Change Gonna Come – by Kenny Ausubel

Change gonna come. That much is for sure. The big wheels are turning and the burning question is what that change is going to look like. In truth, it’s up to all of us to create the future we want, which is a constant though-line at Bioneers.

Although the National Bioneers Conference is a big tent and a forum that presents diverse viewpoints, we hold progressive values that include social and racial justice, democracy, equity and freedom. Those values and voices infuse the program this year with some of the most visionary and practical approaches on the horizon – and in the trenches right now.

And be forewarned: Although some of our speakers are well-known, our stock-in-trade is “the greatest people you’ve never heard of.” So be prepared for happy surprises and discoveries.

Danny Glover will inspire us with a keynote call to action to reclaim our citizenship and make the world we want. Danny is best known as a world-renowned actor and director, yet he ought to be equally famous for his lifelong progressive activism. Over the decades, Danny has been at the visionary forefront of the progressive struggles for social and racial justice, unions and worker rights, farm worker rights, the anti-Apartheid movement, and resistance against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Danny will also join the Mother Jones panel on Media Mojo for Social Change, with filmmakers Katie Galloway and Gay Dillingham.

Our old friend and exceptional youth leader Billy Parish will deliver an electrifying keynote about his work with Solar Mosaic, one of the breakthrough companies disrupting the energy sector. It’s promoting “100% Clean Energy For and By The People” with a model of distributed energy AND distributed ownership for small investors – like $25! This leading young change-maker-turned-entrepreneur is showing how, in this generation, we can shift from fossil fuels to a world 100% powered by clean energy in ways that make all of us richer, healthier and happier. Billy will participate on a top-flight panel about Disruptive Financing Innovations for Distributed Energy and Sustainability with Rabobank Vice-President and renewables financing master Marco Krapels, and Angelina Galiteva who is at the forefront of the rapidly spreading 100% Renewables movement.

The Indigenous Environmental Network Executive Director Tom Goldtooth’s keynote on Stopping the Privatization of Nature and Commodification of Mother Earth will raise the voices of indigenous peoples who are asking the world to reevaluate our relationship to Mother Earth, turn away from destroying, privatizing and commodifying nature, and tturn instead to indigenous wisdom with "indigenuity." Tom will highlight the Idle No More movement sweeping Canada and helping stop the Mordor of Tar Sands. Tom will participate in other sessions in the Indigenous Forum, which he helps organize (see the Indigenous Forum program).

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, the exceptional leader of Green For All and its national work creating green jobs for underserved communities, will dive deep into Motherhood and Leadership: how the experience of becoming a mother has created a deepened personal sense of urgency in her work to create a healthier and more just planet. Phaedra will join the panel on Building the Movement for a New Economy featuring Bob Massie of the brand-new national New Economy Coalition of 40 groups, and David Levine of the American Sustainable Business Council, which is emerging as a countervailing force of small and medium-sized businesses to Beltway Big Business lobbies. It may blow your mind to learn how fast and far this movement is growing.

The lifelong change-maker, Buddhist scholar and peace, justice and ecology activist Joanna Macy will share the essence of her wisdom about what it takes to be fully present in holding both the light and the dark of these cathartic times. We will present Joanna, now 84 years old, with a Lifetime Contribution Award.

And that’s just some of the morning keynotes. Each afternoon you can choose from multiple diverse breakouts, and every year we get anguished complaints from participants who can’t decide which amazing session(s) to attend. We take that as a compliment, but it is a dilemma. You’re on your own.

We have several  first-rate sessions on Eco-Nomics and the burst of creative responses building Capitalism 2.0. “Redesigning the Corporation and Its Supply Chain for Social and Environmental Values” will present a provocative dialogue about the Rainforest Alliance’s work with major corporations, in this instance Chiquita and Unilever, to “mainstream” sustainability. New York Times blog editor Andy Revkin will host this inside view of the fundamental shift in big companies toward true ecological sustainability.

“Entrepreneurship: Mission-Driven Companies” features some of the most exciting smaller companies founded by visionary innovators, including the founders of Café Gratitude, Nutiva and Mary’s Gone Crackers (a Bioneers sponsor) who will tell the truth about what it takes to align money and mission. Which is, it ain’t easy but it’s worth it.

Huge thanks to our friends at Worldwatch Institute (State of the World masters) for putting together an exceptional concept and group for “Moving from Sustainababble to True Sustainability (or Getting Ready for the Collapse If We Can’t).” We need to go beyond “sustainability” and put our thumb on the scale to tip it to radical restoration. Joining Worldwatch’s illustrious Robert Engelman and Erik Assadourian will be Oberlin’s powerhouse David W. Orr and media innovator  and “Story of Stuff” producer Annie Leonard.

The role of women in this great transformation is also center stage each afternoon. “Women as Democracy Builders: Reclaiming Our Commons from Corporate Power” will illustrate why and how women are so often at the center of democracy movements, with esteemed participants Anna Lappé, Lynne Twist, Leila Salazar-Lopez and Kelle Louaillier.

We’ll have hot-off-the-presses report from the front lines of the brand-new movement around “Mobilizing Women for Climate Solutions,” whose September 2013 founding meeting you can learn about first at Bioneers – and engage with right then and there. Presented by Women's Earth and Climate Caucus and International Women's Earth and Climate Initiative, key leaders recently returned from the Women's Earth and Climate Summit will share how you can get involved in the growing global women's movement for sane climate and sustainability policies.

The iconic leader Betsy Taylor will address “A Hero's Quest: Tapping Our Courage and Unleashing Our Ingenuity to Meet the Climate Threat,” sharing cutting-edge knowledge on developing a shared story and effective narrative for talking to sympathetic but un-engaged citizens about joining the struggle for a bright, clean energy future?

Racial justice is front and center in multiple programs related to “Beloved Community” and equity. Organized and hosted by our esteemed colleague Connie Cagampang Heller who collaborates with john powell and UC Berkley’s Hass Center for a Fair and Inclusive Society. “Beloved Community: An Invitation” will be an emergent conversation including john powell about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful vision of “Beloved Community,” in which all people share in the wealth of the Earth, and where love and trust  triumph over fear and hatred. “Giving Power: Exploring “Situatedness” and Power” probes what makes it difficult for us to embrace our own power and build collective power.

We’re deeply honored to present work you never otherwise hear about to restore Detroit, with huge props to our Beaming Bioneers community partner Gloria Rivera who helped put it together. “Resist, Restore, Re-imagine: Greening Detroit with Resilience” features Three leading Detroit grassroots activists show how Detroit is being revitalized by local action that integrates social justice with environmental restoration. Then “Building Community Resilience from Detroit to Japan” widens the frame with compelling visions for creating community resilience and social healing, including in post-Fukishima Japan. The seasoned organizers include Caroline Stayton of Transition US, Desa Van Laarhoven of Bioneers By the Bay in New Bedford, and Bob Stilger who works in Japan.

