This summer was defined by our attendance at a remarkable conference in California, dedicated to bringing together an international group of thinkers and leaders to present their alternatives to every facet of our current civilization and together create a body of work that will pave the way to a sustainable future for all life on this planet. A Summary of the Conference
by Marilyn Geddes Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr., American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist, has argued that humanity’s most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends. Honouring a unifying theme of his work—his emphasis on ecological interdependence—Dr. Cobb personally invited over 800 academics of diverse backgrounds, interests, and commitments from around the world to come together at plenary talks, joint sessions, and casual conversations to consider deeply the important questions that are facing our planet at this time. This gathering, Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization, took place at Pomona College in Claremont, California from June 4th-7th, 2015.
The conference was organized into 12 major Sections. Each Section was divided into anywhere from 4 to 11 collaborative discussions, called 'tracks'. In addition, each day began with a public plenary session that featured passionate, expertly informed, involved and inspirational speakers:
Bill McKibben on Climate Warming as a Civilizational Crisis
Vandana Shiva on The Misuse of Science in the Global Crisis
Sheri Liao on Ecological Politics for an Ecological Civilization
John B. Cobb Jr. on A Whiteheadian Response to Global Crisis
Herman Daly on Ecological Economics for an Ecological Civilization
Wes Jackson on Ecological Agriculture for an Ecological Civilization
I was very fortunate to attend the conference as a guest of Jaki Daniels and her husband, Chris Daniels, PhD. Chris chaired a track entitled The Contributions of Indigenous Wisdom that was included in Section VII—Reimagining and Reinventing the Wisdom Tradtions. Jaki was one of the track’s key speakers as was another of our good friends, Bill Pfeiffer, founder of the Sacred Earth Network in the U.S. Along with many others, including Sylvie Boustie and Maureen Durant of Calgary’s Kaheeyu Mountain Institute, I attended all 8 sessions of the track over 3 days, and was privileged to join in conversation and ceremony with indigenous elders and non-indigenous presenters from Canada, the U.S., South America, Mongolia, and Siberia. Each brought his or her unique perspective to our gathering, but every one of them emphasized our need to remember indigenous ways as we bridge our worlds and move towards the creation of an ecological civilization.
Jaki’s words clearly echoed those of every other speaker: "I believe that if we re-engage with the earth and each other in the ways of our indigenous ancestors and current Indigenous peoples—personally and directly experiencing the interconnectedness of all life—we will come to know what will be best for all, not just for ourselves."
Of course, every time we leave a gathering where we are enlivened, inspired, and filled with good intentions to hold ‘making a difference’ as our highest priority, a question arises. Fred (Coyote) Downey, (Kenneste/Maida/Huchme), a Ceremonial Elder from Round Valley California, asked it of us as we said our good-byes to him. I recall he said something like, “Are you going to be like everyone else? I’ve been to many of these gatherings and everyone gets excited. Then they go away and nothing changes. What are you going to do next?”
That is a question for each of us who wishes—in the face of “the inescapable pain of facing the truth”—to assist in moving toward an ecological civilization. What are you going to do next? I have often asked myself, and over the years, I have experimented with a variety of answers. What I take away from the conference is a more refined sense of personal direction, and a recognition that as part of the larger community brought together at the conference, we can move ahead with “renewed and realistic hope”. Because many of you in our home community also hold a strong commitment to a future on our planet “what will be best for all, not just ourselves,” we ask, if you are interested, that you take a look at some of the resources made available to us by the conference organizers and participants.