Over the years there has been many
articles explaining bioregionalism. The following are some of those articles.
What is a Bioregion?
"Bioregions are geographic
areas having common characteristics of soil, watershed, climate, native plants and animals that exist within the whole planetary
biosphere as unique and contributive parts. A bioregion refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness
-- to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place. A bioregion can be determined initially by
use of climatology, physiography, animal and plant geography, natural history and other descriptive resonance among living
things and the factors that influence them which occurs specifically within each separate part of the planet. Discovering
and describing that resonance is a way to describe a bioregion."
Peter Berg & Raymond Dasmann
a Separate Country
Planet Drum Foundation, 1978
Found at http://www.columbiana.org/bioregions.htm
(Defined and Updated
By Peter Berg
The catastrophic effects on Earth's biosphere due to human activities
since the inception of the industrial era have become imperiling to all life. A transformation of fundamental aspects of consciousness
is urgently required to halt and reverse this destructive process. Conservation of resources and environmentalism alone are
not adequate to the task. The concept of a bioregion as the basic location where people live, and the practice of reinhabitation
of that life-place by its residents, are necessary to rejoin human beings into the overall web of life. Harmonizing with the
natural systems of each bioregion is a necessary step toward preserving the whole biosphere.
A bioregion is defined
in terms of the unique overall pattern of natural characteristics that are found in a specific place. The main features are
generally found throughout a continuous geographic terrain and include a particular climate, local aspects of seasons, landforms,
watersheds, soils, and native plants and animals. People are also counted as an integral aspect of a place’s life,
as can be seen in the ecologically adaptive cultures of early inhabitants, and in the activities of present day reinhabitants
who attempt to harmonize in a sustainable way with the place where they live.
Because it is a cultural idea, the description
of a specific bioregion is drawn using information from not only the natural sciences but also many other sources. It is a
geographic terrain and a terrain of consciousness. Anthropological studies, historical accounts, social developments, customs,
traditions, and arts can all play a part. Bioregionalism utilizes them to accomplish three main goals: 1) restore and maintain
local natural systems; 2) practice sustainable ways to satisfy basic human needs such as food, water, energy, housing, and
materials; and 3) support the work of reinhabitation. The latter is accomplished through proactive projects, employment and
education, as well as by engaging in protests against the destruction of natural elements in a life-place.
goals play out in a spectrum of different ways for different places. In North America, for example, restoring native prairie
grasses is a basic ecosystem-rebuilding activity for reinhabitants of the Kansas Area Watershed Bioregion in the Midwest, whereas bringing back salmon runs has a
high priority for Shasta Bioregion in northern California.
Using biomass as a renewable energy source fits Cascadia Bioregion in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
Less cloudy skies in the Southwest’s sparsely vegetated Sonoran
Desert Bioregion make direct solar energy a more plentiful alternative
there. Education about local natural characteristics and conditions varies diversely from place to place, along with bioregionally
significant social and political issues
In the early 1970s, the contemporary vision of bioregionalism began to be
formed through collaboration between natural scientists, social and environmental activists, artists and writers, community
leaders, and back-to-the-landers who worked directly with natural resources. They wanted to do "more than just save what's
left" in regard to nature, wildness and the biosphere. Planet Drum Foundation in San
Francisco became a voice for this sentiment through its publications about applying place-based ideas
to environmental practices, society, cultural expressions, philosophy, politics, and other subjects. By the late 70s, bioregional
organizations such as the Frisco Bay Mussel Group in northern California
and Ozark Area Community Congress on the Kansas-Missouri border were founded to articulate local economic, social, political,
and cultural agendas. The Mussel Group eventually played a pivotal role in persuading the public to vote down a bioregionally
lethal Peripheral Canal proposal to divert
fresh water away from San Francisco Bay.
