Our Theory of Change
Bioregionalism is a vision of a future that works for people and for the Earth.
“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.”
– Raye Stoeve
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.
You need not look further than the complex issues of water rights unfolding along the Colorado river, droughts sweeping parts of countries, or single states and provinces working and failing to try and fight newly unleashed forest fires to see why bioregionalism, bioregional planning and thought is critical.
As we move into whatever is next, we have an opportunity to create something different.
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.
Whether it is flooding, forest fire, drought, ice pack, disaster preparedness and response, growth strategies, economic integration, transportation planning, energy independence, environment & sustainability, food sovereignty, these are issues which all will act on a bioregional framework. By sharing watersheds – we must all have the ability to impact and affect change, and what one community does, will affect the communities downstream of it.
Climate change, ocean acidification. Huge issues that often seem far away, intangible, the impacts and solutions hard for a human mind to grasp. None of these issues will ever 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.
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.
Nature acts bioregionally – and more than ever before – the ability to act regionally and globally in an interconnected fashion has never been more important.
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.
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’.
Bioregions are political units based on ‘natural’ boundaries (watersheds, mountain ranges, ecosystems, place based cultures etc) rather than human political concepts and accidents of history. Bioregions are used to reconnect socially just human cultures sustainably to the regional ecosystems in which they are ‘irrevocably embedded’. This creates strong intermediary frameworks that serve to break down large, intangible global ideas into local contexts that are measurable, in which any person can walk out their door and be active.
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.
Our movement, more than anything else, is a movement to help build the inter-dependence, sustainability and resiliency for bioregions around the world, and to grow the idea of bioregionalism as a mainstream alternative for contemporary issues that our communities are facing. We start from our watersheds, and use this idea as a framework, guided by key principles, to break global issues down to a local level, increase the accountability and transparency of our regional economic and food systems, and move our actions and impacts to where individuals have the greatest say in the issues that affect their lives. Different communities will have different needs, and will be the best suited to confront the issues facing those communities, but by sharing a land base, we will all have common principles, values and concerns that will pull us together.
To accomplish these goals, we want to build place based, interdependence movements, that can work holistically to wed together the political, economic, ecological and cultural elements of each watershed, and create solutions from the ground up that work for everyone. We talk about a social and cultural movement – the sum of our interpersonal interactions, and in which every person can take responsibility for are own actions, and towards a community based model for watershed governance. Bioregionalism, at it’s root is the idea that maybe we should care about what’s flowing from upstream of us, and what we ourselves are dumping downstream. Regardless of arbitrary political lines, it will take all of us living along that watershed to make real change happen. Rather than a segmented approach, Bioregionalism creates a model for decentralized placed based movements & hubs, rather than simply a political one in which we send people to a voting box every four years, or wait for someone else to do it for us.
This Theory of Change helps provide us with a framework to shift these actions. Culture stems from place, and together, this help builds a new regional identity rooted in a love of place, with shared principles, values, and concerns. Bioregional identities help us form a vision we can be working towards, and a movement that empowers every person to walk out their front door, make a difference about what they care about, and connect with the people already in their community making that change happen.
Bioregionalism is not a national or global solution. Instead, it is an alternative, place based model to ideas like nationalism or capitalism, and a framework to empower a mutual and collaborative network of bioregional movements around the world, each able to learn from each other, adopt models that are best suited for the issues in their own locality, and to empower every person to affect the change we need.
Principles over Platform
There is no central committee or board of potentates that dictates the values or platform of Bioregionalism. Rather it is a set of values and principles that every person can and should challenge, and find what is applicable for their own daily lives. The bioregional story can only be learned through long participation in local and continental bioregion gatherings, and by assimilating ideas penned in ephemeral journals and self-published books that rarely appear in libraries or mass distribution outlets. It is a story best learned by listening over a very long period of time to many voices, and the job of each of us to try and communicate these messages and make them as accessible as possible for the millions of people living here before it becomes too late.
Bioregional movements are based around several different key principles and goals that break global issues down to a local level. These principles are lightweight, dynamic and flexible – meant to assist organizers in each watershed best adapt these issues to their own needs and backgrounds.
