Bioneers hold an annual conference where many movement leaders and campaigners from a diversity of backgrounds create a space to assess where we’re at as a species striving for ecological and societal equanimity. This year the landmark 25th Bioneers Conference was held in San Rafael, California. Ruairí McKiernan of Yes Magazine asked Kenny Ausubel, the co-founder of Bioneers how he would describe the Bioneers movement, which is in many ways a microcosm of the global movement, Kenny had the following to say:
“BIONEERS IS A NATURAL ANTIDEPRESSANT. AS WE’VE SHOWN SINCE 1990, THE SOLUTIONS TO MOST OF OUR ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CRISES ARE LARGELY PRESENT, OR WE KNOW WHAT DIRECTIONS TO HEAD IN. WE HIGHLIGHT THE PROFOUND TRANSFORMATION ALREADY TAKING HOLD AROUND THE GLOBE, THE DAWN OF A HUMAN CIVILIZATION THAT PARTNERS WITH THE WISDOM OF NATURE’S DESIGN AND PRACTICES VALUES OF JUSTICE, DIVERSITY, DEMOCRACY AND PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE”.
Not long before the conference was held I had an opportunity to catch up with Nathan Sunshine, I first met him at the Occupy London Protest Camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. An ardent environmentalist he was at the time was in the midst of the aid effort following the devastating 2014 floods in Indian Kashmir. Nathan recounted his first hand experiences of delivering crucial services to stranded Kashmiri’s.
“AFTER LEAVING THE ECO-PROJECT ON THE FARM I SAW THE NEWS ABOUT SRINAGAR AND A CALL OUT FOR VOLUNTEERS FROM A LOCAL GROUP OF KASHMIRI’S CALLED ‘SELF HELP KASHMIR’, WITH PRETTY MUCH JUST A PHONE NUMBER TO HAND I CALLED AND SAID I’D LIKE TO HELP BUT I’M ENGLISH, SPEAK NO KASHMIRI AND DON’T KNOW ANYTHING OF THE CULTURE - CAN I STILL HELP? THEY SAID OF COURSE, PLEASE COME, BUT COME BY PLANE BECAUSE THE TRAIN STATION IS STILL INUNDATED AND THE ROADS ARE RISKY.”
There is a shifting urgency to engage in what is fast becoming the struggle of our lifetimes. 2014 saw the largest act of civil disobedience in response to climate change in human history. On 23rd September 2014 millions across the planet took to the streets to march in defiance of political and business policies which seek profits above life itself. The People’s Climate March acted as a symbol of the shift in consciousness. But as millions pick up the baton of symbolic disobedience thousands have also been doing the necessary ground work of physically preventing and undoing climate change; people like the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation whose four year blockade and enforcement of indigenous sovereignty expanded and went into the fifth gear in 2014.
“SO I TOOK A PLANE, LANDED IN SRINAGAR AND WENT STRAIGHT TO THEIR HQ, WHICH USUALLY SERVES AS A TECH/COMPUTER SCHOOL THAT THEY HAD NOW CONVERTED INTO THEIR HUB, WHERE I MET SOME OF THE CREW. THERE’S NOT MANY OF THEM, 20 AT BEST IN TOTAL, AND MOST ARE IN THEIR EARLY TWENTIES, FRESH FROM STUDYING AND WERE ALMOST ALL FRIENDS BEFORE THE FLOODS. SOME OF THEM HAD BEEN TEACHING AT THE CENTRE BEFORE THE FLOODS AND HAD DECIDED TO USE THIS BUILDING BECAUSE IT WAS IN PART OF THE CITY THAT DIDN’T GET HIT BY THE FLOODS.”
Who are the bodies on the front line of this fight for survival? The symbolic power of the ‘People’s Climate March’ was that it was led by radical indigenous groups. 2014 showed us that the faces leading the fight back are more diverse than ever, take Milañ Loeak as an example, daughter of the president of the Marshall Islands. In October Loeak led a symbolic blockade of the world’s largest coal port in Australia in order to “send a message to the organisations that profit from the extraction of fossil fuels that they can no longer distance themselves from the impacts of their actions.” But there has also been less-symbolic-and-more-practical blockades such as that by the Klabona Keepers (Tahltan Elders) in alliance with the Secwepemc, who literally shut down the Canadian owned Imperial Metals Red Chris mine.
“ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER ARRIVING THEY ASKED IF I KNEW THE POLITICAL SITUATION OF KASHMIR, WHICH I KNEW SOMETHING ABOUT, THEY WENT ON TO DESCRIBE HOW THE FLOODS AND THE POLITICS HAD MERGED TO CREATE A DEVASTATING SCENARIO. FIRSTLY, THE FLOODS HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST IN LIVING MEMORY, ONE MAN IN HIS NINETIES SAID HE COULD NEVER REMEMBER A FLOOD BEING LIKE THIS, THE WATER CAME UP A GOOD 18FT IN SOME AREAS, MOVING AT 90 MPH, TAKING BUILDINGS, RUBBLE, CARS, TREES, BIKES, RUBBISH AND EVERYTHING WITH IT, EMPTYING HOMES, STORES AND HOSPITALS.”
The magnitude and frequency of natural disasters is growing exponentially. The destabilizing effect these catastrophes’s is having on the day to day existence in the global south and Earth’s natural cycles are unfathomable: 30th September 2014 saw the devastating report out of WWF which signalled that “Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last 40 years”. In October 2014 the Brazilian National Institute for Research in the Amazon released drafts of a report drawing from more than 200 existing papers which stated that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” Over the last 20 years the Amazon has lost an area 8 times the size of Britain.
“PEOPLE WERE STRANDED UP ON THEIR ROOFTOPS FOR DAYS, PHONE LINES WERE ALMOST ALL DOWN, SO PEOPLE COULDN’T CALL FOR HELP OR FIND THEIR RELATIVES, AND THOSE WHO COULD TOOK BOATS, MADE BOATS, EVEN FROM OLD BOTTLES. ONE OF THE CREW STILL HAD A WORKING CAR, AN INCREDIBLY INTERESTING YOUNG TAXI DRIVER WHO RECOUNTED BEAUTIFULLY HEROIC STORIES OF DRIVING THROUGH WATER UP TO THE HEIGHT OF THE WINDOWS TO RESCUE PEOPLE. THE ARMY CAME AND FIRSTLY RESCUED POLITICIANS AND TOURISTS. I GOT EYEWITNESS REPORTS OF ARMY BOATS GOING ON RESCUE MISSIONS AND ASKING PEOPLE THEIR NAMES BEFORE LETTING THEM BOARD, AND IF THEY GAVE A HINDU NAME THEY TOOK THEM, OTHERWISE, IF YOU HAD A MUSLIM NAME YOU WERE DISCARDED AND LEFT WHERE YOU WERE.”
Every year the blatancy of how big business bankrolls the political establishment into following their environmental line becomes greater. This year the lack of political will to engage climate catastrophe shone through once more. I saw this explicitly when travelling through Eastern Turkey where Kurdish communities remain persecuted by the Turkish government, akin to Kashmiri’s in Northern India. The political situation means that oftentimes utter disregard is paid to local consensus. I camped out by the Tigris River and learned from local activists how the Ilisu dam will flood the ancient Mesopotamian village of Hasankeyf. I could hear the constant stream of Trucks trundling down the new dirt road towards ‘New Hasankeyf’, being built a kilometre way and where all locals are being relocated to.
THE INDIAN ARMY DROPPED FOOD AND MEDICINE - BUT THE KASHMIRI’S COMPLAINED THAT THE FOOD WAS 5 YEARS OLD, MADE BY PRISONERS AND THAT THE MEDICINES WERE OUT OF DATE. I FIGURED IT MUST BE A STRANGE SCENARIO ANYWAY, ALMOST EVERY KASHMIRI FAMILY HAS A STORY OF A FAMILY MEMBER MURDERED BY TROOPS, THERE ARE MILLIONS OF REPORTED RAPES OF KASHMIRI WOMEN BY TROOPS, THOUSANDS OF UNMARKED GRAVES AND DISAPPEARANCES, CURFEWS, IMPRISONMENTS FOR DECADES WITHOUT TRIAL AND COUNTLESS STORIES OF ATTACKS - ONE DOCTOR TOLD ME THAT HE HAD BEEN BEATEN BY SOLDIERS ON HIS WAY TO WORK 3 TIMES, BUT LAUGHED DESPAIRINGLY AND SAID HOW IT WAS NORMAL FOR LIFE AS A KASHMIRI.
Politics and the environment also meet on another firm footing, that of modern warfare. People don’t intuitively draw the much needed line of connection between war and climate change, even though the military industrial complex is the largest single consumer of non-renewables: annually the US Department of Defense alone emits as much CO2 as the nation state of Denmark. 2014 was another year of continued warfare, in particular the war on terror, in 2014 for the first time in history the USA executed airstrikes against Syria and once again declared war in Iraq. The renewed and continued military campaigns, in particular by NATO countries, culminate in stratospheric amounts of GHG emissions. In a vicious feedback cycle climate induced natural disasters are also fuelling conflicts, for example the severe drought that led to thousands of Syrian farmers feeling compelled to join the armed opposition.
