The Earth is Big, Humans are Small

Oct 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Environment/Sustainability

By Suzanne York,

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The theme of this past weekend’s Bioneers Summit Conference was “revolution from the heart of nature,” but more than that, it was also that land and life are sacred.

If you aren’t familiar with Bioneers, it is an annual conference that just celebrated its 25th year. Attendees are referred to as “bioneers,” and they are looking to shift the current path of the world towards something more positive, harmonious and forward-thinking.  The term was coined by Bioneers founder Kenny Ausubel, to describe social and scientific innovators who are mimicking nature¹s operating instructions to serve human ends.

According to Bioneers, “The years between now and 2020 will be the most important in the history of human civilization. Climate change has crash-landed from the future into the present. The ecological debt we’ve incurred is dire. The hyper-concentration of wealth has captured our political systems, impoverishing humanity, the environment and democracy. The bottom line is we’re living beyond our means, and the collection agency is at the door.”

To name just one conference highlight, Robin Kimmerer, a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, gave a talk which included a touching story about Martha, the last passenger pigeon on the planet.  Martha died 100 years ago.  Who knew a story about a pigeon could be so moving and touching.  Humans wipe out species with little though or consequence.  Kimmerer said that people “are just one member of the democracy of species.”  She is so right, and humans today are so detached from nature that we forget that we are only one part of the planetary ecosystem which sustains us.


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Bioneers:  A Community of Inspiration

Instead of doing a summary of speakers and topics, I will list some of the most amazing/incredible/inspiring/thought-provoking quotes I heard over the course of the weekend.

Robin Kimmerer

“Is land a source of belongings, or a source of belonging?”

“It is not the land which is broken, but our relationship to the land”

Clayton Thomas-Muller (ajfdajfl)

“I see a shift in power today” (referring to the indigenous-led People’s Climate March)

“Violence against Mother Earth begets violence against our native women”

Terry Tempest Williams

“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in it”

“Our power lies in the love of our homelands”

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us”

Vandana Shiva

“I tell people that GMOs stand for ‘God Move over’”

“If you know what you are eating, corporations lose their freedom of speech”

“The Earth will carry on; she is big, we are small”


Heeding Voices from the Past and Present to Change the Future

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After the Bioneers conference, Vandana Shiva spoke at a public event in Berkeley, CA.  She mentioned Rabindranath Tagore and his work in “The Robbery of the Soil.”  Written in 1922, it does a good job of describing our world today and is food for thought, along with the above quotes, as we face enormous crises across the world.  Here is one quotefrom Tagore that reflects society today:

“…Like mountains, large fortunes and the enjoyments of luxury are also high walls of segregations; they produce worst division in society than any physical barriers.”

One of the best things about Bioneers is that the entire conference is centered on impactful, rights-based initiatives.  Speakers from Naomi Klein (author of Everything Must Change) to indigenous leader and elder Oren Lyons spoke of how humans are just one species on the planet and depending upon our actions, may or may not survive.  But the Earth will go on, with or without us.

If more people understand this, then perhaps humans have a fighting chance.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.

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