This gives groups and supporters a dynamic and flexible organizational model that is able to reflect the needs and priorities of the communities and regions in which they live and are working. The distinction between set policies – and principles, an underlying framework on which decisions can be based, are instead an expression of our shared values and insights. This delegates power to local decision makers, and allows them to respond appropriately to conditions set before them and which are often times unforeseen.
Concrete policies can be incredibly divisive. We cannot set one unified platform that will be perfectly applicable 100% of the time, nor should we try. This encourages factionalization with members and groups attempting to impose their will on a larger body, whether relevant, necessary or not. Indeed in a truly democratic society, it must be individuals and localities that have the final say in the governing systems which are appropriate for their region and the priorities established by those living there.
Laying out a set of principles allows us to effectively challenge and break down many of the dominant political discourses prevalent in our society today, agree on a organizational framework representative of our needs and values, and the ability to organize in a system mutual support and voluntary association, prioritized in a dynamic and flexible model that empowers our members, and is strengthened by our diversity of opinions, instead of weakened.
Our Theory of Change
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 and connect together 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.
BIOREGIONALISM AT IT’S MOST FUNDAMENTAL, SIMPLY MEANS “PLACED BASED”
and employs strategies designed to root people into what makes each area, culture, ecosystem and watershed unique. People have been living within place for thousands of years – and simply means living within the realities and geographic confines in each area. When bridging outside of a bioregion – doing so in an ethical, responsible, regenerative and carbon negative manner. The opposite of extractive economies.
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.
A Story of Many Voices
Bioregionalism is a daringly inclusive doctrine of fundamental social change that evolves best at the level of decentralized practice. Although none of the tenets of bioregionalism are etched in stone, these tenets stake claim to a dynamic, grassroots approach to conceptualizing and achieving transformative social change:
- Widespread social and ecological crises exist; without fundamental change preservation of biodiversity, including survival of the human species, is in doubt.
- The root cause of these threats is the inability of the nation-state and industrial capitalism—patriarchal, machine-based civilization rising from the scientific revolution—to measure progress in terms other than those related to monetary wealth, economic efficiency or centralized power.
- Sustainability—defined as equitably distributed achievement of social,
ecological and economic quality of life—is better gained within a more
decentralized structure of governance and development.
- The bioregion—a territory revealed by similarities of biophysical and cultural phenomenon—offers a scale of decentralization best able to support the achievement of cultural and ecological sustainability.
- Both humans and other species have an intrinsic right to coevolve in local, bioregional and global ecosystem association.
- Bioregion-based cultures are knowledgeable of past and present indigenous cultural foundations, and seek to incorporate the best elements of these traditions in “newly indigenous” configurations.
- Bioregion-based culture is celebrated both through ceremony and vital support of spiritual reflection and related cultural arts.
- Bioregion governance is autonomous, democratic and employs culturally sensitive participatory decision-making processes.
- Political and cultural legitimacy are measured by the degree to which a steward achieves social and ecological justice, and ecosystem-based sustainability.
- Intricate networks of federation will be woven on continental, hemispheric and global bases to ensure close association with governments, economic interests and cultural institutions in other bioregions.
- Human agency is reintegrated with ecological processes, especially through careful understanding of carrying capacity, preservation and restoration of native diversity and ecosystem health.
- The goal of economic activity is to achieve the highest possible level of
- Reliance on locally manufactured and maintained appropriate technology, devised through an on-going program of ecological design research, is favored.
Bioregionalism is a story best learned from listening to many voices. As people reinhabit their home place, a remarkable integration of philosophy and political activity evolves. Place is perceived as irrevocably connected to culture. Culture is seen as connected to past histories of human and ecosystem exploitation. Constraints to achieving the alternative of a socially-just and ecologically sustainable future are identified, analyzed and confronted. Processes of resistance and renewal are
animated within, and parallel to, existing power structures.
For those who take the time to listen to more of the voices that are speaking about bioregionalism, or better yet participate in the bioregional movement itself, chaos transforms itself into something that is properly perceived as an elegant, persistent and organic growth of purpose.
As the human race collectively stumbles into a new millennium, bioregionalism offers the best hope we have for creating an interdependent web of self-reliant, sustainable cultures.