The Ozarks group has held continuous annual gatherings to promote and support place-based activities. At present there are
hundreds of similar groups (and publications) in North and South America, Europe, Japan,
There is a strong
affinity for bioregional thinking in many fields that relate to ecological sustainability. Restoration ecology practitioners
readily grasp the importance of an appreciative local culture for their efforts to revive native plants and animals. Urban
ecology advocates use bioregions for "nesting" their redesigned cities in a broad natural context. Permaculturalists and most
organic farmers employ techniques that are appropriate to their particular locales and insist on maintaining soils, water
sources, and native species. Poets, painters, theater groups, and other artists have embraced bioregional themes in their
works. Grade school teachers introduce bioregional concepts, and graduate schools recognize theses and dissertations based
on them. Followers of Deep Ecology claim bioregionalists as a social manifestation of their biocentric philosophy. Even traditional
conservation and environmental groups including the Sierra Club have subsequent to the inception of bioregionalism adopted
a system of "ecoregions" to address members’ problems in home areas.
Bioregionalists are primarily concerned
with their own local areas. There are a surprisingly large number of opportunities to address everyday living conditions for
the benefit of local sustainability; as wide-ranging as resident-based reforestation projects in rural areas and community
gardens in cities. Their influence is felt most strongly on county and city levels because this is where they take place and
are most visible. Watershed-based organizations with bioregional priorities for basins as small as a creek or as large as
the Great Lakes are a steadily growing phenomenon. Their recommendations to boards, councils,
and other agencies aren't limited to creek restoration, water conservation, and other obvious issues, but may also include
redrawing political borders to fit watershed lines and adopting ecological urban plans.
On a broader level, representatives
of the bioregional movement from far- flung places have held gatherings and congresses in Canada,
Italy, Mexico, and the
US that resulted in the formulation of
general principles and statements of intent like the often-reprinted proclamation "Welcome Home". The defense of bioregions
from globalist intrusions is a persistent issue that requires especially creative responses. When the town of Tepoztlan
in Mexico was threatened with loss of traditional water rights and political
autonomy by multinational land developers, bioregionalists from throughout North America
assisted in mounting a resistance that was eventually approved by the Mexican government. Most recently, the destructive ecological
impact and official "greenwashing" of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake Bioregion was investigated and successfully exposed to international media coverage through
Guard Fox Watch, a monitoring group made up of bioregional activists from Japan
and the US. More bioregional alliances
to defend particularly threatened places can be expected in the future.
Found at http://www.planetdrum.org/bioregionalism_defined.htm
Concept of Ecoregions
David D. McClosky
© 1997 Cascadia Institutue
Ecoregions are the rooms in the house of a bioregion. Ecoregion is short-hand
for regional ecosystem. An ecoregion is a relatively similar area united by common geography, ecology, and culture. Ecoregions
are distinct places which help articulate the internal diversity of a large and complex region such as Cascadia.
of ecoregional mapping is two-fold: one, to provide a common, integrative framework for management of natural resources, and
two, for deeper social identification with the land and each other, and thus, better political organization.
is known in two ways: internally by its distinctive character (e.g. the Okanogan Highlands), and externally by its context
in the region (e.g. Okanogan in relation to the Columbia Plateau and Coeur d'Alene-Spokane).
An ecoregion may be analyzed on physical, biological, and cultural levels. First, we map the landforms, geology, climate,
and hydrology, and how these environmental factors work together to create a common template for life in that particular place.
Second, we map the flora and fauna, especially the characteristic vegetative communities, and link them to their habitats.
Third, we look at native peoples, western settlement, and current land-use patterns and problems, in interaction with the
first two levels.
Each layer of information is brought together to represent the regional system. No one single factor
(e.g. climate) explains everything. The inner structure of an ecoregion is organized as a series of intersecting gradients;
temperature and precipitation changing with elevation, in alternating belts of vegetation along windward and leeward sides
of a parallel series of mountain ranges, with biodiversity thinning toward the edges. Such flows of energy, matter, and information
form a distinctive matrix. To understand the region, we must comprehend this system of relationships.
