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Bioneering Effective Activism

Bioneers by the Bay, presented by the Marion Institute, is an annual gathering of “biological pioneers” who use cutting edge approaches to environmental restoration. Their work encompasses technological innovation, economic strategies, social justice, and a spiritual connection to the natural world.

For these innovators, scientists, and grassroots leaders—as well as 2,000 regular folks—it’s an opportunity to share experiences and strategies for dealing with the challenges facing our world.

For author Dave Pollard, “the most valuable session was a ‘kitchen table’ discussion with Bioneers founders Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons”—a point-by-point roadmap of the most effective ways to bring about the change we need, if you will.

The following is an excerpt of some of the lessons he took away:

  1. Developing Holistic Change Frameworks & Approaches: The changes we are trying to accomplish are in systems that are all complex and all interrelated. We cannot isolate approaches to just environmental sustainability, or social justice, or health and nutrition, or quality affordable housing, or media reform, or education, or poverty, or women’s rights, or racial equality, or economic reform. We need to realize that change needs to occur in all of them, integrally, or no enduring change will occur in any of them. What is required is a coordinated “movement of movements”, a whole ecology of collaborative, shared ideas and activities. These efforts need overarching “big picture” frameworks that show the interconnectedness of the problems we face and how efforts in one area can reinforce (or impede) efforts in another. For example, we need to appreciate that many health problems have social (e.g. addiction), educational (e.g. ignorance of nutrition) and environmental (e.g. food toxins) problems underlying them.
  2. Focusing on Two Common Causes: Many of the aforementioned connected problems have our separation from nature and the weakening of local community at their root.
  3. Reaching Across Ideology to Find Shared Values: Our belief systems by themselves are not enough to bring about change. The movement has to be about more than shared ideology. It needs to build bridges, and “reach across” cultural divides to find common cause. Our opinions are not as important as what we value, because many people who differ in opinion share values.
  4. Using the Leverage Points: To be effective, we need to find the leverage points in the system, the places where the need for change is understood, where change is relatively easy to achieve, and where that change will provoke positive changes elsewhere.
  5. Relocalizing + Connecting: The change must be rooted in community, in a massive relocalization and decentralization and de-institutionalization of attention, connection, understanding, power, and effort. Communities need to coalesce, self-organize, and do things for themselves, and then connect with other communities to share their success stories and lessons learned. At higher levels, our political states are bureaucratized, disconnected, unmaneuverable, corporatist, and corrupted, and trying to reform them is largely a waste of time, money and energy.
  6. Making Change Easier: We need to focus on making it easier for people to change. We prevented an ozone layer disaster by simply making CFCs illegal, so refrigeration companies found and invented non-ozone depleting coolants, because they had no choice. Likewise, by ensuring that only energy-efficient light bulbs can be sold in the market, and that only energy-efficient, healthy new homes can be certified for sale, we make it easier for citizens to do the right thing. Working models that let people see how and why they work, and how to replicate them, are likewise useful.
  7. Educasting: A major obstacle to change is the public’s ignorance and lack of capacities to bring about needed changes. We need to start using the new media for “educasting” public information to inform and build capacities. While we should not give up trying to reform public education and mainstream media, we cannot rely on either to support educasting so we need to work around them.
  8. Delivering to Those in Need: We need a renewed focus on delivery systems for change, so that resources get to where they’re needed.
  9. Thinking Generations Ahead: We need long range thinking so that we always know where we are going, balanced with pragmatism and effective, sustained implementation. Example: The 50 Top Future Crops for New Mexico is a long-range objective that inspires and directs thinking and action about food production and nutrition in that state.
  10. Speaking in Understandable Terms: We must make sure the language we use is inclusive and accessible to people outside our circles of activism. Jargon can be a useful shorthand but also an impediment to communication and persuasion. The terms “environmentalist” and “activist” are not helpful because of connotations of “otherness” and anger, which is why the more inclusive, positive term “bioneers” was coined. Stories, of course, are immensely useful in increasing understanding.

Read the whole article here.

Photo courtesy connectingforchange.org.


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