Planet Drum Foundation

Biographical note

Advertisements
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

PRESENTATIONS

Keynote:

Groups:

Universities and Colleges:

MEDIA

CONSULTANT

AWARDS/RECOGNITION

GREEN CITY PROJECTS

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

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

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

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

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

6) Australian Green City Tour (1991)

7)  Sapporo, Japan

WINTER OLYMPICS MONITORING/GUARD FOX WATCH

FILMS/VIDEOS

THEATER/PERFORMANCE

ART/DESIGN (often as collaborative efforts)

POETRY

Advertisements