Boundaries are natural,
and often found as soft transitional areas rather than hard-edged political lines on a map. The boundary is a convergent threshold
where many layers intersect, located where several significant factors end and begin. Borders articulate the natural envelope
of the place--its centers and bounds--and link this diversity into the larger world.
Since ecological systems are open
and lack definite boundaries, in complex terrain, watersheds are often used to represent ecosystems on a landscape level.
Here, ecoregions are often drawn as a series of contiguous watersheds with similar character and context. However, where other
factors predominate--such as landforms, tectonic suites, regional rivers, vegetative breaks, or major cultural boundaries--then
watershed lines may be crossed. In each case, the key is to be true to the land and its people.
In terms of size, an ecoregion
is larger than a watershed and smaller than a bioregion; or in political terms, larger than a county and smaller than a state
or province. There are over 75 ecoregions in the more than 750,000 square miles of Cascadia. Thus, they average about 10,000
square miles each, though ranging from 2,000 to over 30,000 square miles; again, size depends upon the unique character and
context of the place itself. An ecoregion in Cascadia often covers several degrees of latitude and perhaps longitude.
ecoregion is self-contained but rather is intertwined with others as houses within houses. The ecoregion is a mediating level
linked to the habitat or neighborhood, and watershed, on smaller scales, and to the bioregion, continent, and planet, on larger
scales in many complex ways. We seek to understand the structure, function, and evolution of each ecoregion in terms of this
larger system of relationships.
As a practical matter, ecoregions may be flexibly combined and recombined in different
configurations to fit changing condi-tions and special purposes. For instance, Okanogan could be linked to Mountain Valleys
and the Selkirks-Pend Oreille for one application, and with the Columbia Plateau and Coeur d'Alene-Spokane for another task,
or they could all be combined for a third purpose.
Ecoregions provide a general purpose map of the local world, as we
seek to comprehend the life of the place as a whole.
Found at http://www.columbiana.org/cascadia_institute.htm
Bedrock to Biology
© 1994 Seattle University News
excerted with permission
Cascadia sits on its own tectonic
plates, called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The continental shelf offshore is called the Cascadia Shelf. The largest offshore
feature on the sea floor is the Cascadia Basin,
fed by the Columbia River, which shoots a plume of fresh water 200 miles out to sea.
Although less than 10 percent of the continent,
Cascadia contributes 20 to 25 percent of the total surface runoff. Twenty of the 40 largest rivers on the continent are fed
by Cascadian waters.
Other natural commonalities among the ecoregions comprising Cascadia, include weather patterns,
ocean currents, water temperature and salinity and river systems. Cascadia is a fertile meeting ground of winds and waters,
located in between the contrasting weather pressure cells of the Aleutian low and the Pacific high. These swirling g 6yres
spin out the powerful mid-latitude jet streams that spray storm fronts in great wave-trains across the face of our region.
The migrating border between the two weather cells as they move up and down the coast from the deserts of Baja Mexico to the taiga of Alaska
is called spring and fall. Thus Cascadia is winter wet and summer dry. "We enjoy the longest, deepest, most beautiful springtime
in the world here," says David McCloskey.
These ecoregions also share common flora and fauna. Within Cascadia's boundaries
live the salmon. This is the home of the beaver and the ancient forest. The southern-most cedar grove is found near Cape Mendocino,
where the San Andreas fault goes out to sea, marking the southern boundary of Cascadia.
