In a few weeks, a couple of thousand graying environmentalists, earnest activists, mission-driven journalists, scientists, artists, and citizens will point their bikes, hybrids, and thumbs toward a convention complex 30 minutes north of San Francisco, home of the 19th annual Bioneers conference.
Each of the three days will begin with a series of speeches from vanguard thinkers such as Janine Benyus, a naturalist who helps create manmade designs that mimic Mother Nature’s more efficient processes, and No Logo author and lefty icon Naomi Klein. After a leafy lunch, where barefoot yogis will enthusiastically network with pleat-pressed policy makers, attendees are sent off to breakout sessions for some give and take on subjects like peak oil, coastal communities, public school toxins, and grassroots democracy. Nightfall promises drum circles, turntables, interpretive dance, and, for those who make their way to bonfires burning in the surrounding hills, some of the best bud south of Vancouver.
Part seminar, part brainstorm, Bioneers always attracts hundreds of fresh-faced converts to the green revolution. Ultimately, though, the event functions as a pep rally and reunion for people who were on the frontlines years, often decades, before Al Gore stun-gunned the mass media with his inconvenient truths; people from all over the globe who, at least once a year, need to hang with forward-thinking comrades and recharge their solar batteries.
After stumbling on an article published in San Francisco magazine’s February issue, I’m hoping there’s a bigger-than-ever contingent of locals on-site for this year’s festival. Because it seems that the sunshine state’s most conscientious citizens are going mad with guilt.
“A new breed of mental-health professionals [or ‘eco-therapists’] has popped up on the Left Coast. You might expect them to be weirdos, preying on the equally wacko and forlorn—Aura Cleansers 2.0. But most are standard-grade therapists who’ve found a specialty that makes perfect sense in today’s world,” Leslie Crawford writes in San Francisco. “Earth in the balance? First we have to put our mood in the balance, and few [Bay Area residents] find that easy.”
It’s likely this “eco-neurosis” will, if it hasn’t already, start popping up in places like Philly, Des Moines, Houston, and beyond. How could it not? Even if you’re barely paying attention, it’s near impossible to duck headlines about arid aquifers, blood-soaked oil fields, stranded polar bears, politics as always, and corporate opportunism. It would be insane not to worry; to feel like you can never really do enough; to be, as topical comedian Bill Maher quips, “pissed off that more people aren’t pissed off.”
The problem is that awareness doesn’t automatically translate to action, and the rational fears of the well-meaning are morphing into a mental roadblock that robs them and those around them of life’s potential. For some, the temptation is to withdraw, which means surrounding themselves with like-minded defeatists or throwing in the towel. Others turn into martyrs, convinced that theirs is the only way, raging at those who don’t live up to impractical, unattainable standards. Finally, there are those who still cannot stop saying I told you so and label anyone who dares to dream as naïve or disingenuous or worse.
The wise path, of course, is much more difficult. It requires a measure of blind optimism, a faith in our fellows, as well as an acceptance of our own mortality and the chaos that defines the cosmos.
“We can serve the cause of life on earth better if we move through our anxiety, and if we find an underlying place within ourselves that acknowledges the reality of the tragedy we are facing and, at the same time, commits to doing whatever each of us can do to move beyond this tragedy,” Michael Lerner, president of Commonweal, a health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, tells San Francisco. “This situation is too serious to afford us the luxury of remaining stuck in anxiety. We have an obligation to move toward hope and commitment.”
In other words, as the best Bioneers will tell you, it’s about being modest, living locally, and abandoning the doom and gloom in hot pursuit of innovation.
It’s in that spirit that we put together this month’s cover section (“Mother Earth’s Big Comeback,” p. 36). While it’s far from an exhaustive, unassailable list of ideas, our hope is that it gets readers talking not about what’s breaking down, but what we can all do to break through.