We’re also deeply honored to present “Fukishima: A Blueprint for Action” with key players seeking to catalyze an international response and new approaches to this cartastrophe-in-progress. Huge thanks to our old friend and the world-renowned artist Mayumi Oda for sharing this potentially game-changing emergent strategy to cut through the corruption, denial and inertia to catalyze an international emergency response and changing the terms of engagement.

And HOW will this Great Transformation come about?? We’re thrilled to have Joanna Macy and Richard Tarnas take on that question with the idea of “The Role of ‘Heroic’ Learning Communities in the Postmodern Era.” In a time of such critical and rapid historical change, what is the role and cultural significance of "heroic" learning communities, like Bioneers, consciously oriented toward a framework of values, or a vision of the good, which in some manner fundamentally challenges that of the larger mainstream society?


Good luck choosing… and be forewarned: If you want to be sure of getting into the afternoon sessions, get there early — or at least on time! They fill up fast and space is limited. No kidding.

Bioneers Indigenous Forum – an opportunity for indigenous youth

by Cara Romero – Program Director, Indigenous Knowledge

What is Bioneers Indigenous forum?

The Indigenous Forum is a sovereign space dedicated to indigenous programming at the annual Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California. Native leaders are invited to the Indigenous Forum to offer the world uniquely valuable indigenous perspectives promoting biocultural diversity conservation, the protection of Native lands, indigenous human rights and the leadership of indigenous peoples. It is designed to include in-depth discussions on the most pressing issues facing indigenous communities locally and globally, and includes exchanges concerning policy, reform and best practices in native arts, environmental issues, and cultural preservation by leaders from diverse Native backgrounds.

 Why is Bioneers indigenous forum unique?

The Indigenous Forum (by design) promotes indigenous leaders from diverse backgrounds and campaigns by creating a cultural bridge and public education outlet. These exchanges among tribal elders and distinguished tribal speakers bring critical awareness to First Peoples' issues while giving depth and acknowledgement to the tribes that make up California and indigenous communities from around the globe. The Forum offers a Native-led sanctuary for networking and self representation of indigenous peoples amidst a multi-cultural and multi-generational audience. The educational outreach between cultures is Native advised and honors the intellectual property and cultural privacy of Native Peoples while creating an invitational format to bridge indigenous knowledge and First People's leaders and global allies.

What does the Indigenous forum offer youth?

This year, we’ve raised enough funds to transport and give all-inclusive registration passes to over 50 Native youth mainly from California. We would like to generously thank our partners in funding, The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Southern California Edison.

We are trying to foster new leaders by creating opportunities for Native Youth to participate in, network at, and be empowered by attending the annual Bioneers Conference. We work with inner city tribal organizations and the school district's Indian Ed. Dept. to bring Native youth grades 6-12 (and beyond) to the conference that would otherwise not be able to attend. We also work with university Native Studies programs and tribal colleges and universities.

The Bioneers Conference and Indigenous Forum is a unique and inspirational educational opportunity for indigenous youth. It is my philosophy that by pairing indigenous youth with cultural mentors, they will be inspired to stay in school and become cultural, environmental and social justice leaders in Indian Country. I echo Gloria Steinem on women’s leadership–, "if you can't see it, you can't be it”. The Indigenous Forum is a place where our youth can "see", meet and network with powerful and engaging Native leaders. This year, we’ve got three different workshops and panels geared for the youth:

  • Sunday, October 20th 1:30-2:30 p.m. (bring your lunch and listen…)Indigenous Forum. Technology to Transform: Building a Youth Driven Climate Justice Movement: Antwi Akom, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Environmental Sociology, Public Health, and STEM Education at San Francisco State University and is CoFounder and Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (I-SEEED)discusses what the modern world can learn from the indigenous world to combat climate change through the use of technology. The emergence of new technologies is changing society, the way we live, the way we work, the way we play, the way we communicate and do business—and the way we learn. Professor Akom discusses his work building a youth-driven climate justice movement and applying youth-driven technological innovations at the grassroots level as a way to overcoming some of the world’s most pressing social problems. He specifically works to integrate technology in a way that will deepen cohesion between diverse environmental, educational, and workforce development groups by equipping leaders with proven tools for cultivating community, healing divisions and developing joint movement building strategies.  Overall Professor Akom strives to build an ecosystem of “solutionists”.  He believes that through innovative economic, educational, environmental design, and cutting edge technology, we can create just and sustainable communities for all.


  • Saturday, October 19th 4:30pm-6:00pm. Indigenous Forum. Guardians of the Water: Native Youth Speak Out on Arts, Media, and Cultural Health. With: Nicola Wagenberg (Colombian), Vice-President and Youth Director for the Guardians of the Waters Youth program of The Cultural Conservancy (TCC); Valarie Ordoñez Perez (Salvadorian/Mexican), artist, activist, and Youth Coordinator for the Guardians of the Waters Youth program at TCC; Mateo Hinojosa (Bolivian-American), documentary filmmaker and educator, media director and teacher at TCC. Through a Cultural Conservancy Summer Internship funded by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and others, a group of indigenous youth has made canoe paddles and a tule boat, learned about local water systems, and engaged in other creative activities and dialogue around health, identity, and canoe traditions. Native youth will discuss their experiences and see the media they created.


  • Sunday, October 20th 4:30-6:00 p.m. Indigenous Forum. Youth and Indigenous Leader Talking Circle. Hosted by Cara Romero (Chemehuevi), Director of Bioneers Indigeneity Program.

California Indian educators have expressed that it is very important for indigenous youth (especially K-12) to be able to attend the Indigenous Forum because it is rare that they are able to see leaders in the world that they can closely identify with. Together we are creating exposure to educational experiences that are native focused and hope they may help to keep native youth engaged and inspired in continuing their education.

Interview with Dekila Chungyalpa and Ilarion Merculieff


Dekila Chungyalpa is the Program Director for the World Wildlife Fund’s Sacred Earth Program. Recognizing that many of the world’s most important conservation areas are also sacred sites, the program works with religious leaders and faith communities to protect local natural resources. She is also the ecological advisor to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. Recently Dekila joined fellow BioCon presenter and Alaskan Native elder Ilarion Merculieff to discuss growing up in a culture that revered Mother Earth, bringing the sacred into modern environmentalism and what it means to be a real human being.

Dekila: I'm honestly really happy to be speaking with you. There are very few leaders I know, especially male leaders, who are talking about feminine energy being powerful, and who actually prize it as oppose to devaluing it. So I 'm very happy to speak with you.

Illarion: Me too. Why don’t you tell me a bit about your background?

Dekila: I grew up in the Himalayas, and I came to the US when I was about 15, and I've off and on stayed in the US, studied here, worked here, but tried my best to keep my connections to my home region.

Ilarion: I'm from St. Paul Island in the middle of the Bering Sea off of Alaska. My people have been out in the Bering Sea for about 10,000 years. When I was a child, I had a traditional upbringing where I learned about being a real human being, as we call it. And a real human being is a person who is connected to the infinite present moment and is also able to suspend thought and be in the heart. So, I had a very good, privileged upbringing that way.

