Biographical note

Berg, Peter
(October 1, 1937 – July 28, 2011)
Bioregionalism Philosopher, Founder and Director of Planet Drum Foundation

One of the leading advocates of bioregionalism, Peter Berg was the founder and director of Planet Drum Foundation, a noted ecologist, and a popular public speaker on several continents. He was widely acknowledged as an originator of the use of the terms bioregion and reinhabitation to describe land areas in terms of their interdependent plant, animal, and human life. Berg believed that the relationships between humans and the rest of nature point to the importance of supporting cultural diversity as a component of biodiversity.

Peter Stephen Berg was born October 1, 1937, in Jamaica, Long Island, New York. When he was six, his family moved to Florida. At the University of Florida in Gainesville, Berg discovered beat poetry and was introduced to the emerging revolution that it expressed. Berg joined an underground minority at the overwhelmingly conservative institution and became involved in the civil rights movement. Leaving the University of Florida while still a teenager, Berg hitchhiked across the United States, at which time he first visited San Francisco.

In 1964, he settled in the city, where he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe. As one of the Troupe’s contributing playwrights, Berg wrote several of their mid-1960s scripts, including an adapatation of Giordano Bruno’s 16th century play Il Candelaio, the production of which caused the San Francisco Parks Commission to revoke the Troupe’s permit, leading to their arrest and a showcase trial. Berg also coined the phrase “guerrilla theatre” which the Troupe’s director, R.G. Davis, popularized in a 1965 essay that laid out a blueprint for radical theater groups working toward social change.

Berg collaborated with several Mime Troupe members to create the legendary San Francisco Haight-Ashbury group The Diggers in 1966. Berg wrote many of the manifestos that the Diggers contributed to the nascent counterculture, including Trip Without A Ticket, which was later reproduced in several anthologies including The Digger Papers. Berg’s directorial experience in the San Francisco Mime Troupe was valuable in staging Digger events such as the “Death of Money Parade” (1966) to create a social space in which participants acted in a theater of the streets. The work of The Diggers was instrumental in, as Berg would put it, “ecologizing the left.”

As the revolution died down at Haight-Ashbury, Berg and a caravan of former Diggers set out on a cross-country tour in the summer of 1971 to determine what common threads existed in the nation’s land-based communities. By winter, he had reached Nova Scotia and visited the expatriate American poet, Allen Van Newkirk, who also studied the connections between society and ecology. Interested in the research, classification, and preservation of the natural features within a given geographic area, Van Newkirk—along with Berg, Raymond Dasmann, and others—began promoting the idea of the bioregion. Berg and Van Newkirk both felt that the environmental movement was incapable of dealing with the underlying problems that industrial society posed for the biosphere. Rather than cleaning up after disasters, both felt the disasters needed to be prevented. Whereas Van Newkirk had explored the possibility of the bioregion as an arena for wildlife conservation, Berg proposed the inclusion of humans into the bioregion as an active—not dominant—species in that habitat. In essence, this was an exercise in reinhabitation; humans had to learn how to live in nature, not with dominion over it. As Berg stated in his essay, “Beating the Drum with Gary,” the only way to succeed at preventing further environmental disasters “was to restructure the way people satisfied basic material needs and related to the natural systems upon which their own survival ultimately depended.” Pushing ecological concerns to the center of society was the only tangible approach that might successfully broach this problem. As a movement, bioregionalism was born.

Berg and others took these new ideas to the 1972 United Nations (UN) Conference on the Environment in Stockholm. In the company of thousands of activists and demonstrators from all over the world, Berg discovered that ecology was not just a North Atlantic cause. Berg mixed with groups of Japanese mercury-poisoning victims, Eritrean rebels, Laplanders from the Arctic Circle, Native Americans, and countless others, who made up what Berg called “the planetariat.” For most of “the planetariat,” no real answers to their issues emerged from the official gathering. Instead, their experience at the conference left them with increased frustration about the inability of any established institution to deal with planetary problems.

Returning to the United States with these frustrations, Berg was determined to find a method for constructing a forum for human and ecological sustainability in the biosphere. His focus naturally shifted from the global to the local or regional and resulted in the founding of the Planet Drum Foundation in San Francisco in 1973.

Planet Drum’s mission is to determine the cultural and ecological dimensions of a human-scale geographical region. Given the relative failure of the 1972 UN conference, Berg became convinced that breaking down the world into separate biotic provinces or bioregions would help find plausible routes toward sustainable living for the earth as a whole.