Bioregionalism is an age-old way of viewing the world. Regions are not delineated by imaginary, straight lines defined by humans, but by the climate and land forms which make that part of the planet uniquely distinct. Local life-forms, cultures, traditions and hopes for the future reflect that particular place on the planet in which they’re rooted.
Using these features, it seeks to reign in extractive economic policies, create regenerative cultures that ensure ethical, local and sustainable means of production, and to better and reconnect the livelihood of inhabitants by living responsibly within the limits of place. Taken together, it is a political, cultural, and ecological set of views based on naturally defined areas called bioregions. Deconstructing and breaking down borders which are arbitrary, toxic and non-representative to our place and inhabitants is one of the chief priorities of bioregionalism.
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.
A key principle in bioregionalism is reinhabitation, which means building healthier ways of living that are responsible, ethical, that not only maintain but regenerative our local ecosystems, and working with our natural ecosystems, aligning human activity with our bioregions, rather than for human habitation.
This is both on a societal level, and a personal one – which starts with every person developing a sense of place. Of rooting ourselves into the history, the things that make each region special – the plants, the animals, the types of soils, the mountains and rivers. How things change over time – why different areas get different rainfall – and how agriculture, energy production, buildings can all best tie into that in well thought out ways.
For each of us, it means taking the time to root in and learn the possibilities of place. It is mindfulness of local environment, history, and community aspirations that lead to a sustainable future. It relies on safe and renewable sources of food and energy. It ensures employment by supplying a rich diversity of services within the community, by recycling our resources, and by exchanging prudent surpluses with other regions. Bioregionalism is working to satisfy basic needs locally, such as education, health care, and self-government.
Simply put, [bioregionalism] means learning to become native to place, fitting ourselves to a particular place, not fitting a place to our pre-determined tastes. It is living within the limits and the gifts provided by a place, creating a way of life that can be passed on to future generations.
- An independent, autonomous and resilient network of interconnected bioregions around the world, with a higher standard of living for those living here, a net positive impact on the land and earth, and increased ecological health and diversity for us living here now, and for generations to come.
- To spread awareness of Bioregionalism as a solution to contemporary problems facing our communities. Within this, to help people hook into place based, organic ways of living and organizing.
- Fit into a Global System: Create a network of bioregional movements, that are each building models that can be openly shared with other movements, and incorporating lessons and models already functioning around the world. Within this, to fit into a global supply chain in a way that is sustainable, ethical and responsible, in which we are more accountable for our actions and impacts, and in which the standards we hold ourselves to, or upheld in every level of the production chain.
- To break down borders and boundaries that are negative, arbitrary and not representative of place and people, and to help connect them with more positive holistic ways of organizing and living.
- To connect people with place based, indigenous ways of living in each area, and support and empower connection with those who have been living in place for thousands of years. To center and support voices and communities that have been actively silenced, or marginalized in each bioregion, and bring these voices to the forefront of our activities.
- To connect, empower and provide key services: The solutions we need are already out there. Our goal is simply to find, connect and empower those already doing the work – to magnify their messages, and make sure no one fails for lack of basic skills or money. We want to see every person supported in their idea, and have the tools and audience they need to make it happen.
- Create an Accountable Framework: We want to provide a framework that is accountable and transparent, allowing for decentralized & democratic self-organization, and is scalable on an exponential growth curve. A lot of these lessons were learned after earlier movements like Occupy, where many voices were shut out, spaces taken over, and no group responsible or accountable for a responsible use of funds. Our organizing models are fundamentally similar, but rather than a leaderless movement, we want a movement of leaders, of individuals and organizations that are responsible and accountable for the issues they are representing, and that can create an equitable organizing model for any group, cause or community.
- See People Supported: One of the biggest goals we have is to see people supported in the work they do trying to make the world a better place. It is our goal to see a fundamental paradigm shift in our society in which we ask people to go out and do horrible things to get paid, and then require them to volunteer their time doing something meaningful. We want every person to be adequately compensated, for the work they want to be doing, but also for the work the world needs.