Dekila: I think one of the biggest difficulties for me coming here was the emphasis on individualism. On one hand it was incredibly empowering, but it was also at the same time very isolating, and it's something I've really struggled with for a long time. Over the years as I was getting more involved in managing programs, I started to realize that the isolation is so much bigger than the personal. Actually we're experiencing it at a societal level.

Illarion: I still deal with that issue of individualism compared to a group orientation, but I retain that baseline of a group orientation. I believe that many indigenous groups around the world have that same thing, which is care and consideration of the whole group, and its relationship to each other and Mother Earth.

Dekila: I've been starting to delve into the academic field of eco-psychology, and part of it is very obvious because it's so embedded, I think, in indigenous knowledge and cultures, and also in a lot of religions, which is this idea that our concept of self is actually much larger than our body. It's not contained in our body, and it encompasses nature and it encompasses the earth and the universe.

One of the things I'm trying to figure out is how do we bring this kind of thinking into our work while we are trying to save the planet, because we do emphasize the science so much. It means that we end up being disconnected ourselves to a certain extent, because it is difficult to talk about things like sacred energy, or to talk about things like sacred places.

Ilarion: Well, yes. Even the science that we depend on is disconnected, and the elders here, they say that when we disconnect from our hearts, it's easy then to disconnect from other people and all of creation.

What we need to do according to our elders is get to the root causes of the situation we find ourselves in, which is pushing the life support systems of Mother Earth right to the edge. And we're dealing with a consciousness that works with the symptoms and not the root cause, which I think is separation from the heart that is in connection with all-that-is. And so, the elders here would say we've reversed everything, we've reversed the laws for living. We used to teach how to live, and now we teach how to make a living. And we used to contemplate the mystery of death, and now we contemplate the mystery of life. It's all these reversals. The person from our culture who retains the original teachings is called a real human being, and a real human being is informed about how to act in a way that is in harmony with all-that-is.

Dekila: I did conservation in what I think of as the more traditional way. I worked on all these projects for communities, and all these projects on sustainability and large-scale sustainable development, all of these things, and just gradually I started to get quite discouraged and started to get extremely angry and feel helpless.

When we started this work with His Holiness the Karmapa, he called me and said he wanted his monks and nuns- over 200 monasteries have him as their leader- to be trained in some sort of environmental management. And I went into it very much thinking this was a personal project, that this was something I was doing as a Buddhist. It never occurred to me that this was actually the biggest part of the environmental work I could be doing. And by the time we finished developing environmental guidelines for all the monasteries, I was so transformed. I had hope and it had been such a long time since I had had hope. I felt this reconnection. I could stop pretending that I wasn't connected to the world, and I could stop pretending that what was happening to the world wasn't deeply affecting me. Because I entered it through the spiritual lens, it allowed me to be connected, to feel compassion, to feel gratitude, and all of these positive things that somehow I just bundled away in my professional world.

Ilarion: That's what we call the real human being. A person who is connected in that way is a real human being.

Dekila: I think I became a real human being maybe five years ago.

Ilarion: There are many aspects to the real human being, but I think it's something that everyone is, it's just covered up a lot and we don't know it. Einstein said that we can't solve the problems in the world with the same consciousness that created the problems. And when we look at the solutions that are being brought to bear on things like climate change and other environmental issues, we're using that old consciousness of separation, and that's why I think things are not improving, they're getting worse.

Dekila: The two things I often hear that I really struggle with a response to is, one, okay, so the earth is getting much worse, but the earth will survive. We may not survive, and this is part of evolution, so why should I care; why should I do anything because part of evolution is that we will either evolve or we will die off. It's such a passive-aggressive response, really, but I hear this quite often. And, of course, the other part is that simply what's happening to the earth is irrelevant because there's money to be made. Both of them are such different challenges. And really it comes down to a lot of fear.

Ilarion: From our perspective, we think about the beginning of time. When time began was when we slipped out of the present moment because of guilt and shame, remorse or anger, rage. That puts us in the past, or fear puts us in the future, but never here in the present moment where the point of power is.

I learned this when I was 6 years old. I used to go under the cliffs to watch the migratory sea birds because I was so fascinated with them. And then one day, in my child's mind I looked at them and was awed by the fact that not a single bird—there would be thousands of birds there in front of the cliffs flying around in every direction, in apparent chaos, and I would notice that the birds never even clipped a wing. They wouldn't even hit each other. And I wondered how they did that. I decided that birds don't think; they are just present in the moment. That's when I said I wanna be like a bird. I just want to be like a bird. And it came naturally as a child.

The hunters would take me up hunting, starting at 5 years old. We would hunt by sunrise at the edge of the island. The men would be soft spoken; they wouldn't talk that much. They were always totally present watching for the sea lions to come by. And then somebody might holler out “sea lion coming,” and without him pointing or anything, instantly the men would look at one spot in the water. And it's like 180 degrees of water around the island there where we were hunting, and they would look at one spot. And so I'd look at that spot and there would be no sea lion, but they still would watch that spot. And then about a few minutes later, the sea lion would pop up, and I thought, Wow, that's magical, just magical.

I made a connection between the sea birds and these hunters, and when I started getting good at being a bird, I used it with going out hunting. And by 6 years old, I could feel the sea lion before it came. And I used that for subsistence fishing where we'd fish for halibut, and I could sense the halibut before it hit the line.

The best hunters were people who had this connection, which is considered in a negative way as feminine, but absolutely the best hunters would have these feminine qualities of receptivity, of relationship, being connected to each other and all of creation.

Dekila: What you described sounds so similar to meditation, too, the state you're in where you're one with everything. One of the experiences I had that was really quite influential was I met a Christian scholar whose name is Sallie McFague, and she was talking about how in the Medieval times and during the Renaissance period, there were all these thinkers who talked about how the essence of experiencing God was to give up the self. This is a theme that's very strong in Buddhism, and it's something that my mother and grandmother both would make me do all the time—make me sit down and then say, "Okay, now give up yourself." And I would be struggling with sitting down and very annoyed I'm not out there playing.

My mother used to say all the time to me, "Move yourself out of the way, just put it on the side." It's been one of the most beautiful experiences in my life actually, when I've been lucky enough to be able to do that because then what's happened is I've suddenly found the pattern. You actually have to actively make that decision to say, “I'm parking my ego; I'm parking my identity; I'm parking all the things I want, I think, I have, all of that on one side." And then the world that really opens up for me is the world of patterns, and it's been the larger patterns about where we are as a species, where we are with the world, where our thinking is, whether our thinking has evolved or not. And the patterns that dominate the world, those are actually the least sustaining patterns. Those are patterns that have actually cut our relationships with each other, cut our relationships with the earth, all the things that actually give us resilience.

And finding community and trying to build community around the world, I think, is really why I learned about Bioneers, why I'm at Bioneers now. It seems to me that that's the only hope, really, is that we find people who are learning or looking at the patterns and protecting the patterns.