Ecology & Community:
The Bioregional Vision
David Mc Closkey
…I’ve been watching Seattle slip-slide away in Puget Sound for four months now, from late
December to late April…
…The pure, predictable power of these swollen rivers of mud builds up an enormous
hydraulic head until it finally bursts forth in a torrent of debris, clearing everything in its path…
human contribution to the acceleration of such problems is enormous. Consider how we have altered Seattle’s landscape:
paved surfaces, flattened hills, rerouted or killed springs and creeks, channellized and diked rivers, filled in wetlands,
built everywhere, stripped away the native vegetation, expunged the fauna, and introduced exotic species…
need to wake up and return to our senses, as if from a long, drugged sleep…The very ground on which we stand seems to
be washing out from under our feet…
…It’s as if we’ve been under a spell--one that does not
enchant but rather ensnares us…
…From the perspective of everyday life, the dominant dynamic of the emerging
age is displacement…
…Such a double displacement of the land and its peoples reveal many parallels…
displacement of native-to-the-place life on all levels is linked, of course, to that forbidden word, domination…
global has come to mean globular, everything melted into one under their [global economic orders] control…
the central problematics of the era become the twin evils of displacement and degradation, the the answers we need to response
are reinhabitation and restoration…
…The bioregional idea is not about the environment in general, but
about specific life-places that we inhabit on a daily basis…
…Coming home to a bioregion means, first of
all, learning how to reinhabit it, and then restoring its natural and social systems…
the twin processes of orientation and identification. It means, first, finding a truer orientation to the character and context
of the lif-place we inhabit, and the, second, deepening our identification with it. Instead of claiming a territory as your
own, when you fall in love with the land you may find yourself claimed by it instead! While such attunement is an individual
matter, it is also a collective, culture-creating process…
…Ecology and community are two sides of the
same river of life. Since they are being lost together around the world, they also need to be restored together…Our
goals here are, first, to help maintain and restore the integrity and vitality of our natural systems on a bioregional scale,
and, second, to revitalize local economies and communities…
…sustainability is fast becoming a mirage…Sustainable
is an abstraction, an adjective in search of a noun…
…No--the problem today is not sustainability but rather
viability; indeed, there can be no sustainability without viability! For the ecological crisis is now more concerned with
the lower thresholds of viability of species and habitats rather than maximum flows of resource commodities…
ecological degradation, fragmentation, and simplification lead to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, then we must
seek to restore the health of those systems…
…who is going to do the real work of restoration?…what
should be the role of community and culture in long-term restoration?…
…Communities can provide the essential
social basis for restoration. And restoration is also a community-building practice--it works both ways…
is the money for restoration going to come from?…ecoregions…could establish their own dedicated ecological restoration
trust funds…watershed or ecoregional councils could serve as responsible agents, with rules to ensure proper use in
perpetuity as in land trusts or other public trusts…
…All over our region, we see the emergence of a spontaneous
grassroots movement to restore ecology and community together. Every community has its commons, and it’s time we restore
them to health."
Found at http://www.columbiana.org/bioregions.htm
ECOCENTRIC IDENTITY AND TRANSFORMATORY POLITICS
Identification and Identity Politics
For most individuals, identification with various forms of human
collectivity, or with established sets of values and principles, fulfils important human needs. Indeed the ability to see
oneself within a larger context is fundamentally important in providing a sense of wider meaning and purpose. It represents,
as Geertz (1973, p.258) has argued, "a social assertion of the self 'as being somebody in the world.'" Thus, an important
aspect of identification is the desire to overcome loneliness through a sense of belonging; and to find significance beyond
the compass of individual experience.
The construction of identity is assumed to be a lifelong process involving internal
and external referents; the self is constituted both of what one considers oneself to be and what one believes to be "other".
The extent to which difference, or differentiation from others, is central to identity is a contested area, however. Clearly
there are merits in Bikhu Parekh's (1995, p.256) argument that "identity is logically and ontologically prior to difference".
Nevertheless, while difference or negative identification cannot of itself form the basis of identity, the construction of
boundaries around identity groups and the establishment of eligibility criteria play an important role in according significance
to group members. Thus, Stuart Hall (1996, p.5) maintains that "identities can function as points of identification and attachment
only because of their capacity to exclude, leave out, to render outside"(emphasis in original). Since an ecocentric identification
does not depend to any great extent, if at all, upon reference to an external other, this issue has considerable significance
for the present discussion.