- Build the Models we want to see: We wanted to move away from systems we disagree with, and towards empowering every person to build our own. Why wait to elect someone else to do it for us? Even in a utopian world where a vote might happen tomorrow – our region would still face many of the same underlying and systemic issues and challenges.
- People Powered, Community Driven: We choose to be a supporter driven organization and movement. This means, all of our funding comes from members who believe in the idea, and that our organization can remain independent and accountable in our decision making processes.
AN ORGANIZATIONAL RUBRIC
Together, this creates an organizational rubric that can guides our actions, decisions, and movement so that we can support projects and ideas that:
Amplify Voices – Every community has a voice and can be heard, leads on issues that are important to them, and are supported where they identify and our energies overlap. Amplify voices for those who may not have it, and make tools accessible that every group or person need, but few have access too.
Are Bioregional – Shift our impact from the global to the local, into a bioregional framework. Use bioregions as a framework to break global issues down to a local level, and can help connect people with those already making changes happen, which can help citizens or consumers have a greater say over their buying decisions or impacts, and works to increase transparency and accountability. In addition – to use these frameworks as areas that can be measurable.
Compassionate, Kind & Respectful – to ourselves and others.
Data Driven & Measureable – Be open about our processes, learn from what is working, and build models we can share with others.
Democratic & Grassroots – A movement of leaders where every person and community can stand up around issues they care about, have democratic decision making and be held accountable for their actions and impacts.
Diverse & Inclusive – For a broad diversity of ideas, approaches, backgrounds and contexts. Reject any effort to disenfranchise or target any particular group or community based on gender, race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or ability.
Ethical – Non-exploitative, equitable, just.
Grow Shared Identity – Positive, inclusive, rooted in a love of place, to protect what we find special, or rooted in a vision for the future for something we can be working towards.
Are Independent – Support the sustainability, autonomy, and independence of the Cascadia bioregion.
Are Interdepedent – increases intrabioregional cooperation in areas of planning, research, building, growth, policy planning and disaster management, in manners that are cooperative, mutually supportive and non-exploitative within watersheds and ecoregions in the Cascadia bioregion.
Increase Learning & Sharing – from models in line with our principles that are working from around the world. Build responsible and ethical models on a local level, which we can share with other bioregions, or that help us fit into a global framework in a way that is responsible, non-exploitative and sustainable. Support the birth of bioregional movements, and the creation of a connected network of bioregional movements working together for healthier inhabitants, community and word.
Open Source – All work or research is open, public and available for educational purposes. We want every person or group to be able to re-use the work we do and help build greater resources available for education and action.
Promote Community and Friendship – To build bonds between individuals, causes and groups, and strengthen the bonds against the fragmentation that occurs in our society.
Protect the Individual – Expands civil liberties, privacy, data protection, rights and freedom of Cascadian inhabitants. Increases the livelihood or well being of the people living within the Cascadia bioregion.
Protect the Bioregion – Expands protections and promotes policy that increases the livelihood, and well being of the land and inhabitants of the Cascadia bioregion themselves.
Protect the Planet – Promotes policies on a local level that are shown to help alleviate or decreases causes of global symptoms and issues, whether they are apparent in the bioregion or not, through a data driven approach.
Resilient – Local autonomy and resilience that minimizes national, international and local crises, and enables quick and equitable recovery.
Support Sovereignty – A just, equitable society that addresses injustices and inequality in the past, present, or in the future – devolves decision making to those most affected, and celebrates the amazing diversity of our bio-regions inhabitants – people and other.
Watershed Devolutions – Devolve power from existing state or national actors towards watershed governance, move us from national/state borders, boundaries or representation which are arbitrary, negative or non-representative towards local and community empowerment, and bioregional and watershed borders that better reflect our ecology, geography, culture, economy and the people living here, and grow the systems we want to see, watershed by watershed, through small decentralized action.
Are Zero Waste, Future Positive – Is carbon neutral, has a zero waste, no impact or net-positive result. To have food and energy independence based on renewable resources, and and economic resiliency and autonomy.