Ilarion: I believe, too, that that's true. And we need to find and be part of the thing that we know as community. I mean, I grew up in real community where the entire village raised me. I couldn't go out the door without encountering adults.

Dekila: The big danger I see is anger among my peers, among my friends, all of us who are actually working on protecting the earth. It's so easy to become negative and to be discouraged or to really feel the sense of rage on behalf of the earth or of the species you care about or of the river that you're working on. I find it very difficult to talk about climate change calmly. So there has to be a way we sustain our own selves while we're in this fight.

I think that's one of the reasons why indigenous knowledge is so important, and why native cultures are so important, because the anger that we have often isolates us even further from the people who we think of as the perpetrators, or who we think of as sort of the bad people, the people who are doing all the bad things, and we stop being able to see them as just part of our family [even though] we have to figure out how to knock some sense into them.

Ilarion: I think anger is just one of the factors of separation. They are frustrated because they don't know what to do.

The elders here say, "What are you choosing to focus on? Are you choosing to focus on that which you're trying to move away from? Or are you choosing to focus on what you're trying to move towards?" Because if you focus on what you're trying to move away from, that becomes the reality.

Dekila: Also what occurs to me after what you just said is, everything is so instant. The process of making a deliberate choice is very rare. And one of the things I asked when we created this program at WWF was, what is it that we deliberately want to contribute to the world? And when we sat down very clearly the strongest message was that we want everybody to recognize how sacred the earth is and just how amazing all of the ecological processes are, how giving the earth is, how everything that happens is happening on this earth. We act like we're actually completely existing on a different planet and the earth just happens to be there.

It took us almost three years before we decided we would launch a program at WWF. I was allowed to take that much time to figure out what this should look like and how honorable that should be. It really gave respect, I think, to the thought leaders as well who were involved in the program.

Ilarion: We always say when spirit and intent are in alignment, followed by vision, the rest is taken care of. It sounds like WWF, through hiring you, is engaged in the right direction.

Dekila: You know, where I come from in Sikkim, our mountain, the Kanchenjunga, it's actually a living deity. Growing up, we understood that actually the mountain is real and has a spirit, and that is our protective deity and our protective spirit.

When I moved away and started studying in the Western system, and I was really studying a lot of science at one point, I had this thought that, 'Oh, I see, that was a cultural belief. 'The disconnect was instant. It was instant disconnect, and I think I stopped being able to hear nature, and I stopped being able to see the patterns of all of the interconnectedness.

So many people have said that they thought the place that they were hiking in or where they grew up was sacred and was spiritually really healing and important. But somehow it's something that we bury, and we're, I think, ashamed of.

Ilarion: As soon as we slip into thought as the primary driving force, we separate. And when we go to school, we are trained to read books and listen to the teacher, but never given the room to experience thinking for yourself, and that's, I think, a key to that.

Dekila: When I was young we spent a lot of time in forest areas. And my grandmother, if I got very upset, she would send me to the nearby meadow and then say come back in a little while. Or go pick pumpkins, go look for chestnuts or something like that. Of course, I left extremely sulky and upset, thinking that this is a chore that I have to do, but what actually she did was train my mind. I learned that when you're upset, you find your peace in nature and you give yourself up. You observe your part in nature. And it really gives you perspective about whatever it is you're upset about, and then you can let that go without there also having to be a big process of: "I'm so sorry I did this," or "I was angry, now I'm not angry." None of that. You just let it go very naturally and it slips away, and then you come back, and it's as though it never was.

Ilarion: We always say that in order to tune into the environment or creation, we have to be at the pace of creation; that is, slow down. And we take little time to slow down in this society. We're just rapidly going faster and faster, and our technologies are faster, when the opposite paradigm needs to apply. I think when you slow down and you pay attention to your surroundings you start to settle into yourself and be closer to your heart, and then you just watch and listen and learn. Because creation is constantly teaching us about what we are. And we're the only species that doesn't know its niche, its natural place. We're the only species.

Dekila: It's true. We're so full of ourselves.

Ilarion: I think about when we slipped out of present moment. The pendulum had swung from feminine imbalance to masculine imbalance and back, and the last shift was 4,000 to 6,000 years ago when it slipped into the masculine imbalance. The world's spiritual leaders knew that this time was coming, and so they decided to hide the teachings, which are born of the feminine, because they knew that goddess cultures, women healers, women themselves, and Mother Earth-based cultures, and Mother Earth were going to be smashed, and we're still in that swing of the pendulum.

Originally, the teachings around the world were based on a common template, reflected differently only because of culture and language and the ground from which you come. So, there have been elders from all over the world that have gathered, and have gathered for the last 10, 15 years—I don't know how long—sharing their piece of the teachings. Eventually, it is said, that the hoop will become whole again.

Dekila: That's fantastic. That's really moving because that gives us hope.

Ilarion: I think we need to have more faith. And that faith is unquestioned trust in ourselves, our hearts, our connection to all that is, and faith especially in all-that-is, the higher consciousness, or God, if you will. That is a kind of faith that in the Christian religion Jesus was talking about.

Dekila: I wonder if it is when our religious leaders and our thought leaders come together that we find that all along we've been speaking the same language, we've just not used the same words.

And that's really interesting to me also because what I see is that there is such a commonality right now among different religions and faith communities on the issue of environment and the responsibility they feel. This is something that people are coming together on. So, I completely understand the idea of a hoop being completed again because I think for a long time it's been all these different pieces, and all of a sudden what we see is that this is a pattern and it's emerged.

Ilarion: We often think about what should we do now, and what we should do now, I think, is probably two-fold. One is first focus on getting into your heart, being present in the moment. And then secondly, do what your heart tells you to do. But in the ultimate way of being, letting go of yourself and your ego.

Dekila: This is why conferences like Bioneers make so much sense to me because we formally have to create these spaces. I'm just so grateful that there is this dialogue, and so happy that the conservation community is finally in dialogue with state leaders, with thought leaders, and traditional elders.

Ilarion: It's happening everywhere, and I think it's a silent revolution. It's not hit the radar yet of the mainstream, which is probably good because if they did find out now that this is happening, then there would be the detractors who would try to take it apart.

Have faith and be positive, and think present.

Dekila: It's been really nice talking with you. I really look forward to meeting you in October.

Ilarion: Okay. I'll look forward to meeting you.

Moonrise becomes Everywoman’s Leadership

Moonrise seemed like such a good program name at first. It resonated with our anthology book, featuring inspiring stories from over 30 diverse women leaders. It referred to women’s leadership and the ‘feminine,’ but in a poetic way that didn’t carry all the baggage or single-issue pigeonholing often associated with the word ‘feminine.’ Over time however, I realized that our name was obscuring our work from public view, and defeating our own purposes: internet searches by people seeking women’s leadership weren’t finding us! So, now… announcing… ta daaa, our new program name: Full Spectrum & Everywoman’s Leadership.

