Economics of Happiness Conference Byron Bay - part 2
Normally if I take three things away from a conference I feel it's been a resounding success. It's now a week since I returned from the Economics of Happiness conference and about twenty-three different impressions are still jostling for a position in my head. Here are a few of them:
Dave Rastovich 'Rasta', with his tanned face, lean frame and sandy-looking dreadlocks took the floor on the first evening. Since the age of six, this world-renowned surfer has spent the bulk of his time in the sea. It's little wonder he has become a spokesperson for his marine playmates who have no voice (at least a voice that we can understand).
Dave is founder of an acclaimed environmental activist group called Surfers for Cetaceans. In case, like me, you are unfamiliar with that word, it means marine mammals including whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Magic footage of dolphins gambolling in the ocean delighted Dave's audience. And I couldn't help but think how appropriate it was for a presentation in Byron Bay to star dolphins, those so-called 'hippies of the sea'.
Dave said that when he is in mid-campaign and takes time out to surf, the cetaceans often make supportive contact, and one day a dolphin even gave him a watery 'high 5'. He added that only a Byron resident can get away with such assertions.
|Just like Rasta - young kids learning to surf on Byron beach|
I had yawned at the prospect of a welcoming speech by a council dignitary. But as it was Byron I should have known better. Simon Richardson is no ordinary mayor. His first 'housing' in the area was the sand dunes. From there he graduated to a squat, followed by a teepee and eventually shared ecohousing. The previous day, from the mayoral chair (where he sits, not lives), he had overseen a triumph for local sustainability when an application by KFC was rejected.
The aptly named John Seed is Founder of the Rainforest Information Centre, which protects rainforests and the indigenous people who depend on them. John is a scathing and effective critic of the current global economy, arguing that it has become the new God.
|Heretic, John Seed, rejecting the doctrines of economic globalisation|
I was delighted with that assertion because in my own book The Crowded Nest, I made a similar point, suggesting that with its own credo, liturgical calendar, mantras, patron saints, daily communicants, rituals, and missionaries, consumerism has become the new religion. It was very affirming to be on the same page as someone of John's stature.
Another great thing about him is that he not only describes the problem but has been working for years to combat it. John trains people in deep ecology, takes up cudgels against advertising and, as he puts it, is on a mission 'to defrock economics, by robbing it of its Nobel Prize, and cast it out of the temple'.
Helena Norberg Hodge, as the opening speaker, was just the first of many contributors to suggest that people are longing for a better relationship with animals, with nature and with each other. And that motif of connecting actively with each other was ever-present at the conference. There was plenty of opportunity for informal networking and partying and several of the sessions featured experiential components, with hugging galore.
|For this Anglo, photographing hugging can sometimes be easier than actually doing it|
I'd been hanging out to see Winona Laduke. An American Indian activist, Winona was the Green Party candidate for US vice-president, running with Ralph Nader. You might have noticed they didn't win.
She has also worked on Indian reservations for 30 years and was co-founder of the Indigenous Women's Network.
Unfortunately we only got to hear a little from Winona because we had to dash to the airport. But even that taster was enough to get my juices running, and since our return I have enjoyed researching her amazing achievements via the internet.
Next year's conference will be in Japan. I've already started brushing up my Japanese: 'Sayonara'.