What is Bioregionalism?
A bioregion is a shorthand designation for ‘bio-cultural region’ and is rooted in the idea that culture stems from placed and that human cultures develop in relation to the natural ecosystems they inhabit. It is a region defined by characteristics of the natural environment rather than by man-made divisions, and the sum of the ecoregions and watersheds of a particular place that gives a unified sense of geographic, topographic and living flora and fauna that all work together to create a ‘bio-region’. Cascadia is a land of flowing waters, and for the Cascadia bioregion, it is the topographic region that is defined from which a drop of rain hits the western side of the continental divide – and flows into the Pacific – from the headwaters of the Fraser and Columbia, to the headwaters of the Snake, which stems from the Yellowstone caldera.
Bioregionalism at its most simple is a philosophy that connects people and ideas into place, which work watershed by watershed, in ways that are sustainable, democratic and just.
Bioregionalists work to find solutions to the world’s most challenging issues by using bioregions to break large issues down to a local level, creating or magnifying solutions already being practiced in a community, and create accessible pathways for every person living in a region to be able to get active about issues they care about. Each watershed and community will be different, and each region and community will know their needs the best, and be the best to represent those needs.
Core Principles of Bioregionalism
Bioregionalism is one of the most important, least known philosophies of the 21st century, and has the power to help organizers, planners and visionaries, regardless of their cause, background, or political view. Below you will find a unifying set of shared principles that bring together a diverse range of organizers within a watershed, and connect with bioregionalists around the world:
The world is made up of bioregions
and represent a return to a more natural approach to regional organizing and thinking. Regardless of name, bioregions exist right here, right now and will forever into the future, whether people are here or not. Bioregions are defined through geography, flora and fauna, topology, environment – distinct social, cultural and economic traits that arise, the largest spaces where physical connections make sense. Ultimately – human society functions much better if it works with these underlying conditions, as well as the technologies and practices that have developed over thousands of years that are best suited to each area.
Bioregions are the largest and most efficient sense of scale where connections based on place make sense
and share resources, food, have common concerns, and because of this shared values, and needs. It is also the furthest you can travel, and have commonalities based on watershed, and the similarities that arise. Because of this interdependence; watersheds and bioregions often become the most efficient scale for planning and organizing, and serve as an intermediary that lets us break down large scale, global and intangible issues to a local level, at a scale where real impact can be achieved by each of us.
Bioregions are diverse
And the solutions and needs for each will be different for each. Throughout the world, there are tens of thousands of ecosystems, thousands of ecoregions, hundreds of bioregions, and just as with any ecosystem, the solutions needed to address even the same issue will be just as diverse. This diversity is a bioregional strength, and represents a healthy exchange of ideas, dialogue, and movement.
The challenges facing every watershed are large, and it will take all of us working together, each in our own way and along an entire watershed – to combat those challenges, and create lasting well being and health for our regions and world. Bioregional movements create space for every individual, and community, keeping in mind the context of each, providing solidarity and support where needed, and around shared principles. It also says that those directly affected by an issue are the best able to discuss that issue, or represent their needs, or the needs of their community. It is our job as bioregionalists to create or support spaces where those voices can be heard, rooted in the context of each place, provide tools where we can, and to offer solidarity where needed.
Bioregionalism connects people to indigenous ways of living
into place based practices that are sustainable, democratic, and that are adapted to the needs of each different watersheds, communities and inhabitants. Just as bioregionalism provides a physical space that is a connection between local and global, it also provides a terrain of consciousness that connect lessons that have been learned for each watershed over thousands of years, to present day society and practices. Indigenous ways of living means originating or occurring naturally in a particular place. Bioregionalists work to create accessible pathways that connect people with these practices, and away from systems that are exploitative, take more than they give, or are non-representative or beneficial to those living there, so that everyone living in a watershed can live in indigenous ways.
Culture Stems from Place
and arises from having shared principles and concerns that come from living in the same place as your neighbors, and others who share your concerns or passions. ‘Bio-region’ is simply short for ‘bio-cultural region’ – highlighting both the diversity of the place, and the people who live there. By sharing a watershed, we have shared principles and values, common concerns, and all want a better life for our family, friends, and neighbors – and to protect the things we find special. Many of these traits stem from sharing a land-base together. We grow the same crops, deal with the weather patterns and climate. If there is a natural disaster, a flood, an earthquake, a wildfire, drought or flooding it affects all of us.
Bioregionalism builds identity
rooted in a love of place, that shift us away from national identities towards a new culture in which we get to embody the principles we want to see for a society. A bioregional movement works to create a regional identity that is positive, inclusive, and grounded in the principles we want to promote into the world. We talk about this as a social and cultural movement because culture is the sum total of our interpersonal interactions, and by shifting our behaviors, each of us can have an impact about the issues we care about right here, right now, without waiting for others to do it for us. Culture means food, drink, our music, sports & recreation, and the issues we choose to be active about.
Bioregionalism acts locally, and connects globally
Locally, bioregional movements seek to increase regional autonomy and independence by working towards local sources of renewable energy, shifting from global to local food supplies, fostering sustainable forms of housing and transportation, creating local currencies and economies that keep wealth within communities, creating local democratic forms of governance that empower people to participate in, and have power over the decision-making process.