In 1979, Berg introduced the Planet Drum Foundation review, Raise the Stakes. A radical review that argues that environmentalism is not demanding enough from the corporate government, Berg suggests that bioregionalism is post-environmentalist in that it pushes the limits of the environmental movement; that it “raises the stakes.” Modern environmentalism does not deal sufficiently with the currently important issues of ecosystem restoration and urban sustainability. Bioregionalism proposes a whole new philosophy necessary if these goals are to be reached. The Planet Drum Foundation newsletter, PULSE, the successor to Raise the Stakes, helps popularize the notion that health, food, and culture are all bioregional issues, profoundly affected by the place in which they are situated.

Unlike many environmentalists and ecologists, Berg looked to the future with a certain degree of optimism. He believed that the localization of politics will eventually take a bioregional turn. While there is concern that globalization appears to be a dominant force that even threatens the nation state, Berg insisted that localization, the forwarding of ethnic autonomy and home rule, for example, is playing an equally influential role in this movement away from the nation state and toward regional ecology.

One of Berg’s current projects was in the town of Bahía de Caráquez, on the central coast of Ecuador.  The town legally committed itself to becoming ecological and sustainable in 1999, and Planet Drum has helped by establishing a field office in the town, revegetating with native trees for erosion control and the creation of an urban “wild corridor,” carrying out a Bioregional Education after-school program, and other activities. There are many reports and dispatches about their work in Bahía de Caráquez on the Planet Drum website.

In 1998, Berg was awarded the Gerbode Professional Development Program Fellowship for outstanding nonprofit organization executives. In 2005 he was a presenter at the UN World Environment Day conference on urban sustainability, and at the 2008 Ecocity World Summit. He lived and worked in Shasta Bioregion in northern California.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berg, Peter, Envisioning Sustainability, 2009; Berg, Peter, “Beating the Drum with Gary,” in Gary Snyder: Dimensions of a Life, John Halper, ed., 1991; Berg, Peter, Discovering Your Life-Place: A First Bioregional Workbook, 1995; Berg, Peter, Figures of Regulation: Guides for Re-Balancing Society with the Biosphere, 1981; Berg, Peter, A Green City Program for the San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond, 1990; Berg, Peter, ed., Reinhabiting a Separate Country: A Bioregional Anthology of Northern California, 1978; “Planet Drum Foundation,” http://www.planetdrum.org.

Curriculum Vitae (Peter Berg)

_______________________________________________________________

Founder and Director of Planet Drum Foundation, Peter Berg is a noted ecologist, author and speaker. He is acknowledged as originator of the use of the terms bioregion and reinhabitation to describe land areas in terms of their interdependent plant, animal and human life.  He believes that the relationships between humans and the rest of nature point to the importance of supporting cultural diversity as a component of biodiversity.

PUBLICATIONS

  • Author, Bioregionale & Selvatico, interviste, (2010, Lato Salvetico “Libraria, Italy”)
  • Author, Dispatches From Ecuador (1999, Planet Drum Books), continued through 2010 at http://www.planetdrum.org
  • Author, Envisioning Sustainability, Collection of Essays (2009, Subculture Books)
  • Contributor, Bienvenidos a Casa (2003, Comision de Medio Ambientale y Recursos  Naturales, Mexico).
  • Contributor, Encyclopedia of World Environmental History  (2003, Berkshire Publishing Group).
  • Contributing and Managing Editor, Raise the Stakes: The Planet Drum Review (1979 to 1999-2000).
  • Author, Discovering Your Life-Place:  A First Bioregional Workbook  (1995, Planet Drum Books).
  • Author with B. Magilavy and S. Zuckerman, A Green City Program for the San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond (1989, Planet Drum Books/ republished 1990, Wingbow Press).
  • Author, Figures of Regulation: Guides for Re-Balancing Society with the Biosphere (1981, Planet Drum Books).
  • Editor, Reinhabiting a Separate Country: A Bioregional Anthology of Northern California (1978, Planet Drum Books).
  • Articles also published in: City Lights Journal, Chicago Review, Co-Evolution Quarterly, Environmental Action, Landscape Architecture, Ningen-Kaigi, Not Man Apart, Paper Sky, Resurgence, The Ecologist, Urban Green Tech, Whole Earth Review, Kyoto Journal, El Nuevo Globo

PRESENTATIONS

Keynote:

