California activists beam their way to campus

Hundreds of volunteers are expected to gather at Alaska Pacific University Oct. 21-23 to host a Bioneers in Alaska Conference. Scientific and social innovators are coming together to promote Alaska’s ecological achievements while exploring solutions to the state’s health and environmental issues.

The national conference held in San Rafael, Calif., will provide the traditional satellite feed to “Beaming Bioneers” in Anchorage. Locals are swaying from tradition and adding a few new twists to the fourth annual conference.

“It’s way beyond tree-loving environmentalists,” said Terri Pauls, Bioneers in Alaska co-founder and UAA environmental studies professor. “It takes a big look at environmental, social and economical sustainability.”

New this year are local chefs who will produce five meals that feature organic-only food gathered from 17 area farmers to connect the people with the food, said Pauls.

Four panel discussions were added for this year to address possible solutions to Alaska’s most controversial issues, including the future of food security and the toxicity involved in coal mining, according to the Bioneers.

“All we hear about are problems, and the solutions are so rarely represented,” said Pauls. “People are used to getting the finger pointed at them, but we turn that around.”

Keynote speaker Andy Lipkis will give a plan to fix Alaska’s wastewater treatment facility problems. The 40-plus-year-old treatment facility is straining to meet environmental protections because of Alaska’s growing population. He will focus on finding funding to install a new tertiary wastewater facility or ways to develop a solar aquatic tertiary wastewater treatment facility.

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“It is absolutely time to blow the lid off our practices and negligence and recognize the impact that we as humans have on our environment,” said Terry Brown, a Bioneers in Alaska organizer. “The environment is not separate from us. We are the environment.”

It isn’t just national speakers striving to change Anchorage’s relationship with the environment. Youth Corner, a new addition to the conference, invites classrooms across the state to share their ideas on community projects.

UAA students are also involved.

“This conference has great information and insight for all those students who want to make a difference in their school and community,” said Tyler Morris, a UAA student and student government senator. “I went to Bioneers last year, and watching the presentation on biofuels gave me the inspiration to work on our recycling program.”

To register for the conference or find out more, visit www.sustainak.org.