Bioregionalism is one possible vision of a future that works for people and for the Earth.
In this YES magazine article, author Ray Stoeve begins by noting that
“There’s little natural about the boundaries that divide states and countries. They’re often imaginary lines that result from history, conflict, or negotiation. But imagine what the world would look like if borders were set according to ecological and cultural boundaries.”
Bioregionalism is a movement, an ethic and idea that has been growing for more than four decades which seeks to do just that, by using natural features such as mountain ranges, and rivers as the basis for political and cultural units, rather than arbitrary lines on a map. Together, it is a political, cultural, and ecological set of views based on naturally defined areas called bioregions. At it roots it is a way to restructure society to work within each given region, rather than transforming each to human needs.
Bioregion is short for “bio-cultural” region, and at it’s root simply means “life-place”. Bioregions are defined through physical and environmental features, including watershed boundaries, soil, rainfall, forests, animals and terrain characteristics, as well as the human cultures living within them. At their smallest, a bioregion is a the smallest unit it takes to be self-reliant, and at it’s largest the full extent of a regions watersheds from where a raindrop falls, to it’s ultimate terminus. It is the largest sense of scale in which connections based on physical realities will make sense, and is rooted in the idea that those who live in an area will have shared concerns and values based on that area, and that each community must be able to have a voice in the issues that may impact them, no matter how tangentially.
From two pioneers of bioregionalism, Peter Berg & Raymond Dasmann bioregions exist as bio-cultural regions that are “a geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness—to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place” with particular attributes of flora, fauna, water, climate, soils, and landforms, and by the “human settlements and cultures those attributes have given rise to.” From this gives rise to the idea of bioregionalism – administrative units based around watersheds rather than arbitrary lines on a map, and local cultures that grow using lessons and in balance with the natural ecosystems they inhabit, and that will be different for every specific geographic areas.
Bioregionalism stresses that the determination of a bioregion is also a cultural phenomenon, and emphasizes local populations, knowledge, and solutions. It is both societal, but also deeply personal. A bioregion’s environmental components (geography, climate, plant life, animal life, etc.) directly influence ways for human communities to act and interact with each other which are, in turn, optimal for those communities to thrive in their environment. As such, those ways to thrive in their totality—be they economic, cultural, spiritual, or political—will be distinctive in some capacity as being a product of their bioregional environment.
It is a positive, pro-active movement & philosophy, geared towards building the changes that we want to see in the world (“overgrow the system”), rather than reactionary, or only responding to situations established by the existing power frameworks, which often force you into those very frameworks you are opposing. We are all experts of the places we live, and have something to contribute.