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Bio pioneers inspire Earth C.O.R.P.S.

Earth CORPS members Miranda Felix, Margaret Pixley and Britta Bullard attend Bioneers Conference 2010. (Courtesy of Miranda Felix)

Who knew talking sperm and monkey screeches could be so enlightening? The Mills College Earth Corps did, when the club attended last month’s Bioneers conference. Amid the cheesy nature jokes were words of eco-wisdom that Earth C.O.R.P.S. intends to cater to promote sustainability on-campus and throughout the community.

For Recycling Manager Britta Bullard, Bioneers, which stands for biological pioneers, is a nonprofit organization that aims “to bring great speakers and great ideas together and propel everyone forward to go back into their work with new tools or new ways of thinking about things.” By holding a conference every year, Bioneers helps educate people around the world on why and how to help the environment – a topic at the forefront of Earth C.O.R.P.S.’ mind.

“To sustain something is to prolong it and keep it living. Humans want to keep living, and the only way we can do that is with the earth,” said sophomore and Earth Corp member Emily Csikszentmihalyi. “It’s about leaving the world a better place than it was.”

The 21st Annual Bioneers Conference took place on Oct. 15, 16 and 17 at the Marin Center in San Rafael.

The conference “is like three days full of ideas,” Bullard said. “It’s converging with a bunch of people who are doing that same work. It’s realizing that people get it and believe that this work will accomplish something.”

Speakers came from a wide range of backgrounds and interests, from John Francis, who took a vow of silence for 17 years for the environment and world peace, and Jane Goodall, world-renowned for her behavioral research of chimpanzees.

“The person I loved watching was Mary Gonzalez,” Bullard said of the leadership trainer and faith-based organizer. “When she got on that stage, whatever she’s talking about, people get so revved up.”

Keynote speakers inspire the club members. (Courtesy of Miranda Felix)

However, sophomore and Earth C.O.R.P.S. member Miranda Felix believes one of Gonzalez’s primary arguments was that people need to do more than get “revved up.”

“(She taught me that) getting all excited and educating is one thing, but then actually getting what you want done is another,” Felix said.

Other speakers, such as first National Geographic fellow Elizabeth Lindsey, helped audience members see the fruits of their labors.

“Elizabeth Lindsey was very inspirational for me because she was talking about things I was struggling with, like where do you belong in society, where do you belong in culture, who is your culture, who do you fight for,” Felix said. “She told us that everybody belongs to everybody. That really made me feel like I was working for something.”

Despite their experience and knowledge, speakers made sure to make their points clear to everyone.

“Everything in Bioneers was said in such a way where you didn’t have to be in the know to understand what was happening. Everything was said on a very basic level,” Felix said. “You could go in not being a hippie activist, chaining yourself to a tree.”

Earth C.O.R.P.S. members received some of the most valuable information from speakers like Anthony Cortese, co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, who focused on issues pertinent to Mills.

“Anthony Cortese was saying that the goal of higher education needs to be to create a thriving sustainable future,” Felix said. “We’re a small community in which we can have change happen readily and help figure out how to change the rest of the world.”

Earth C.O.R.P.S. intends to put Mills at the forefront of environmental change this academic year by using what they learned at the conference. Their two primary campaigns: campus-wide composting and power-down days.

“The way we’re doing things right now is not working. Our landfills are filling up,” Felix said, which is why Earth C.O.R.P.S. is working with the administration to put more composting bins in campus hot-spots, like the dorms.

Through composting, Earth C.O.R.P.S. hopes to divert waste to preserve as much of the environment as possible.

“When you throw things like banana peels, coffee grounds, things that can be composted and returned to the earth – when you put it in a landfill with things that are not biodegradable or things that will simply take a long time to decay, they’re going to be stuck in there and they’re going to be producing a ton of methane,” Csikszentmihalyi said. “(Composting) is better for our air, which is a resource that everyone has. It’s the air and it’s indivisible; you can’t portion out to anybody.”

The College has made a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2015. Bullard believes that more composting will both help the College meet its goal and help save money.

“Often there’s an upfront cost and it ends up saving money in the long run,” Bullard said.

Unlike composting, there will be no upfront cost to power down days, during which students, faculty and staff are encouraged to turn off all electronics. The College plans to reduce its energy use by 15 percent as well in an effort to avoid the increasing cost of energy from PG&E.

“Increasing rates means the College is paying more and students are paying more to the College,” Csikszentmihalyi said. ”It would save everybody a lot of money if we could find ways to use less energy.”

Overall, the conference gave Bullard and Earth C.O.R.P.S. “a renewed sense of purpose,” Felix said.

“Bioneers activated me. It got me really excited about the work I was doing and the work I want to continue to do,” Bullard said. “I would absolutely go again.”

Earth C.O.R.P.S. meetings are on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. in the Sustainability Center.