Every autumn, people in Colorado see posters inviting them to attend something called Bioneers. They see leaflets at local coffee shops and at the Farmers’ Market. They hear people talking. The excitement heard in past attendees voices inspires a curiosity — but, what the heck is Bioneers? Some, like me circa 2008, questioned if it was something like a pioneer or an engineer, or perhaps it has something to do with biology? After being involved with Bioneers for the past five years, I’ve realized that my initial thoughts weren’t so far off.
Bioneers is an event and a collective group now approaching 20,000 members nationally who are looking for innovative ways to approach age-old and modern issues, not unlike pioneers past and present who seek new prospects. Many Bioneers are engineers, either professionally or personally, seeking creative and novel projects to help synthesize the human/planet relationship. And, the bio part: If nothing else, Bioneers is about life — the celebration, understanding and respect for all that inhabit Earth. Founder Kenny Ausubel coined the term in 1990 to describe an emerging culture. Bioneers are social and scientific innovators who collectively seek a future environment of hope.
Bioneers is the preeminent gathering of environmental visionaries who offer practical solutions to the most pressing environmental and social issues of our time. In its 23rd year as a national conference, Bioneers uniquely and authentically connect the dots between environment, health, social justice and spirit.
Boulder, one of 20 communities in North America with a Bioneers satellite forum, will celebrate its 10th anniversary Nov. 9-11 at the CU-Boulder campus. Ten years ago, just 100 people attended the Colorado kick-off and the event was composed of 13 national plenaries and six breakout sessions. This year, attendance is expected to reach about 800 and the conference includes the 13 national plenaries and 36 sessions and field trips.
“Not only has the quantity increased, but, more importantly, the quality of Bioneers has as well,” says Marianne Martin, associate director of CU’s Environmental Center, which hosts the event in conjunction with Transition Colorado, Naropa University, the Center for ReSource Conservation, Restorative Leadership Institute, Boulder’s Best Organics and Woodbine Ecology Center as well as the support of sponsors and partner groups.
“The CU Environmental Center has proudly carried the torch for the past decade to continue and grow the Colorado Bioneers event in the Front Range,” explains Martin, who has been involved in the production of every Bioneers conference in Boulder since 1993. “This local Bioneers event fuses many issues and serves as a hub for sustainability. It is empowering to the community to participate in an event focused on local innovation, ideas and solutions while gleaning from the national vision and inspiration.”
This year’s conference, titled “From Breakdown to Breakthrough: Reimagining Civilization in the Age of Nature,” will create opportunities for sharing, learning and action by bringing together the region’s progressive ideas, people and organizations. The key themes are resilience and indigeneity.
Martin describes the focus on resilience as our ability as a community to maintain strength during taxing times.
“It really is about the strength of our community and our knowledge and our tools,” says Martin. “It’s about the economy and ecology and society. We have to be strong enough to create social and ecological networks that are smart and will last the test of time.”
The other central theme, indigeneity, is a program of Bioneers that promotes indigenous leaders and indigenous knowledge as a critical path to support all people in learning to honor bio-cultural landscapes, indigenous life ways and a “reconnect place” for the restoration of social and ecological balance on Earth.
“This year we are honored to have over 10 indigenous presenters sharing their wisdom with Bioneers participants,” says Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, co-director of Woodbine Ecology Center. “Indigenous science offers a way of knowing that can provide a crucial complement to the tools of Western science as we address the challenges of our time.”
Other issues that will be addressed include local food, energy and climate, and sustainable economies.
“This is such an inspiring and successful event,” Martin says. “What counts for me in terms of success is hearing people say that Bioneers changed their lives, that it redefined their path, that it helped them redefine what they should be doing in terms of their careers, studies and personal life. Bioneers really makes a difference in worldviews and that’s awesome.”
More information about Colorado Bioneers can be found at http://ecenter.colorado.edu/resources/events-calendar/bioneers.