In complex contemporary societies, individuals encounter a range of identity sources although
are not free randomly to choose their identities. Given the salience of skin colour to some forms of collective identification,
Hobsbawm (1996, p.38) surely goes too far in asserting that "identities are like shirts rather than skin". Individuals should,
rather, be considered as more or less knowledgeable agents involved in a creative process of identity construction, in which
personal preference interacts with structural factors governing the availability of various identities. Thus, identity is,
in part, a function of eligibility. It derives from membership of a social group or organisation, or espousal of a set of
values and ideas held in common by a number of others. Sources of identity are many. They include, amongst others, gender,
sexuality, class, ethnicity, a political organisation or ideology, a religion, a state, region or city, a football team. As
an alternative, or in addition to these social (anthropocentric) sources of identity, it is proposed that individuals may
achieve a broader and potentially more fulfilling ecocentric identification.
The availability of a range of identity sources
is not necessarily experienced by individuals as problematic or destabilising; multi-faceted identities are the norm in complex
societies. Such identities become problematic only if major incompatibilities arise between their components. In such circumstances,
those attempting to politicise identity would demand that a choice be made and a superordinate loyalty declared, since "identity
politics assumes that one among the many identities we all have is the one that determines, or at least dominates our politics"
(Hobsbawm 1996, p.41). The key to development of an ecocentric identity thus becomes the ability, and willingness, to reconceptualise
one's own place (and that of human beings as a species) within the ecosystems of which we are a part. Politicisation of such
an identity would demand that we pursue action consistent with the belief that the whole must take precedence over the parts.
As a prelude to assessing the potential of alternative sources of ecocentric identification, we consider the extent
to which traditional approaches facilitate conceptualisation of an identity politics based neither upon the attribution of
superior characteristics to group members, nor upon the exclusion of others, but which nevertheless demands high levels of
Approaches to Identity Politics
Traditional thinking about the nature and potential of identity politics
can be broadly divided into two schools, primordialist and rationalist. Rationalists offer a materialist treatment of identity,
which emphasises the contingent and multi-faceted nature of contemporary identities. This perspective rejects essentialist
treatments of identity based on ethnicity. In modern societies, for rationalists, affective ties of kinship are largely replaced
by pragmatic (even instrumental) associations. Thus, identification with cosmopolitan or universal ideas/movements is capable
of supplanting more particularistic identities. In consequence, differentiation from an alien other is not a necessary feature
From the perspective of constructing an ecocentric and essentially connected identity, rationalism's lack
of exclusivity has positive implications. Nevertheless, rationalist universalism rests firmly upon notions of individual human
worth; it falls far short of the fundamental sense of interconnectedness between all life forms implied by an ecocentric identity.
Moreover, attachment to one's home place, which could provide a point of departure for the development of an ecocentric identity,
is de-emphasised in rationalist thought. Instead there is focus upon the significance of time/space compression and associated
opportunities for mobility (both actual and virtual) in loosening emotional attachments to particular places. Thus, it is
argued, in fast-moving contemporary societies "There is a continual smudging of personas and lifestyles, depending upon where
we are and the spaces we are moving between. It is the speed, the fluidity with which these identities mingle and overlap
which makes any notion of fixed subjects seem more and more anachronistic - distinctly early 20th century"(Mort, 1989, p.169).
From this perspective, identification with green causes (in the Western societies implied by this discussion) relates
to a significant extent to lifestyle. Thus, a strong association can be traced between adherence to green causes and the post-material
values of the "new middle class" (Hannigan, 1995). This may reflect an expression of self, and presentation of the self to
others, as fashionable or non-conformist. Additionally, protection or improvement of the environment is likely to produce
aesthetically pleasing outcomes or otherwise enhance the quality of human life.
Ultimately, rationalist universalism privileges
human well-being over the survival of other species. Moreover its emphasis upon the contingent and shifting nature of identification
is unconducive to the demands, in terms of commitment (even self-sacrifice) implied by an ecocentric identification and an
associated transformatory politics.