AND PEOPLE ARE SCARED, MILLIONS WERE DISPLACED, WHO ARE NOW LIVING IN MAKESHIFT TENTS BUT WHEN THE FIRST FROST COMES AT THE END OF THIS MONTH, MANY WILL DIE THROUGH EXPOSURE. WHEN THE COLD COMES, THE ROADS THROUGH TO SRINAGAR CLOSE, SO NO MATERIAL WILL GET THROUGH UNTIL THE END OF WINTER - IF SUPPLIES FOR (AT LEAST) WARM SHELTERS ARE NOT SENT NOW, IT’S LIKELY IT WILL BE 6 MONTHS OR MORE OF SNOW BEFORE IT WILL BE POSSIBLE AGAIN. AND IT’S NOT JUST SHELTERS NEEDED, FOOD, MEDICINES AND WARM THINGS WERE ALL LOST THAT ARE NEEDED NOW FOR LASTING OUT THE WINTER MONTHS.
As we move into scarcity it is movements spearheading sustainable development who are guiding humanity toward an equitable and egalitarian future. Where the factors are ripe permaculture groups centred on holistic knowledge of working the land and developing community resilience have been sprouting up all over the globe. In Mauritius I attended gatherings and sat down with Rezistans ek Alternativ who in 2014 have been gaining ground rapidly: their manifesto and measures are nothing short of revolutionary and the practical steps they are taking to disengage from industrial practices are inspiring. Solar cooperatives, the active encouraging of polycultures and the tackling of communalism are but a few points on their busy agenda. Community resilience is not only the key to riding out imminent storms but also to preventing the storms in the first place.
THE GROUP I WAS WORKING WITH SET UP JUST AS A BAND OF FRIENDS TO FIRSTLY RESCUE PEOPLE, THEN SET A BASE TO KEEP SUPPLIES AND DISTRIBUTE, AND NOW RECOGNISE THIS TIME AFTER THE FLOODS IS HARDER THAN DURING THE FLOODS - IT WILL BE A LONG, HARD REHABILITATION WITHOUT OUTSIDE SUPPORT, AND ESPECIALLY AS, WHILST I WAS THERE THEY HAD A CALL SAYING THAT NO MORE PACKAGES OF AID WILL BE ALLOWED THROUGH TO THEM, FOR SECURITY REASONS. THEY BELIEVE INDIA IS TRYING TO STARVE THEM OUT- A PASSIVE GENOCIDE. BUT THEY ARE STILL GETTING SUPPLIES THROUGH AND THEY HAVE A GOOD STOCK OF (BY THE POINT I LEFT) MEDICINE, SANITISER, BABY MILK AND CLOTHES.
Resistance to the methods of environmental and community destruction is often being brought about by ‘bands of friends’, locals, concerned citizens forming a solid unit of solidarity. Take Knitting Nana’s against Fracking in England, women elders who came together and over the course of many months forged a foundation of resistance to local fracking activities, through action camps and consistently and respectfully informing the local community of the environmental dangers they built. Local activism is the bulwark of resistance to the status quo, and can also be the purveyor of a fury less friendly than the Nana’s of England: Mid-October, the Secwepemc Ts’Ka7 warriors took the Imperial Metals Ruddock Creek mine out of action by burning their bridge access, effectively shutting down all activities.
THE GROUP HAS A POLICY OF FOCUSING ITS EFFORTS BY AIMING AT, FOR EXAMPLE, HELPING ONE FAMILY ENTIRELY, INSTEAD OF FOUR SUB-STANDARDLY - ONE SAID TO ME AS AN EXAMPLE, THEY FEEL IT’S BETTER TO GIVE RICE, COOKING EQUIPMENT AND WARM BLANKETS TO ONE FAMILY, THAN JUST RICE TO 3 FAMILIES. GOING AROUND THE CITY IT’S CLEAR THAT THINGS AREN’T CHANGING FAST, FLOOD WATERS ARE STILL HIGH IN SOME AREAS, STAGNANT, FULL OF SHIT AND BREWING THE POTENTIAL OF A MYRIAD OF DISEASES.THE STREETS ARE CHOKED THICK WITH RUBBISH, WHAT LOOKS LIKE EXCREMENT AND ROTTING WASTE.
The toxicity and poisoning of atmosphere and land is not a phenomena of future times, there is a full scale biological attack being waged against nature by humans as you read this. Since Chernobyl, Bhopal, Fukushima, Valdez etc. there has been an elevation in global consciousness toward how environmental destruction at the hand of industrial activity is not just a long sighted narrative but one which means that in the here and now we are poisoning land, air and food. This year has been one of the worst. On August 5th 2014 Canada experienced the worst toxic spills in its history, a breach of the tailings pond for the Mount Polley open-pit copper and gold mine in British Columbia sent hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic waste into nearby waterways and at least 3 tons of Mercury and 400 tons of arsenic contaminated fresh water supplies.