Full Spectrum because we each have an array of aspects within us to draw from, including masculine and feminine, right brain and left, body – heart – mind and spirit; and today’s leadership calls us all to bring our fullest capacities to bear, regardless of our temporary gender assignment. Full Spectrum, because the collective movement to transform how we live on Earth and with each other will be led, I believe, by women (and men) of all colors, ages, disciplines, orientations and ethnicities. Full Spectrum because diversity is so much more than political correctness; it is essential to our work as progressive change-makers.

And Everywoman’s Leadership? I believe we’re all called to be leaders now, that we’re collectively reinventing leadership, and that leadership has as many different expressions as we are people.

Our program purpose is to connect and strengthen the leadership of women who are diverse in every way to effect progressive environmental, social and cultural change while reclaiming the value of the feminine within us at every level — individually, organizationally and culturally.

We’re still doing leading-edge work, with multiple approaches that include: transformative residential 6-day trainings for groups of women leaders, co-facilitated by terrific teams; media creation and distribution that spreads breakthrough ideas and models of women leading from the feminine across an array of disciplines, ethnicities and ages; public outreach through interviews, speaking engagements and our website; and networking that helps connect the dots across fields, places and approaches; and a small re-granting fund.

This year’s conference features a stunning array of Everywoman-related programming, which I am super jazzed about. These are subjects that I’m not seeing anyone else covering, which are utterly timely and relevant. While everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to the Harvard Business School is exploring how to narrow the gender gap and improve gender equity, few are exploring multi-cultural dimensions of re-envisioning gender, and how to heal the rifts within our selves as well as among each other.  I’m psyched that Bioneers tackles these issues in positive, creative and enlivening ways. Check it out here, I hope we’ll see you there!

Sacred Activism: Engaging Communities of Faith in Environmental Advocacy

The National Bioneers Conference brings together exciting and cutting-edge innovators tackling the world’s most challenging social, cultural and environmental issues. In our new series, we bring together two thought-leaders and BioCon 2013 presenters to share their deep wisdom in an intimate, in-depth conversation between peers. In our first conversation between Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and theologian Matthew Fox, the faith leaders discuss sacred ecology, unity consciousness, spiritual narcissism and bringing reverence for the earth into today’s ecological debate.

Matthew: Today [Bioneers has asked] us to talk about ecology and spirituality. Who can deny that it doesn't matter what your particular tradition is, or if you're an atheist, if your backyard is burning up and you can't plant food anymore, and the waters are rising? We're all in trouble. And it can finally bring religions together and get over their narcissism. 

Llewellyn: I hope so. Mysticism, as you know, has always held this common thread underneath religion- the union of inner experience. Part of the reason I wrote this book, Spiritual Ecology, was to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I felt that, although it was present, it wasn't voiced enough.

Matthew: Absolutely. That's what I've been trying to do with the archetype of the cosmic Christ- to awaken at least Christians that crucifixion is not something that happened 2,000 years ago, it's happening with the killing of the rainforests and the whales and the polar bears and everything else today.

Llewellyn: It's happening to the earth.

Matthew: To me, that not only can energize spiritual warriors to get work done today, but it also can reinvent our faith traditions themselves, which I think fall into narcissism as distinct from mysticism.

Llewellyn: I have a concern that somehow people who have a spiritual awakening or awareness are somehow too focused on their own individual inner spiritual journey, and to me this is a travesty of real spiritual awakening or spiritual awareness, which has to do with the whole, and this whole includes the earth.

Matthew: I couldn't agree more. If you're breakthrough does not lead to transpersonal service, to compassion, to justice, including ecojustice, then I doubt its authenticity. And Jesus said it very simply, that by their fruits you'll know them. And we can be so taken by our spiritual experiences that we don't realize this about energizing you to serve.

Llewellyn: In Sufism they actually say after the station of oneness comes the state of servant hood, that one is then in service. Sufis are known as servants.

Matthew: Or as someone else put it, after ecstasy comes the laundry.

Llewellyn: Somehow we have become so focused on our own human journey that we've forgotten that this human journey is part of the earth's journey. There used to be, I'm sure you're aware of this, a deeper understanding that our soul is part of the world's soul, the anima mundi, and we've lost that connection. We've lost that understanding that our spiritual light is part of the light of the world. And we have to regain that.

Matthew: Right. And how the earth story itself is part of the cosmic story.

Llewellyn: It's all one. It's all one living, breathing, inter-related, interdependent spiritual organism as much as a physical organism, and I think we have, for some extraordinary reason, forgotten that.

Matthew: I think there are a lot of reasons, and one of them is the anthropocentrism and the narcissism of the modern consciousness. But I also think part of it too is the beating up of matter over the centuries by theologically influential thinkers. That kind of separation, that kind of dualism is so destructive because then you think the body is secondary, and then Mother Earth is secondary, and everything else. To put things in context, we wouldn't have our imaginations and our breath and our food and our existence without matter. Matter is not an obstacle to spirit.

Llewellyn: I think the early rejection of all of the earth-based spirituality by the Christian church has left a very sad vacuum that we're now, in a way, seeing the result of.

Matthew: Paying the price for. And I think it goes back, actually, to the 4th century. If you're going to run an empire- as the church more or less inherited the empire in the 4th century, it behooves you to split matter from spirit, and also to talk about original sin, and get people confused about their own inner nobility and empowerment, and divinity, really. I think that it has served political interests and cultural power trips to split people that way.

Llewellyn: Well, the male domination of nature kind of took the high ground, and now we have to, in a very few years, try to redress this balance and reclaim the sacred nature of creation. And what is central to me is to try to bring that into the ecological debate because I don't see how we can address this physical devastation of creation, this ecocide, unless we look at its spiritual roots and reconnect ourselves to the sacred nature that is the world around us.

Matthew: And within us. And that's what makes deep ecology different from ecology.

Llewellyn: Right. My teaching is to say mystics teach simple things, but those simple things change people's worlds. And how can we re-energize that mystical perspective so we can bring it into this global arena that is calling out to us? I mean, the earth is calling. That's why I called this book Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth because the earth is crying, the soul of the earth is crying. We need to respond from our own soul as well as with our hands.

Matthew: And, of course, Einstein said it's from intuition and feeling that we get values, not from the intellect. He says the intellect gives us methods; it does not give us values. And I think when you look back at it, this is how various traditions of monastic learning also included the heart in some way or other.

Llewellyn: When you say including the heart, I would suggest something even more radical. How can we bring our love for the earth into the center of this concern with the well-being of the earth? In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh recently said real change will only happen when we fall in love with our planet.

As a mystic, I believe in the primacy of love, and we have this love for the earth. It is so generous. It has given us life. It has given us breath. It has given us water. And we have treated it so badly in response. I feel that this mystical center of divine love is really the power behind the planet, because it is really what gives life to us all. I mean, it's a really radical thought to bring that essential quality into the ecological debate.

