“The Great Explainer” Bill Clinton to speak in Rhinebeck

Former president Bill Clinton

Former president Bill Clinton

“Sustainability” is the new catchword of our times: a shift in thinking and acting from wasteful consumerism predicated on the notion of limitless growth that perhaps offers the best hope for saving the planet. However, many efforts toward a sustainable way of life fall short of addressing the crises of climate change and dwindling resources. “Where We Go from Here,” a conference to be held at the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL) in Rhinebeck from October 4 through 6, will bring together movers and shakers to examine the challenges and present an effective roadmap for the future. Former president Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote address on Friday night, with presentations by expert economists, scientists, architects, authors and other thinkers on Saturday and Sunday.

The OCSL itself, which was launched at the Omega Institute four years ago, serves as a showcase of what’s possible – and necessary. It’s housed in an award-winning building whose water reclamation system purifies the wastewater from the Omega campus using biological organisms, and is powered 100 percent by solar energy.

Clinton, “the Great Explainer” famous for his ability to “sum up all of life,” according to Robert “Skip” Backus, CEO of Omega Institute, will provide a global overview of the latest developments in sustainability. Other speakers will discuss how shifts are occurring in the economic, social and environmental realms. “The conference is not called ‘Where Do We Go from Here,’ because we already have the skills, technology and knowledge to move forward,” Backus said. “Every one of our presenters is working on solutions.”

Economist Jeremy Rifkind, an advisor to the European Union, will talk about the Third Industrial Revolution, the subject of his latest best-selling book, which he defines as a more democratically oriented and green society based on collaboration and peer-to-peer networking: a shift impelled by the Internet and renewable energies. Michael Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture, designs and builds affordable houses out of recycled materials that have a zero footprint in terms of energy use and wastewater. Paul Hawken, founder and president of One Sun, Inc. is developing low-cost solar energy systems that use green chemistry and biomimicry. Janine Benyus will explain more about biomimicry: As the founder of the Biomimicry Institute, she’s exploring how the sustainable principles of design in nature can be imitated and adapted by humans.

Bob Berkebile is an influential sustainable architect and community planner who believes that buildings should not only be rooted to a sense of place, but also designed and sited to encourage biodiversity. UK environmentalist Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Network, will discuss the topic of his recent book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff: How Local Action Can Change the World, about how ordinary citizens can break the paralysis of corporate hegemony.

Also participating are David Orr, author of Ecological Literacy; Majora Cater, who received a MacArthur grant for founding Sustainable South Bronx in 2001,which pioneered micro-agribusiness and climate adaptation in a poorer urban communities – a model for her consultancy reaching out to other locations; Maya Azucena, a singer who received a Grammy in conjunction with Stephen Marley and is also a maternal-health activist; and Peter Buffet, an Emmy Award-winning musician, composer and best-selling author who will perform “Plastic Tomb” and his other eco-songs (For more on this local composer/philanthropist, read our Almanac Weekly profile at http://bit.ly/LZiHwN).

Backus, who laid the foundation for Omega’s environmental and conservation initiatives, and Carla Goldstein, Omega’s chief external affairs officer and co-founder of the Omega Women’s Leadership Center, will also participate. Goldstein is an attorney who has contributed to 100 city, state and federal laws related to reforms connected to women’s rights, poverty, social justice and public health.

Actual projects underway include the work of Bob Berkebile and David Orr, who are “building real communities with a certain type of architecture and infrastructure,” said Backus. “Jeremy Rifkind is looking at how to create new energy models, which are being adopted aggressively in Germany. We’re bombarded with negativity, but in reality, a lot is going on.”

Backus added that the thrust of the conference is very much toward grassroots efforts. “If we stand around and wait for Albany and Washington to do something, put in some ‘expletives deleted’ and that’s what will happen,” he said. “It’s about exercising our responsibility: how the products we buy and decisions we make every day are what’s going to make change happen.” Such shifts constitute the incremental changes that will result in a future that’s dramatically better and different from now, even though it may take a century.

Backus said that he has to be hopeful in order to be effective. “I have a positive sense because I can understand that I’m having an impact. A lot of the people at the conference are committed to leadership and how change will happen.”

The price for attending the conference, which commences on Friday night and ends on Sunday afternoon, is $425, $350 or $275, depending on financial need. An accommodations-and-meals package is also available. You can sign up for a livestream of the conference on Saturday by visiting www.eomega.org/workshops/conferences/where-we-go-from-here.

Where We Go from Here conference, Friday-Sunday, October 4-6, $425/$350/$275, Omega Center for Sustainable Living, Rhinebeck; (800) 944-1001, www.eomega.org/ocsl2013.

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