Course were in attendance. We hugged, ate, and caught up, basking in the sun above us and the light of each other’s hearts. We supported each other’s paths and affirmed our common mission of communication and aligned action to support biomimicry’s vital role in addressing environmental challenges.

As I interacted with my cohort members, fellow volunteers and other attendees, I couldn’t help but be struck again and again by how much everyone cares. We care about how the person next to us is feeling, about helping someone who can’t find a room or building, and about better aligning our work with conditions conducive to life. Nature responds to stress by having each organism extend more help to other organisms. In being kind, attentive, and helpful to each other, we were embodying one of nature’s principles. Because, put simply, we are nature. At Bioneers, everyone becomes their true and best self: aligned with life, and focused on transformative solutions for Mother Earth.

Another highlight was meeting new people; amazing leaders drawn to serve the Earth in diverse, creative, and relentlessly just ways. I learned from Kimberle Crenshaw about the disturbing police brutality against black women around the nation, and from Kandi Mossett about the unwarranted way peacefully praying indigenous men, women and children at Standing Rock were treated by police. The audience sat and cried together, feeling the pain of these social injustices in our hearts, and vowing to keep working for a better world.

The inaugural Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Award was presented on the Bioneers stage this year, with Chilean team BioNurse winning the $100K prize. While all the other teams’ prototypes were just as stunning in their creativity, BioNurse won due to their strong fidelity to the principles of emulating nature: they modeled their soil health device after the cushion plant, which provides sheltered environments for other species to grow. These young biomimics are a true inspiration…

I also encountered an example of what I call social biomimicry: human practices that are in deep alignment with nature. In Bioneers Cofounder and President, Nina Simon’s keynote, I learned about the Okanagan worldview, in which there are four societies: tradition, vision, relationship, and action, which correlate to elders, youth, mothers, and fathers. Tradition refers to indigenous practices, while vision refers to the future. Relationship is the emotional, empathic, and feminine and action is the analytical and masculine. Current societal challenges, according to this worldview, are due to an imbalance caused by too much vision and action, and not enough tradition and relationship. To return to balance, this wise framework asks us to balance the masculine and feminine, being and doing, as well as known and new.

Aside from the soulful fellowship with my peers, creative, emotional and ethical solidarity, deep social biomimicry, I also engaged in plenty of scientific and intellectual inquiry, including interesting talks by Danny Kennedy on accelerating solar adoption, and by a distinguished panel of researchers including Miguel Altieri about how to sequester carbon in soil. I asked myself some questions that help me think integratively:

  • What are the embodied energy implications in the current proliferation of solar photovoltaics?
  • What is the role of vegan foods in climate-conscious biomimetic food systems?
  • How does nature eat efficiently without polluting?
  • How do we heal gender relations and stop violence against people of color, men, women, children animals, and entire nations?

Our journey continues: we are all infused with love, hope, and inspiration from this remarkable community, and gratefully ready for the next chapter of biomimicry for social innovation: engagement. This was the mantra this year: how to engage people and mobilize them for gender rights, community rights, corporate innovation, creative climate solution building, and more.

Precious moments with some of my cohort mates from the first Biomimicry for Social Innovation Immersion Course, and students in the Biomimicry Professional Certification Program (BPro) at Bioneers 2016.

Precious moments with some of my cohort mates from the first Biomimicry for Social Innovation Immersion Course, and students in the Biomimicry Professional Certification Program (BPro) at Bioneers 2016. Photo by Leon Wang.

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