Becoming a Bioregionalist: A Life Long Journey
Stop for a moment, and envision the world that you would want to live in, if all reality were stripped away. A world free of exploitation, where people lived happily, their needs met and in balance with their environments. What kind of society would that look like? What kind of steps would it take to get us there? By taking that moment – you have begun your lifelong journey to becoming a bioregionalist. To achieve our dreams, we cannot work within existing paradigms, rather we must create our own.
Pre-Amble: Welcome Home!
A growing number of people are recognizing that in order to secure the clean air, water and food that we need to healthfully survive, we have to become guardians of the places where we live. People sense the loss in not knowing our neighbors and natural surroundings, and are discovering that the best way to take care of ourselves, is to go out, and take action for ourselves. News of crisis permeates our society daily and is slowly seeping into the consciousness of America and Canada, and after many years of denial and willful ignorance, many are finding latest barrage harder to deny or ignore.
No longer restricted to isolated areas, threats assume regional and global proportions. Warming caused by greenhouse gasses has wide spread implications, while a pandemic challenges assumed realities and status quos – and the interconnectedness of all of our movements, human rights, climate change, economic justice, criminal reform, racial and social equity is on display like it never has been before. Every year forest fires and droughts are becoming a yearly norm, while heavier flooding, natural disaster and waves of economic migration increasingly strain our food, resources and ecosystem.
Everywhere in the world right now, and everywhere across our countries and region, people are saying that we need a change, but no one is saying how, or presenting a real way of how to achieve it.
In the midst of widening and deepening crises, and over the last 40 years, a new movement is emerging across the North American continent that offers solutions — solutions not only to ecological problems, but social ones as well.
In the face of a society growing ever more centralized, bureaucratized, homogenized, militarized, industrialized, and beyond popular control, this movement calls for a scaling down of human institutions, the decolonization and dismantling of colonial and arbitrary constructs and borders, technologies to be more rooted in, and controlled by local communities, and more adapted to local environments. It calls for more participatory democracy, more equity, justice for past wrongs, more cooperation, and more awareness of our interconnectedness — with other people, other cultures, other species, and our planet.
It can be difficult to put a single name on such an all-embracing, still-coalescing movement, but “bioregionalism” serve as a useful umbrella term that include many strands of the movement, such as appropriate technology, permaculture, environment, feminism, Black rights, Indigenous nationhood and community self- reliance and empowerment, civil rights, privacy and digital rights, LGBTQ2A rights, equal representation and equity, social justice, and peace.
We do not seek superficial reforms, but a fundamental rethinking and restructuring of our society. Here the task is to think globally, and also think, plan, and act locally. The bioregional perspective not only criticizes prevailing mass institutions, but creates positive alternatives that can be controlled by the local community and adapted to the constraints, opportunities, and rhythms of the local environment, people and its inhabitants.
People have begun coming together in gatherings during the past several years to discuss how to bring about some of the needed changes in our own regions and homes. For example, what is an appropriate and sustainable balance between getting jobs and useful products from our forests and preserving the wilderness unique to our bioregion? How can we manage our rivers in a way that balances hydroelectric energy, fishing, recreational uses, and wilderness? How can we build communities that can provide for all of the people living within it and account for historic and systemic imbalances? How can we meet our region’s energy needs without dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels or nuclear power? How can we reduce our economic dependence on economic systems we don’t like? How can we create community economies that provide sustenance and dignity for all without dependence on unsustainable growth and environmental abuse? How can we honor, learn from, and include the many First Nations indigenous to this bioregion in both the stewardship of our land and represented in government?
Can we find a new way before it’s too late?
When we define our places using the Earth as the frame of reference, taking into account flora, fauna, landforms, climate, and so on, we are talking in terms of bioregions. Can we move from our status of internal colony of the American industrial system, used for resource extraction, technology services and holiday vacationing, to a more self- reliant and self-determining bioregional community? Can we gain greater control of our common destiny at the local level?
Can we? Perhaps. But it all depends. It depends on what we do and how we do it. The challenge of change is great. Without a clearly articulated, collective vision for what we want to do and coordinated strategies for how to move forward, our ability to effect deep and widespread change is stymied. Is there a way to create greater “connective tissue” between various parts of our movement for change, so that we can strengthen and nourish one another? Can we interject a clear and comprehensive agenda for change into the stale debate that passes for politics these days?