Globally, bioregional movements seek to create interdependent networks where food, resources, items and services can be sourced locally, ethically that take account for the impacts that they may have. Ultimately, the goal of bioregionalism is an interconnected system of bioregions and movements working together in an equitable, democratic, and sustainable manner. This means that power is based in the local community, where citizens have the ability to fully participate in the decision-making process, built around shared values and principles. This also means learning and adapting with systems that are working and uphold our values, while sharing the models we build.
Bioregions are a framework for change
and by breaking issues down to a local level, we can connect people with those already working to make a difference, and by shifting our impacts locally, it also mean more of us can have a direct say in issues affecting our lives. It also means we can have a greater say in an economic supply chain, and can more easily hold businesses, organizations and governments accountable, impacting greater change. Bioregionalism says that change starts at home, and that each of us can be that difference.
A bioregional movement is a gateway movement
and serve to educate about issues important in their region, get people excited and passionate about being involved, and connect people’s passions with the organizations and change makers already making those changes happen. Bioregional movements assist each other in hard times, listen and learn from inhabitants around the world, adapt lessons that may work for their own watersheds, and share openly their models for success. They are place based hubs, and will only ever exist in the watersheds they function in, will work to build partnerships and mutually beneficial relationships with other movements in other areas rather than expand outside of it, who’s problems and issues will be distinct to their own bioregion.
Bioregionalism breaks down arbitrary boundaries
and moves us away from boundaries that are toxic, negative and meaningless lines on a map, and instead to boundaries which are fluid and dynamic, that better represent the physical and cultural realities of an area. By thinking within terms of an entire watershed – we are better equipped to deal with issues upstream, and how our own impacts flow downstream. Rather than political lines, it takes everyone within a watershed, in an equitable manner, to be able to create lasting environmental policies, growth management and planning, disaster preparedness and response, and to create real solutions and consensus for the most challenging issues.
You are a bioregionalist whether you know it or not
if you are working to better yourself and the world in a way that is connected to where you live. At its root, bioregionalism is a concept that can be used to describe any tendency, whether it calls itself “bioregional” or not, that seeks to empower people to have a greater say in their affairs, be economically self-sufficient and live ecologically sustainable lifestyles stemming from the watersheds they live in. This bioregional approach can be seen as “pro-active,” rather than as simply a form of protest against existing social, economic, and political arrangements.
Bioregionalism means building the world we want to see
not waiting for others to do it for us. Within that, it challenges us to envision what a truly sustainable, autonomous, resilient or independent world may look like. We define and create our own realities, working within, and yet unencumbered by current realities. This vision helps provide us with a destination for our work, and if we work with limited dreams, we will only each limited successes. Bioregionalists do not only seek to find or complain about problems with our current systems, rather we work to find solutions for the problems that have been identified. It is from those visions that we can create pathway forward that we have created and defined, away from the trap of pre-existing reality.
Bioregionalism means building systems that are democratic, and accountable
and is a movement of leaders in which every person can take the lead about the issues they care about the most. While bioregionalism provides a framework for creating a bioregion that is sustainable, autonomous, resilient and independent, it argues for a model which is much more holistic than single issue movements.
By moving away from national politics, which can be incredibly dis-empowering, or disenfranchising – we instead seek to empower people in their communities locally, right here right now. Rather than rely on political systems which are funded by the systems we are working to change, in which vast wealth is required, and if unsuccessful, could mean you walk away with nothing; the same political systems based on arbitrary lines that are not representative of the place and people; or a part of vast national entities that through the sheer size and scale – have little vested interest; in which a person is sent to make an impact by voting every 2 or 4 years; bioregionalism instead works to create the systems in which individuals and communities are active every day working to make the change they want to see happen, happen.
Every community will have their own needs, and best be able to represent that, and know the best approaches to solving issues in those communities. Together, we are working to create a bioregional movement that is a place based hub that allows for every group to represent those issues, have the services and tools they need, find solidarity and support, and maximize their impact in a way that is accountable, and in which stakeholders have the most say over their lives.
Bioregionalism builds out of the “Shell of the Old”
And works on two tracks to achieve change. On the one hand, it promotes policies, practices, and initiatives which align with, and increase bioregional awareness, principles and well being, while on the other, it actively creates viable alternatives that are more resilient, sustainable, democratic, outside of pre-existing institutions. Bioregionalists argue for ‘Devolution’ rather than ‘Revolution, and work to ‘Over Grow the System’ rather than to overthrow it.
Rather than putting forward a reliance on one solution over another, or being pro-technology or anti-technology, bioregionalism suggests that we need bring our economic and social systems within natural limits, and that this is both a personal journey – and a societal one. At its base, this simply means using appropriate technologies that meet human needs in sustainable ways and allow for the flourishing of both human and nonhuman life forms, in a way that is non-exploitative, and does less damage to the earth than if it was not done at all. Bioregionalism is much more than just a political movement. Even if a political movement succeeded tomorrow, and political entities shifted to a watershed governance model – the root causes for the problems we discuss, and their effects – environmental degradation, poverty, gentrification, lack of access to key services and many others – would all still be here. Bioregionalism instead challenges us to build the models that we want to see in the world.
What is Bioregionalism? | Becoming a Bioregionalist | Why Bioregionalism? | Core Principles of Bioregionalism | Cascadia: Our Framework for Change | Cascadian Principles | Cascadia Goals | Why the Doug Flag