And although we have this physical responsibility, how can we bring this love that belongs also to our sense of the sacred? How can we learn once again to live in love with the earth in the way we live, in our daily activities so that everything becomes imbued with this sense of the sacred?

One can educate the mind, but also we somehow have been stripped of the power of love, which is, as a mystic, the greatest power in creation.

Matthew: In our traditions, certainly the Jewish tradition but also the Aquinas, it is said too that the mind resides in the heart. We don't have to, how should I say, pit one against the other. That real heart knowledge- when you're really in love with something, you want to learn more about it.

Llewellyn: Also the heart and the mind in the heart see the oneness in things. Sufis say when the eye of the heart is open—the Sufis talk about the eye of the heart—then in each atom there are a million secrets. And we see the unity in life, in everything that we are part of. We need to reclaim that unity, that oneness, because life is dying and it's dying because we split spirit and matter, we separated ourselves from creation. The analytic mind tries to split everything up into smaller and smaller pieces. We need to return to this oneness, this awareness of the interdependence of all of life, this web of life, which our ancestors knew and revered so deeply.

Somehow we have lost connection with this spiritual dimension of creation, and to me that is the root of our present ecological imbalance because we don't respect or revere creation as our ancestors and indigenous peoples have always done.

And somehow, as you say, the mystics have held this thread in the West, but a thread is no longer enough. It needs to be a revolution, a revolution of the heart, a revolution of consciousness that sees the oneness that is within and all around us. I suppose the challenge is, how do we give this back to humanity, this forgotten treasure, this secret, this deep awareness of the real nature of creation, that it is not dead matter?

I always say the world is not a problem to be solved, it's a living being to be related to, and it is calling to us. It needs our attention, not just of our minds, but also of our hearts. It is our own awakened consciousness that can heal the earth.

Matthew: Another dimension, I think, including when it comes to the love, is grief. We don't deal well with grief in our culture, and that's one reason I think anger gets battered all over the walls. We don't deal with anger in a constructive way very often.

I do a lot of grief ceremonies- we need practices and rituals. When grief builds up, when you can't deal with grief, not only does anger build up, but also that joy, that love gets clouded over, and people feel disempowered then. So I think grief work is a part.

What can I say? Who cannot be grieving today about what's happening to the earth? You'd have to be extremely busy covering up your grief and putting a lot of energy there.

Llewellyn: But I think we do. We're a culture of mass distractions. We try to avoid at all costs seeing the real fruits of our actions.

You talk about practices; I would say the most important practice is to listen. Thich Nhat Hanh said to heal the earth, he says to listen to its cry because the earth is crying, but we don't know how to listen. We've forgotten this feminine wisdom of deep listening. If there is deep ecology, there is deep listening. We have to relearn this feminine wisdom of listening to the earth. It is so old, it is so wise, it has been through many crises before, and we need to cooperate.

In fact, Thomas Berry says we are only talking to ourselves; we are not talking to the rivers; we are not listening to the winds and stars; we have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. And we have to learn again how to listen to the earth, and how to open that ear of the heart. We have been told this great lie that we are separate from the earth, that it is something out there. It is not out there, we are part of the earth. We are made of stardust.

We need to feel the grief within our own self for the earth and learn to listen to the earth, learn to hear it, learn to re-attune ourselves, just like the shamans did of old, just like the wise people who listened to the wind, who listened to the rivers, who felt the heartbeat of creation. And it might not sound very practical but it has a deep, deep wisdom within it, and I think we need all the help we can get at the moment.

Matthew: Absolutely. And that's where the world's spiritual traditions, if they get out of their anthropocentric, reptilian brain dimension of wanting to conquer each other and be number one or something gets shaken down, and as you say, bring this feminine dimension back, the receptivity and contemplation and silence.

Llewellyn: And not to rush for a quick fix, because I don't think we can quickly fix this environmental crisis. It has been building up for centuries.

Matthew: I do think that the patriarchal mindset feeds the reptilian brain excessively, whereas, I think the real way to treat the reptilian brain is to learn to meditate and be still, because reptiles like to lie low and in the sun… We have to make room for that mammal brain, which is half as old as the reptilian brain in us, which is the brain of compassion and the brain of kinship and family, and also of getting along with the rest of nature.

Llewellyn: This is what Oren Lyons said, when he spoke about our original instructions in the Native American tradition. He said one of the original instructions is we have to get along together. And it's very simple, but once you realize we are one living community and we can only survive as one living community, it's very fundamental. It's not sophisticated, but we seem to have forgotten it, that we are part of this living, interdependent, interwoven organism that is all around us and that we are part of.

I think we have a duty, any of us who have an awareness of this, to bring this into the forefront, to claim it; not to allow this dark side of our civilization to devour all the light. That's why when you spoke about religious narcissism, and I spoke about my concern that spiritually awakened people are just using their own light for their own inner spiritual journey or their own image of spiritual progress, we have to make a relationship between our light and the world which is hungry for this light. And there used to be always this relationship between the light of the individual soul and the light of the world's soul, and somehow we need to reconnect with this earth on a very deep, foundational, spiritual basis. We are part of one spiritual journey, one life journey, one evolution, and our soul and the soul of the world are not separate, and we have to reclaim this connection.

And somehow, as you say, human spirituality and religion became narcissistic, and that was never the intention because Christ's love was for the world; the Buddhist's peace was for the world. The message is always for the whole.

Matthew: I think today a lot of young people are being caught up in the vocation of, as you say, re-sacralizing the earth, but doing it through everything from the way we eat and farm to the way we do business and politics.

Llewellyn: It's the attitude that we bring to it. It's always the attitude. If we come in the deepest sense, with an attitude of prayer or even just respect and reverence for each other, for the earth, for what is around us, then the healing can begin, and the forces of darkness will recede. But we will wait and see.

It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Matthew: It's been fun. Thank you.

To hear Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee speak in person at Bioneers, click here

To hear Matthew Fox speak in person at Bioneers, click here

From the Culture of Soil to Cultured Foods

Bioneers presents an ecological-farm tour and fermented foods workshop with master nature farmer and Chez Panisse supplier Bob Cannard, and fermented foods revivalist and author Sandor Katz.


“The man who first taught me how to make sauerkraut is a leader of this underground, and possibly the most famous fermento in America. Sandor Katz is the Johnny Appleseed of fermentation… Since falling under the spell of Katz’s fermentation evangelism, I have launched big crocks of sauerkraut and kimchee; mason jars of pickled cucumbers, carrots, beets, cauliflower, onions and peppers; jelly jars of yogurt and kefir; and 5-gallon carboys of beer and mead. I am regularly reminded that all are alive.”                  –Michael Pollan

Beneficial microorganisms are a keystone element in soil fertility and human health. A mere tablespoon of thriving soil has about 50 billion microorganisms. A healthy human gut has approximately 100 trillion microorganisms that are essential to life. These microorganisms are life-supporting allies that provide multiple important functions that make nutrients more bioavailable, promote health and build immunity against disease. We are only now beginning to recognize the need to maintain healthy levels of microorganisms with better farming techniques and by eating more fermented foods.