These are the questions and challenges that we must face, and it is in that hope that we have drafted and created these documents, not as an answer to this debate, but hopefully, to open up a conversation. It is up to bioregionalists, each in their own way, to create and promote these changes, and lead the way forward, rather than wait for someone else to do it for us.
Bioregional movements create these spaces, both physically, and and as a terrain of consciousness, so that every person has the space to lead on issues they care about, and to provide solidarity to magnify the impacts of each to the greatest extent. Each community will know the issues it is facing the best, and it is only when all of these answers are working together, that we will find the solutions to the problems that are greatest in our society.
While it seems simple, these first steps that a bioregionalists takes can be incredibly powerful, revolutionary to some. Most importantly, by helping someone to better know their home, it challenges us to reconceive how we relate to place, breaks down established mental and physical boundaries and if done properly, and most importantly, can get someone to care. By taking these first steps, we cease to be American or Canadian and become citizens of our neighborhood, our watersheds, bioregions and places that are meaningful to us.
Developing a Sense of Place
A key part of bioregionalism is developing a sense of place.
Developing a sense of place is a skilled art that every person can master. It means slowing down. Taking the time you need, to stop, to wonder to learn. From this comes the most revolutionary action – caring about our places. To know what is around us and at risk and being lost.
We cannot fight a problem if we do not know it exists. A sense of place is the first step to directly confronting the faceless nature of globalism, and many of ills that stem from a rootless society.
“Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk.”
–N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain
Developing a sense of place means digging our roots into one single, defined location. It might be our home, where our ancestors came from or where we live currently. It means grounding ourselves into ecological realities – the weather, how things change with the seasons, rainfall, plants, animals, and letting that guide us to making better choices for ourselves, and as a society that better fit with the constraints of where we live.
It also means understanding the human elements of a place. Of the culture, the history, the social makeup, both ugly and beautiful that can guide us to better understand how we got to where we are today, and lead us to a better future.
By understanding our place, we cease to be residents, and instead become inhabitants – that is part of our home places. This sometimes revolutionary act, of opening our eyes and ears, can move us from being solely defined by human made borders to citizens of natural ones instead, and reshift our identities from American or Canadian nationalities instead to our bioregions, watersheds, communities and home.
Many of the social ills that we are working to confront and heal stem from being disconnected from place. Economic systems that are removed from the impacts of it’s extraction, production and human costs. That shift people across cities, regions and continents, uprooted from familial structures and intergenerational wealth, knowledge and learning. Technology that heightens isolation and a removal from our natural environments. Through a sense of place we develop a richer personal connection to our bioregions and the communities which live within them, our commitments to each other and our homes, and a greater appreciation of the incredible interconnected systems we are a part of.
How to Develop a Sense of Place
- Get to know where you live. Take walks, identify plants and animals. How do things change with the seasons? Why does your area have the types of weather it does? What’s the geology like?
- Learn the lived history – how did the place you live get it’s name? How long has it been a city or community? Where did the street names come from? Who lived there before, and what languages did they speak? How did indigenous people live in your region, and what materials and techniques did they employ and why?
- Spend time: Realize all the rest means nothing if you don’t take the time to experience it. Get outside, cook, garden, immerse yourself, and enrich yourself through learning about place over months and years.
And Lastly – Take what you’ve learned to envision something better, then go out in your community to grow those efforts. Meet fellow reinhabitors, share, learn, connect, grow.
As inhabitants of our places, we are all the experts, and we all have something to share. Bioregionalism is effective because local needs and realities will always be slightly different and more effective than globally standardized monomodels, and that together, all of us working in a shared region have a far greater capacity for real impact and change.
What is Bioregionalism?
Bioregionalism means living indigenous to place. Despite the intentional erasure of cultures living for centuries outside of a colonial or capitalist lens of extraction based economy, the majority of human history has been bioregional. In western schools of thought, Bioregionalism has emerged as a movement, an ethic and idea that has been growing for more than four decades which seeks use natural features such as mountain ranges, and rivers as the basis for administrative units, recognizing place based technologies, ways of living and cultures that stem from, and are rooted from place – rather than arbitrary lines on a map.