  • Watershed Poetry Festival (Berkeley 2008)
  • Watershed Poetry Festival (Ukiah 2008)
  • The Big ONE (San Francisco 2008)
  • Ecocity World Summit (San Francisco 2008)
  • San Francisco City College (2008)
  • United Nations World Environment Day, Urban Environment Conference (California 2005)
  • Northeast Tour: talks workshops, performances (Vermont, Connecticut, New York 2005)
  • Japan Environment Education Forum (Tokyo 2004)
  • Stanford University (California 2004)
  • Ecomundo University (Ecuador 2004)
  • San Francisco Water Awareness (California 2003)
  • Kyoto Seika University (Japan 2001)
  • University of Montana, Environmental Author Series (2001)
  • Watershed Conference, Library of Congress (District of Columbia 1998)
  • ReLeaf Conference (California 1998)
  • Bioregional Business Conference (Tokyo 1995)
  • Watershed Management Council (Oregon 1994)
  • Toronto Bioregion Week (Canada 1992)
  • Rochester Urban Sustainability Conference (New York 1992)

Groups:

  • American Association of Anthropologists (California)
  • Association of Humanistic Psychologists (Washington D.C.)
  • Association of Landscape Architects (Indiana)
  • Brisbane & Melbourne City Councils (Australia)
  • Center for Democracy (Germany)
  • City Ecology Conference (Moscow)
  • Clark University (Massachusetts)
  • Eco-City Conference (Brazil, California)
  • Groupo Estudios Ambientales (Mexico)
  • International Forum on Globalization (Washington D.C., New York, California)
  • Japan City Agencies and Community Groups: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kagoshima, Matsumoto, Nagano, Sapporo, Aomori, Sanjo, Hakuba
  • Library of Congress (Washington D.C.)
  • Pollution Probe Foundation (Canada)
  • Pratt Institute (New York)
  • Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt Museum (New York)

Universities and Colleges:

  • California State University (San Francisco, Santa Rosa)
  • Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing)
  • King Abdul Aziz University (Saudi Arabia)
  • Kennedy Center, Harvard (Massachusetts)
  • New College (San Francisco)
  • Tokyo University, Meiji Gakuin, Kyoto Seika, Ryukuku, Aoyama Gakuin, Rikkyo University, Musashi Technological University (Japan)
  • Universidad Espiritu Santo (Guayaquil, Ecuador)
  • University of Barcelona (Spain)
  • University of California (Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Davis)
  • University of Rome (Italy)
  • Vasser College (New York)

MEDIA

  • Pirate Cat Radio (San Francisco 2008, 2011)
  • KALW (San Francisco 2008, 2010)
  • Kyoto Journal  (Japan 2001, 2005, 2010)
  • Voz de Caras (Ecuador 2008)
  • “Tomorrow Matters” KRXA Radio (2008)
  • El Nuevo Globo (Ecuador 2008)
  • San Francisco Bay Guardian (2005, 2007, 2008)
  • “The American Experience, Summer of Love” WGBH (Boston 2007)
  • SFGate (San Francisco 2007)
  • BioCity (Japan 2001, 2005)
  • Ningen-Kaigi (Japan 2004)
  • Lato Selvatico (Italy 2003, 2004)
  • El Universio (Ecuador 1999, 2000-2003)
  • Rainforest Review (United Kingdom 2003)
  • Living Lightly (United Kingdom 2003)
  • San Francisco Chronicle (California 1997, 2000)
  • Friday (Japan (1998)
  • Radio Popolare (Italy 1998)
  • Washington Post (District of Columbia 1996)
  • “To The Best of Our Knowledge” NPR (USA 1995)
  • Asahi Shinbun (Japan 1994)
  • Los Angeles Weekly (California 1993)

CONSULTANT

  • Special Ecological Consultant/Mayor’s Office, Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador (2000-2011)
  • Executive Committee, Bioregional Association of the Northern Americas (since 1996)
  • Shasta Bioregional Gathering (since 1991)
  • Co-Sponsor North American Bioregional Congress (Biannually since 1984)

AWARDS/RECOGNITION

  • Environmental Activists (2001, Greenwood Press)
  • Gerbode Professional Development Program Fellow (1998, Outstanding Non-Profit Organization Executives)

GREEN CITY PROJECTS

1) San Francisco Green City Project (1989-2011)

  • Green City Calendar of Volunteer Opportunities (print and web site listings)
  • Volunteer Network (linking volunteers with sustainability groups)
  • Workshop/Workdays (adult volunteer projects throughout San Francisco Bay Area)
  • Education+Action in Schools (on-site student volunteer projects at schools).
  • Bioregional Ecology Program Workshops (connecting residents with their life-place)

2) Eco-Bahia Project in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador (1999 to present)