On Monday, October 21 join Bioneers on a private farm tour with Green String Farm owner Bob Cannard, who will share his unique eco-farming practices that create deep fertility in the land, and intense vitality and flavor in the food he grows. In the afternoon Sandor Katz will teach a hands-on workshop on how to make powerfully healthy foods in your own kitchen, while discussing the wonderful, diverse, global culinary traditions and health benefits of fermented foods.

“Fermentation makes foods more nutritious, as well as delicious. Microscopic organisms, our ancestors and allies, transform food and extend its usefulness. Hundreds of medical and scientific studies confirm what folklore has always known- fermented foods help people stay healthy,” explains Katz.

Join Us for a day of farming and fermentation
Where: Green String Farm, Petaluma, CA
When: Monday October 21 from 10 AM- 4:30 PM
Cost: $175 (Includes lunch and bus transportation from Embassy Suites, San Rafael)
Register here

About our teachers


Bob Cannard has been farming sustainably for 30 years, and is well-known for providing produce to Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. In 2003, he co-founded Green String Farm, 140-acre (60 acres in cultivation) eco-farm in Petaluma that focuses on working with, rather than against, natural processes to grow a diversity of fruits and vegetables with practices that exceed organic standards, while also training new farmers.

Sandor Katz is a food activist, fermentation specialist and author of the book Wild Fermentation, widely considered the bible for DIY foodies.

An Indigenous Perspective on Energy Development: Q & A with Darcie Houck

Darcie Houck is a descendent of Mohawk and Ottawa native tribes and an attorney specializing in environment, water resources, energy development and Native American land use. She previously served as staff council at the California Energy Commission, and has taught law at several universities, including UC Davis and San Francisco State.

Bioneers: Where are you from and how did you come to do the work you are doing?

Darcie: I’m from upstate New York, and am Ottawa and Mohawk on my mother’s side. I was very close to my Mohawk/Ottawa grandpa. He used to take me back to the reservation when I was a child, and told me that I needed to be a lawyer when I grew up to defend Native rights (chuckles). It always stayed with me. And that’s what I did. I was originally a political science major, until I wrote a paper on tribal government. I got a horrible grade and when I asked the professor why, he said, “Because tribal governments are not real governments.”  That moment changed my life. I went to the counseling center and was directed to the Native American studies program. I switched majors and ended up with an amazing education I wouldn’t have gotten if that incident hadn’t happened.

Bioneers: What kind of law do you practice?

Darcie: During the energy crisis, I was hired by the California Energy Commission because of my background with Native American law. They were dealing with potential projects on Indian land that they had never dealt with before. I learned a lot about energy law and environmental law. Then I went into practice with the largest private law firm in the US that focuses exclusively on Native American issues. We practice in everything from general counsel to internet gaming issues, cultural resource protection and water law.

My focus is environment, water and energy.  My passion is cultural resource protection, and unfortunately, because of the nature of the business, that work is typically pro bono.

Bioneers: What are the biggest issues you face in cultural resource protection cases?

Darcie: The cultural resource issues that deal with Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of Indigenous peoples are particularly critical because of what’s happening with climate change, and because many state and federal government decisions-makers base their decisions on western science. However, there has been some realization by these entities that TEK and all of the practices that Indigenous peoples have had forever are really what is going to create truly sustainable development. It’s a slow process. People are starting to listen.

Bioneers: Are your tribal clients resisting energy development or embracing it?

Darcie: Both, and there’s a lot of work trying to combine the two. That wasn’t the case 10-20 years ago. Tribes are really dedicated to improving their economies and looking at their natural resources as one option for development. Tribes want to develop these resources responsibly. You can be a traditionalist, want to have a sustainable way of living that respects and honors Mother Earth and nature, while utilizing modern tools in doing so.

Bioneers: Many environmental laws promise meaningful consultation with tribes for energy development; what is your take on the effectiveness of these consultations?

Darcie: I just sat on a panel at a tribal-sponsored conference in California with a representative from the Governor’s office who was unaware of any law that protected tribal cultural resources. Several laws already exist to protect cultural and historic resources. If decision-makers do not comprehend the importance of the resources that need protection, these resources will not be a priority. So these laws need to be interpreted and implemented in a meaningful way by those with the power to do so. Until this happens tribes will be fighting an uphill battle in the protection of these critical resources.

Also, tribes are often brought in at the tail end of the process. If tribes were brought in at the very beginning of the planning stage, and fully included as meaningful participants, we could probably avoid many of the problems we see with the development of some of the solar projects.

Bioneers: Like down in the Blythe, CA area where there’s a proposal to laser level a huge, magnificent portion of the Mojave for solar? The tribes are screaming, ‘hey wait, that’s a huge culturally significant, sacred area. You can’t do that.’

Darcie: And my perspective is that there’s a cultural disconnect that is so typically European. Throughout history, Europeans have come here and assessed the landscape as unutilized. They then decide to build this and destroy that in the name of progress. It’s the same with the desert- they see it as land that nobody is ‘using’ but in fact, it’s one of the few places left that has an intact ecosystem that is so beautiful and amazing.

There are other places to put solar that would be much more effective like rooftops, parking lots and other places that are already developed. We all hear talk about sustainable development and in-fill projects, but major projects still seem to lean toward green fields for large scale development.

Bioneers: What are some of the misperceptions about tribes and development?

Darcie: The same gentleman from the Governor’s office commented that, “We only hear from tribes that want to develop projects.” It seemed that he was insinuating that tribes only wanted to develop things, not save or protect them.  Just because a tribe has a resource that can be developed to the benefit of the tribe for economic or welfare purposes, does not mean that the same tribe is not concerned about protection of traditional cultural resources. The fact is that state governments don’t hear from many tribes because they often do not include them in the process until its too late.

Bioneers: What are some of the other challenges for tribes, whether it be supporting or opposing development?

Darcie: Oh, there are so many. You have this inherent contradiction where, despite public perception, it can be much more difficult for tribes to develop within their tribal lands than it is for off-reservation private entities to. And for those private entities, protecting cultural resources is often simply an afterthought.

Also as more and more issues face society at large with climate change, society as a whole will have to develop response strategies. In many cases it’s the global Indigenous communities that are facing the most severe impacts in very defined, limited land bases- impacts that they had no hand in the creation of, and often opposed or tried to prevent. These conditions will persist, and likely get worse.  We have to find a way to make sure that Indigenous voices are heard. Those who are facing the worst impacts should have an equal or even greater voice in what decisions are made, and we are not seeing that right now.

Bioneers: How do you make these Western laws mesh with the Indigenous thinking?

Darcie: That is so critical. These laws are made and developed by people who don’t have the same worldview.  The ‘dominant society’ priority is how to use a resource. The end goal is to use it, not preserve it. It’s so counterintuitive to the worldview of Indigenous communities.

Bioneers: Why should a wider audience listen?

