Why Bioregionalism

Look around you. Look to the TV, to news articles. To maps, and road maps and atlases. Listen to the talk of our politicians, our legislators. To the heated debates now tearing a part between red and blue, left and right, and realize we are witnessing the culmination of hundreds of years of absurdity. Of drawing lines on maps with no connection to the people living here, no reflection of the natural realities of the place, or the history or cultural contexts for which they are set. Look around you, and realize we are seeing the end of an absurd reality.

As we move into whatever is next, we have an opportunity to create something different.

Bioregionalism reflects perhaps one of the most important, yet least known or understood philosophies that may exist today. Bioregion just means life place. It is anywhere where culture is regenerative, fitting within natural borders and embedded as part of it’s environment, rather than trying to make our environment bend to human needs.

At it’s core – bioregionalism simply seeks to ground movements, ideas, activities, economies, politics – into these places, with a strong ethic that values responsibility and accountability. We start with our watersheds to reinhabit our bioregions and connect with indigenous ways of living and knowledge that has grown from them. Once learned, bioregionalism provides a unifying set of principles and organizing methodology, and is a powerful tool for breaking down large, urgent global issues, and creating simple, accessible pathways for action and change.

Many of the largest issues facing our society today are systemic and spread themselves through social, cultural, economic and physical means. However, within current national and international frameworks, these issues become fragmented, too large, or too distant to be combated in their entirety.

Ocean acidification will never be addressed solely through a political campaign in one country. Carbon emissions will never be solved by only addressing economic issues. Locally, issues like undamming the Snake or Columbia river will never be able to be addressed by only one state.

And yet, by focusing internationally, many efforts are forced to do just that, either working to address issues so large it becomes intangible, or by working within political frameworks which are arbitrary, fragmented, and not truly representative of the people or place. It is in fact common for those working to combat these issues are often forced to break problems down and try to face them issue by issue (global warming, consumerism, poverty, healthcare, or social issues like labor, identity or gender, environmentalism, racial equality et al) which can often be overwhelming, broad, or require a level of specification that reinforces the very systems they were meant to subvert. When broken down like this, each issue on its own cannot paint the complete picture, nor will it address the systemic roots or social context of why those issues exist in our society today.

Bioregions are the natural containers in which these issues make sense. Nature ignores invisible human borders. By using a bioregional scale – we can break issues down from a global, and often disconnected, hard to wrap our mind around infinite number – into a scale which we can understand, define and measure. People can walk out their front doors and get involved in issues they care about, we can all make a difference – and most importantly – we can know exactly what that difference is, and how much further we still need to go.

Trying to target any one of these, while ignoring another, is doomed to failure.

Rather than replace any specific ideology, or present only a single solution, bioregionalism instead connects dominant philosophies back into place, and to find ways they can exist in a manner that is beneficial for the well being of the people, inhabitants and planet.

Instead of an issue by issue approach, a holistic approach much be taken and bioregionalism provides that answer, serving as a physical container that connects the global to local, as well as a terrain of consciousness that connect us with the way that people have been living for thousands of years. Strategies that have grown and been adapted for each area, with our society and practices today.

Bioregions are the place where we take action, the largest and most efficient scale where cultural connections of place still remain, and allow us to break down broad, nonspecific and intangible ideas, to a place based approach where every person can walk out there front door and achieve a measurable result.

No matter what your cause – there is a bioregional framework in which we can discuss it. How do we grow food locally, build more democratic frameworks that can be holistic of an entire watershed, create regional strategies to fight disasters like drought, flooding, wildfire or earthquakes. What growth strategies make the most sense, and how do we build in each area in ways that are best suited to take advantage of the natural realities of each place…

By being a place based movement and regional identity, bioregionalism invites a diversity of political beliefs and backgrounds all to work together around shared principles and values. This cultural ecosystem is just as wealthy as the ecosystems they represent. There can be libertarians, socialists, conservatives, anarchists, greens, communists, and many more, just as there can be straight, lesbian, gay, wealthy, poor, people of color, young, old, differently gendered, differently abled bioregionalists, all working to improve our region, because we love it here, think we can be doing better, and rooted in bioregional principles.

Unlike many of these other ‘isms’ which seek to to provide a single solution, or work centralize power and authority, or take control of central power for the ‘right solution’ (revolution), bioregionalism views this non-diversity as inherently non-representative, instead seeking to devolve (devolution) power back to watershed governance, fitting into an inter-bioregional system of partnerships and systems of voluntary mutual aid, shared principles, sharing and support.

National politics based on arbitrary boundaries, that are disconnected and ignore the areas they are set within, are not representative of the place or the people, nor can they hope to achieve a truly democratic or independent society. In addition, they create wedge issues that focus on the small percentages of things that divide us, which are toxic and negative and similarly arbitrary, the result of national politics, accidents of history, and products of systems that do not accurately reflect the people or place.

We all love this area, want a better future for our friends, family, and society, and are more common than we are different. By instituting broader democratic and natural frameworks that reflect the region and people, communities are better able to realize shared values, concerns and achieve a consensus for a shared future.

Bioregionalism focuses on is the disconnect of people from their natural regions by a broad range of economic and political philosophies, and the treatment of humans as simply economic units. If we look at the three largest political ideologies of the 20th and 21st century, Capitalism, Socialism, Communism – each has been responsible for the worst ecological destruction and devastation the world has ever seen, ushering in the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, which is currently underway. Each of these societies could achieve a political and economic utopia, while still wreaking this devastation. Ultimately, even if a utopian society was achieved, life expectancies, health problems, and disease, as well as other effects of standardization of agricultural crops and others uniformity, would lead to a range of issues that decreased the well being of communities and their watersheds.

Many of the ills that we see in our world, is a product this political mono-cropping; of taking ideas or values from one watershed or community to place on another, in a way which is not connected to the place. Systems of colonization rely on fragmentation regions and communities, creating dependencies for the goods and services the colonizers provide. Because of this, oppression can exist and manifest within our own communities, movements and actions both knowingly and unknowingly, and into the institutions we often rely on.

By rooting into our bioregion and home, by building communities that are non-exploitative and authentic, by looking at our own selves through the lens of history, the space we occupy, subtle powers and privileges we may enjoy without realizing… we begin a life long path towards healthier communities, and healthier lives. In such systems, bioregionalism is a potent force for systemically removing these issues, and creating a dialogue in which true reconciliation can be possible.

Key Policy Points:

  • Develop and use a bioregional framework for decision making.

  • Take into account cultural and ecological realities such as watersheds, fire sheds, fiber sheds, food sheds, air sheds, growth management, transportation, urban planning.

  • Use data driven and peer reviewed information that is transparently funded.

  • Watershed administrative districts and commons.

  • Let natural borders and cultural realities help define political administration.

  • Every community impacted by a decision deserves to be a part of that decision.

  • Culture stems from place. Different areas will have different needs based on the realities of that place.

  • Explore place appropriate technologies and indigenous ways of living.

  • Use a bioregional assessment model for carrying capacities in each region and to develop benchmarks for emissions and growth.

  • Support economic systems which are local, sustainable and ethical.