THE CITY STINKS IN THESE AREAS, EVERYTHING IS THE SAME COLOUR PAINTED WITH THE MUD OF THE RIVER, AND THE WATERWAYS ARE NOW HEAVILY POLLUTED WHICH IS WORRYING AS STOCKS OF CHLORINE ARE DOWN. THE WRECKAGE IN THE STREETS IS DAUNTING, WONDERING HOW A CITY LEFT ALONE WITH LITTLE SUPPLIES AND WORKING MACHINERY CAN CLEAR THE STREETS AND FALLEN BUILDINGS, REBUILD HOMES, HOSPITALS AND MOSQUES. OUTSIDE BUILDINGS FAR UNDER THE WATERMARK LEFT IS A GRAVEYARD OF WHATEVER WASN’T TAKEN BY THE WATER BUT DROWNED, WARPED AND DESTROYED IN A MUD MARINADE. PEOPLE MAINTAIN THEIR DIGNITY AND HOSPITALITY IN THE FACE OF THIS CATASTROPHE, BUT IT’S CLEAR MORE THAN JUST HOUSES WERE TAKEN WHEN THE FLOODS CAME. WHOLE LIVES AND HOPES WERE SWEPT AWAY AND AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE WITH ONLY THE PROMISE OF COLD AND HUNGER HAS TAKEN ITS PLACE.
Communities in the global south who are facing these Man-made environmental disasters, accelerating climate change, are at the crux of our resilience work, faced with constant catastrophe it is in these spaces we see the pivotal work of the push back. Just a day after Mount Polley the Buenavista del Cobre mine in Sonora, Mexico spilled 40 000 cubic meters of sulphuric acid in the Tinajas stream, which connects the Bacanuchi River to the Sonora River. Mexico is however also home to a fine example of how to boot mining companies out for good, take Capulálpam de Mendez in Oaxaca. Capulalpam has been a hive for indigenous elders, activists and farmers across Latin America, as in 2007 the town succeeded in suspending the operations of Continuum Resources’ Natividad mine indefinitely. How did they do this? By preserving traditional decision-making practices and strengthening their chance of resolving internal differences and enforcing their local priorities and consequently demonstrating that the mine had contaminated the local river with arsenic and lead.
WHILST I WAS THERE, A BIG CONCERN OF OURS WAS THE COMING COLD FOR THOSE WHO LOST THEIR HOMES, SO I STARTED EMAILING AND BRAINSTORMING ON THE BEST SHORT TERM POSSIBILITY TO CREATE CHEAP, FAST, WARM AND DIGNIFIED HOUSES WITH THE MATERIALS AT HAND, TO LAST OUT THE WINTER MONTHS. CAME UP WITH A WHAT I THINK IS A VIABLE OPTION, WITH THE EXPERT AND FRIENDLY SUPPORT OF ARCHITECTS WITHOUT BORDERS. A KASHMIRI JOURNALIST - A LITTLE OLDER AND WISER - SPOKE ABOUT THE DANGERS THE GROUP FACED HAVING ME THERE - INDIA DOESN’T WANT INTERNATIONALS HERE, AND I’M NOT HARD TO SPOT, EVEN IF I AM WEARING TRADITIONAL CLOTHES, AND ALL IT TAKES IS ONE UNDERCOVER SECURITY FORCE TO ASK WHO I AM, WHO I’M WITH, ETC - THE SECURITY FORCES ARE ALREADY INTERESTED IN THE GROUP AS IT IS. AND I WOULD FACE DEPORTATION AS HAS HAPPENED A FEW TIMES BEFORE FROM OTHER INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISTS.
2014 has also become a year where the focus is becoming evenly split between mitigating impending climate change catastrophe and creating/investing in sustainable alternatives and importantly, implementing adaptation: the IPCC 2104 Climate Change Report focuses 4 out of 20 chapters in volume one on adaptation. In many places around the world it is now too late to prevent the effects of climate change. At home in the UK 2014 was the warmest year since records began, but also one of the wettest. I left England on January 31st, a few days later I watched UK Prime Minister donning his hunters for the UK winter storm floods political photo-shoot. The rainfall levels in Southern England were some of the highest in over 100 years. This year has showed us that we are in for a fast collapse if we don’t heed the lessons given to us, as 2015 approaches we have an opportunity to learn from the resistance work of people on the frontlines, ignoring it could mean a missed opportunity to engage the turnaround needed for life on Earth to continue in its diversity..