Bioregionalism is the formal or scientific term for the practice of living in a particular geographical region in a symbiotic manner. Ideologically, it is predicated on an awareness of the ecology, culture and economy of a particular area and a conscious effort to live in harmony and sustainably with it. Practically, it concerns itself with understanding all the aspects of a locality and living in a manner that enhances it and the human experience simultaneously. Thus, bioregionalism is a practical, conscious and spiritual endeavor. Another important construct is that all entities of a place are attributed equal value and intrinsic worth. All human affairs are conducted in a manner that supports the health and viability of that habitat and there is a deep feeling of connection to one’s surroundings.
Bioregionalism was formulated to address the exploitive nature of our current societies and the fact that we are now in danger of extinction as a species in the near future. It also believes that we have no right to destroy the Earth and must respect the rights of all the entities on this planet, both living and non-living. The three main objectives of bioregionalism include: restoration and maintenance of local ecosystems, practicing sustainable ways of living with nature and restoring natural habitats to their pristine state as much as possible.
Bioregions are defined by geographical and environmental features such as; watershed boundaries, terrain characteristics, soil types, flora and fauna, distinct seasons, climatic conditions and human settlement. Bioregions may contain various biomes and or ecosystems within its geographic parameters as well.
Bioregions differ in that they are not delineated to be in sync with political boundaries that we are accustomed to using to define the parameters of countries, provinces and states. Instead, bioregions could replace political boundaries and create naturally designated areas for the purpose of organizing human settlement.
Peter Berg (activist) and Raymond Dasmann (ecologist) formulated the concepts of bioregionalism and are considered the prominent figures in introducing this model to the environmental movement. Kirkpatrick Sale, an American environmental writer, is another influential proponent of bioregional principles who has written a number of books and articles portraying the unfortunate effects of human settlement on nature and how society can learn to live sustainably.
Two important terms that will be used in this discussion are biomes and ecosystems. A critical knowledge of their unique characteristics and functioning will be essential to learn if we are to live sustainably within them.
A biome is a large geographical region comprised of similar fauna, flora, earth elements and microorganisms. The world’s major biomes include: saltwater and freshwater bodies and their respective islands, mountain ranges, polar ice caps, ice sheets and glaciers, arctic and alpine tundra, montane grasslands and shrublands, Mediterranean chaparral, deserts and subtropical deserts, boreal forests, temperate forests, tropical forests, temperate grasslands, savannas and shrublands, tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas and shrublands and flooded grasslands and shrublands.
An ecosystem is a smaller area than that of a biome that can range from the size of a small pool of water to a large forested area, mountainous region, desert, or water body or watershed. Ecosystems can be thought of as a community of living organisms that interact with the fundamental elements of the earth: (nonliving entities such as the air, soil, minerals and water) in a systemic manner. Ecosystems include environments such as canyons, valleys, wetlands, rivers, lakes, marine environments, islands, mountains, forests, grasslands, deserts, tundra, meadows, and other places that share similar inhabitants and natural features. Boundaries between ecosystems and biomes are not necessarily rigid and can overlap or even meld into each other.
Rationale for Bioregionalism
Problem solving at the bioregional level (in smaller communities) is more effective than trying to establish generalized interventions at a global level. Communities living in a particular region can collaboratively address adaptive issues and resolve specific problems more effectively as they are more familiar with the characteristics of their habitat.
Thinking from a bioregional perspective allows for a more comprehensive and creative approach toward ecological concerns in which nature and human needs are considered.
Important aspects of settlement can be discerned in regards to natural resources available, transportation issues, trade opportunities, communication networks, cultural and societal issues, recreational pursuits, economics, government formulation and ecosystem characteristics.
Residing in a bioregion provides an educational component in regards to the functioning of the natural world, thus helping humans learn and adapt harmoniously to their environment.
Smaller scale communities will attract people that desire similar values and lifestyles thus enhancing a sense of community, cooperation and problem solving.
Designing living principles based on ecology will result in lifestyles that are more harmonious, eclectic, and life sustaining.
A bioregion can connect humans with their surroundings in relation to how that habitat provides physical nutrition and spiritual sustenance and how this interaction helps one in an understanding of the self.
A bioregion can be respected and “allowed to be” such that plants and animals are considered in whatever decisions are made regarding development, preservation and sustainability. Caring for a specific habitat excludes exploitation and domination.
Bioregions can encourage indigenous cultures to continue their traditional practices without interference from mainstream trends and norms.
A variety of economic and political systems are likely to arise that will better support varied lifestyles and cultural differences.
Each bioregion may require unique living practices in order to ensure sustainability and symbiosis between people and the elements. This condition encourages respect and feelings of affinity for a particular habitat.
Knowledge gained in planning settlement in one type of bioregion can be used to enlarge knowledge about planning for other types of settlements in either similar or different contexts thus expanding overall understanding of issues and solutions for different ecological scenarios.
Since bioregions are not politically or economically derived, making decisions regarding how to live within them is more likely to be ecologically oriented.
Reconnecting with nature can encourage increased symbiotic behavior, less aggression and competition and overall enhanced mental health.
Appreciating the spirit of a place can be manifest in many ways that could include expressions from a diversity of social, religious and spiritual contexts.
Bioregions as the basis for human settlement will promote respect and love of the Earth’s creatures and elements and the universe at large.