  • Creation of Bosque en Medio de Las Ruinas park of native vegetation with paths and plant identification markers in Maria Auxiliadora barrio to control erosion, and provide educational and visitor resource (2000 to present)
  • Revegetation of a six kilometer long strip of badly eroded land with native plants along the Rio Chone estuary bordering the city (2002 to present)
  • Built Solar Hot Water Installation at Genesis School (2005)
  • Initiated Renewable Energy Program to develop rooftop passive solar hot water heating systems (2004)
  • Initiated Bioregional Education Program in association with local university and high school (2004)
  • Submission of grant proposals to create renewable energy electricity facility and convert individual buildings for hot water production, and to produce a bioregional map of the Rio Chone Bioregion (2002-2003).
  • “Renewable Energy to Renew Bahia” document based on local energy needs and capabilities (2002)
  • Development of Fanca Produce, a patio facility for composting organic refuse from the main city market and kitchen wastes from Fanca barrio, to make compost for city parks and to provide residents with fruit trees, and garden soil (2001)
  • Coordination of Eco-City Declaration Celebration (February 1999)

3) Japan Urban Sustainability Tour  (September-October 2004)

  • Lectures and workshops to establish urban sustainability with a bioregional focus for city agencies in Matsumoto, Kagoshima, Hakuba,  and Sanjo.
  • Lectures at Rikkyo, Meiji Gakuin, Musashi Technological, and Aoyama Universities.
  • Public presentation for Japan Environment Education Forum (JEEF) in Tokyo

4) Japan-China-Mongolia Green City Tour (May-June 2001)

  • Lectures and workshops to create Green City Programs with City Councils in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Aomori, Japan
  • Lecture, workshop and consultation with Beijing City planning group at Beijing University Research Center
  • Consultation with City Planning Department to create a Green City Program for Ulan Bator, Mongolia

5) Restoration of Ecological Autonomy for Tepoztlan, Mexico (August 1996)

  • Talks and workshops for City Council members of Tepoztlan, Mexico to restore ecological autonomy from Morelos State based on water rights
  • Revegetation project with students to restore native plants in Tepoztlan

6) Australian Green City Tour (1991)

  • Consultation with City Councils and Planning Departments in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide to create Green City Programs
  • Green City talks and workshops to 35 groups in a dozen cities

7)  Sapporo, Japan

WINTER OLYMPICS MONITORING/GUARD FOX WATCH

  • Vancouver, Canada  2010
  • Turin, Italy  2006
  • Salt Lake City, USA  2002
  • Nagano, Japan  1998

FILMS/VIDEOS

  • Wounded Knee Dispatch  1973
  • Postcards  1972
  • Trucker Caravan  1971
  • Doukhobor Interviews  1971
  • Homeskin
  • Nowsreal  1968

THEATER/PERFORMANCE

  • Life Acting 1966-nowever
  • Ecuador Video   2011
  • EcoComedy   1990
  • Northern California Stories
  • Reinhabitory Theater   1975-1979
  • Digger Events
  • Olive Pits, Centerman, Output you, Search and Seizure
  • SF Mime Troupe 1964-1966
  • Radical Black Theater early 60’s

ART/DESIGN (often as collaborative efforts)

  • Various Photographs
  • Raise the Stakes
  • Planet Drum Bundles and Event Posters
  • The End of the War Poster
  • Solstice & Equinox Posters
  • 1% Free Poster

POETRY

  • “Hipster”
  • Celestial Soulstice
  • Tonics for Disinhabitation
  • Shasta Bioregion Winter Solstice
  • ANNIHOILATION BLUES
  • Tonsured Medieval Monk
  • It’s obvious to see in birds
  • 18th Century Eyes
  • She is volcano upsurge
  • Hudson Loan
  • Solstice Solo
  • Pacific Rim alive with
  • inside winter solstice
  • Solstice Time
  • METEOR TIME
  • Invisible Except For A Nervous System
  • Raise the Stakes
  • Winter Solstice Blues
  • Winter Solstice 1997
  • San Francisco Bioregional Chant
  • FOR BEING, time
  • TALKING MUSIC
  • staring through high modern windows
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One Response to Biographical note

  1. Herman Greene says:

    We would like to reprint the following bio in the Center for Ecozoic Societies monthly newsletter, CES Monthly Musings. Is this okay?

    Peter was a recipient of that newsletter. Is there someone there who would like to continue to receive it? We are long-time admirers and supporters of your work. We intend to do a review of Peter’s latest book soon.

    Herman Greene,
    Center for Ecozoic Studies

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