On October 24, the Center for the Environment’s Ruby Maddox-Fisher and three Mount Holyoke students--Alex Weston ’10, Kelsey Russell ’10 and Yiting Wang ’11 --attended the “Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change” conference in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
The Bioneers are a New Mexico-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting innovative solutions to environmental and social problems based in a philosophy that recognizes the interdependence of the human and natural worlds. In October 1990, the Bioneers held their first annual conference in San Rafael, California, organized by founders and activists Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simon. The conference highlights the work of scientific and social innovators and helps support and propagate their ideas and models.
The diverse range of topics and perspectives at the Bioneers Conference aligns closely with the mission of the Center for the Environment to enable students to make connections across disciplines, points of view, and social constructs. The dimensions of the environmental movement represented at the Bioneer Conference ranged from sociopolitical activism; "green" biology, chemistry, design, architecture, and urban planning; organic farming and gardening; indigenous perspectives; biodiversity and wildland preservation; alternative energy; socially responsible entrepreneurship, business, and philanthropy; environmental justice; and women's and youth movements.
The New Bedford conference was just one of 20 “Beaming Bioneer” conferences across the U.S. and Canada. In 2002, Bioneers expanded to include simultaneous satellite conferences, called "Beaming Bioneers," which model themselves after the conference in San Rafael. Beaming Bioneers sites screen satellite feeds of plenary speakers from the national conference, while also serving as conferences that focus on regional solutions and presenters.
Friday morning’s opening ceremony was preformed by the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers from Mashpee, Massachusetts, who shared their traditional songs and dance with the audience. Following the energy of the Wampanoag Nation, keynote speaker David Orr, a distinguished professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College, discussed how the election and the first 100 days of the next administration will impact climate change policy. In 1996, Orr organized the effort to design the first sustainable green building at Oberlin College. The building, called the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, was named by the U.S. Department of Energy as “One of 30 Milestone Buildings in the Twentieth Century.”
The conference featured many local activists, including Carlos Moreno, a New Bedford resident, who believes that afterschool programs and summer youth employment are crucial to decreasing youth violence in the area. Moreno used various media outlets, screening a short documentary and performing spoken word, to engage the audience around the issues of environmental justice. The documentary highlighted Moreno’s work with United Youth and Youth Workers, an organization that employs 320 youth to perform energy audits in Boston and New Bedford.
Majora Carter (above, center), another keynote speaker, discussed how green jobs represented both a growing economic sector and ways to mobilize unemployed Americans to participate in the environmental movement. Carter is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and founded the Sustainable South Bronx program in 2001 and the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST) program in 2003, which provides green-collar job training.
Coming full circle from Orr’s first speech discussing environmentalism at the government level, Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Farm, called on individuals to create change in the marketplace through their consumption habits. His $320 million business proves that environmental and social stewardship within the business sector is not only feasible, but can also be profitable.
After the keynote speakers, breakout sessions and discussion periods continued into the evening on topics ranging from the impact of faith on environmental activism to local food movements and living roofs. The MHC group attended presentations by other high schools and colleges on how to green their campus and attended a workshop on growing fresh vegetables, herbs, and even raising chickens in small or urban environments led by R.J. Rupenthal, author of Fresh Food from Small Places.
The Bioneers Conference was an inspiring and innovative compilation of speakers, workshops, and events that both tied into the work of the Center for the Environment and the interests of the student participants. For Kelsey Russell ’10, cochair of the campus Environmental Action Coalition (EAC), the conference was a great way to “connect and learn from those pioneering the environment and social justice movement” and she hopes to apply some of what she’s learned at the conference to help foster environmental sustainability through action on campus.
Said Yiting Wang ’11, an environmental studies major, “It’s inspiring, knowing that there are a lot of people taking big and small steps everywhere and feeling like this is the right path that I’m pursuing.”