Darcie: We, as a society, are in a disaster management stage, and the wisest people are the ones being overlooked because of people’s stereotypes of what a leader is supposed to look or sound like. How mainstream society has educated their children as to who is in charge and who is not- without a shift in that mentality, I don’t know what happens.  But I do think that with projects like Bioneers and other individuals I’ve met in this work, it gives me hope that there will be a shift before it’s too late.

Darcie Houck will be joining Bioneers for the first time as part of the Indigenous Forum.  She will be co-hosting a panel called From Conflict to Collaboration in Indigenous Territories: Tribal Strategies for Resistance and Restoration. Along with panelists Jihan Gearon (Dine/ African American), Tony Skrelunas (Dine) and Octaviana Trujillo (Pascua Yaqui), she will share realities, challenges and contradictions of indigenous resistance and restoration movements, as well as potential ways forward for indigenous peoples whose lands are presently the focus of economic interest.

Agriculture and Climate Change: An Interview with Darren Doherty


Darren Doherty has developed a set of ecological agricultural practices for large-scale farming that he calls Regrarianism, based on the work of master agrarians like Rudolf Steiner, Joel Salatin, Elaine Ingham and others. Regrarianism integrates Permaculture, Keyline design, Holistic management and carbon farming to transform farms from their current atrophic condition into regenerative systems that provide ecological profit as well as economic benefit.   

Bioneers: What are the basic principles of Regrarianism?

Darren: Some of the key principles are to produce stable environments with sound watersheds; increase wildlife species and stability of populations; improve water, soil and vegetation resources of cities, industry and agriculture; prevent waste of financial, human and natural resources; utilize Permaculture design principles; and develop viable decentralized energy production systems.

Bioneers: How does Regraranism help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change?

Darren: One of the things we look at, which might seem like an unusual climate change strategy, is reducing debt, which in an agricultural environment is really crippling because it disempowers farmers from making the land stewardship decisions they would normally make. We try to get the debt out of the way by getting some higher margin activities in the stream of an enterprise so we can start to self-fund the more regenerative practices.

Bioneers: What’s the most important agricultural climate change practice?

Darren: We can start to build more soil carbon into the equation because that's one of the great buffers against climate change. Not only does it download atmospheric carbon out of the process, but it also creates a resiliency against the biggest problem in a lot of zones where there has been reliable rainfall in the past and now rainfall is unreliable.

Bioneers: How does carbon farming work?

Darren: There's an amount of carbon right above any landscape that can be utilized, primarily in the form of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds that soil organisms, plants and others use as nutrients.

We're looking to create systems that hold more of that carbon in the organisms and the residues of those organisms for the longest possible times, and then take advantage of the benefits that the diversity and the residues provide. Whether that's residues in the form of humus, which is a very stable carbon-compound, or whether it's residues in terms of a leaf litter that's on the soil surface, which reduces evaporation.

We're trying to increase the retention time of carbon in its solid form in landscapes for as long as possible as opposed to allowing it to become gaseous, that's when it becomes quite dangerous to us all. That is what carbon farming is all about.

Bioneers: What's the relationship between carbon and water?

Darren: Every unit of soil carbon holds about eight units of water. Any farmer knows that as their carbon levels grow in their soil, so does the water holding capacity of that soil, and that also happens to increase the nutrient exchange capacity of that soil as well.

Bioneers: Can enough carbon be sequestered in soil to significantly mitigate climate change?

Darren: The only place in the world where there's more carbon than in the soil is in the ocean and in the sedimentary rocks. ­ We try to build in our system multiple elements with trees, ground cover, canopies of grasses or other plants, that keep carbon in its place for as long as possible, and therefore also hold water in place. ­

Bioneers: What’s the best way to keep carbon in place for as long as possible?

Darren: You have to understand the different kinds of carbon and the states of carbon soils. Let's look at compost, for example. Depending on the state of compost and how it's made, it's largely made up of what are called short-chain carbon molecules. So mulch, compost, leaf litter, cover crops, all of these things aren't processing carbon into its long-chain form. It's quite unstable, so as a result a lot of that carbon ends up being put back into the atmosphere.

Compost and cover crops certainly have a conditioning effect on the soil, but a lot of that carbon is being cycled within the top six inches of the soil, which is the highly aerobic zone of the soil, so carbon therefore is in a greater stage of flux.

Bioneers: Are you saying compost and cover crops are not effective ways to sequester carbon?

Darren: You might increase your net soil carbon quite heavily in the first few years by the application of compost, and all of the aforementioned methods, but will that last over the longer term? The answer is quite clearly no. Great techniques, great to do, but what we need more of is long-chain carbon. It's largely delivered in the form of polysaccharide exudate or nutrients released from plant root systems, particularly grasses.

Where we want the carbon and where farmers can look to increasing their carbon levels overall is in the depth of soil. You can have 10% carbon in the top six inches and 2% in the next 10 inches, and 1½% in the next 10 inches. That's not going to sustain agriculture over the long term, and the top 6 inches is not where carbon is going to be kept and stored and sequestered. It's pretty well impossible to get that short-chain carbon down into the depths without a lot of intervention, which requires a lot of fossil fuels. The best way to do that is to get plant roots to penetrate these depths and to put their exudates down in those depths. There are carbohydrates created out of the interaction between water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, and then manufactured by the plants as a residue, and their primary objective is to feed the soil microlife.

Bioneers:  So deep-rooted plants are key to this process.

Darren: What drives the sustenance and the regeneration of the soil life is the plants. The plants are the conduit between the atmosphere and the lithosphere [the Earth’s deep outer layer, which includes soil]. They keep the lithosphere, the soil, and the rhizosphere, the root zone, alive, because they transfer the energy of the sun, manufacture the sugars as carbohydrates, as long chain carbons, and that's what feeds the economy of the soil.

I've been talking a lot lately about the relationship between using perennial systems and annual systems as an analog of our own human economy, and how if I look at an annual plant, for example, it lives fast, it dies young, it's quite profligate in the use of its resources because it leaves very little of the residue behind, it doesn’t have any savings; its whole objective is to reproduce.

If you look at a perennial plant, particularly a perennial grass, it puts very little energy into being in a nightclub, it has very fibrous, deep root systems, which have long, long term arrangements with the whole suite of soil life, it has all the very cultivated and highly developed and synergistic relationship; it has a carbohydrate starch reserve, which is like a bank where it puts a lot of its capital flows out into the general soil economy over the longest period and often when it's not raining, and it puts something behind so when disturbance occurs, it can come back. In fact, in many cases, it actually thrives on disturbance.

I think a lot of economists in the financial sector, if they wanted to know what would be a good model to base economies on, they could probably look no further than a tree or a forest or a perennial grass. Much of our agriculture is annual based. We're living fast and dying young.

Make sure to see Darren's sessions at the 2013 National Bioneers Conference:

Darren Doherty | Regrarianism: Re-booting Agriculture for the Next 10,000 Years – Saturday – October 19, 2013
Climate Change and Agriculture – Saturday – October 19, 2013