In contrast, notions of commitment and sacrifice are at the centre of primordialists'
considerations. From this perspective, while there may be acceptance that identification can be multi-faceted, there is believed
to be a deep, central core of identity which is instinctive. Consequently a politics of identity cannot be a matter of choosing
a superordinate identity. Primordial ties are particularistic, enduring and potentially infused with passion; and, by definition,
their claim upon allegiance is prior to and takes precedence over all other potential sources of identity. In consequence
the significant qualitative differences between identity sources cannot be dismissed through "repeated use of the frivolous
clichés of the day, such as 'socially constructed'" (Grosby, 1994, p.169).
For primordialists, the essential core of identity
derives from kinship and locality, the family and the familiar, blood and soil. Emotional attachment to home and family is
regarded as extending relatively unproblematically to identification with a people and willingness to die in defence of a
homeland. For primordialists, collective ethno-national identities are strongly associated with processes of differentiation
from and assumptions of superiority over alien others. From this perspective Plato's description of the Athenians "by nature
hating the barbarians" has broad, if not universal, application.
Individual identification with a kinship group, a region
or a people involves not only a sense of belonging but also of ownership; creating an extended "horizon of ownness"(Grosby,
1994, p.165). This suggests the potential for an identity politics modilised to defend the environment of one's locality,
region or home place; but precludes a broader ethic of concern for complex and interrelated ecosystems beyond the borders
of the home place. Primordialists provide no satisfactory solution to pressing transborder or global environmental problems.
Our discussion of identity politics has so far provided only a broad context for consideration of potential forms of ecocentric
identity. Neither primordialism (with its focus upon ethnicity and home place) nor rationalism (with its focus upon the quality
of human life) has proposed that the ecological dimension be prioritised over the human as a source of identity. it is to
deep ecology that we must furn to find perspectives which do propose such a prioritisation.
Deep Ecology and Identity
The notion of deep ecology is here employed to encompass a number of perspectives which reject the anthropocentric,
rationalist/materialist assumptions of Western Enlightenment thought. Deep ecology provides an ecocentric approach which
terms of fundamental principles...regards the question of our proper place in the rest of nature as logically prior to the
question of what are the most appropriate social and political arrangements for human communities. That is social and political
questions must proceed from, or at least be consistent with, an adequate determination of this more fundamental question (Eckersley,
From this principle there derives a need radically to reassess the position of humans as a species which
has no greater intrinsic value than any other but is unique in its capacity to abuse and exploit others. Accordingly, there
is a related need for a reordering of human behaviour, in all its facets, in order to reflect the true position of humans
and enable them to live in harmony with non-human species and the ecosystems of which they form a part.
of an ecocentric approach are profound. Ecocentrism challenges the organising principles of social, political and economic
life as well as the value systems which sustain them in many societies. It also challenges deeply entrenched cultural/religious
understandings concerning what it means to be a human being; a member of a superior species, at the pinnacle of the evolutionary
process and answerable only to other humans, or perhaps the gods. Thus, to repudiate notions of human superiority necessitates
a fundamental reassessment of the nature of the self, of the internal and external referents of one's own identity. Despite
its ecocentrism, deep ecology is centrally concerned with human consciousness and human identity, and its prescriptions are
entirely consistent with notions of identity politics in which a dominant identification is appealed to and acted upon. The
words of Theodore Roszak (quoted in Eckersley, 1992, p.19) illustrate this very clearly.
My purpose is to suggest that
the environmental anguish of the Earth has entered our lives as a radical transformation of human identity. The needs of the
planet and the needs of the person have become one, and together they have begun to act upon the central institutions of society
with a force that is profoundly subversive...
An ecocentric approach to identity invites individuals to perceive themselves
not simply as members of various human social groupings but as an integral part of a much larger whole, as components of a
fundamentally interlinked, and interdependent, "web of nature" (Merchant, 1992, p.86). This holistic relationship between
the self and the cosmos may appear to imply loss of individuality, autonomy and self esteem. In practice, however, seeing
the self as part of the cosmos would entail a widening of the sense of self, and an expansion in the scope of identity. This
would be similar to but much greater than that experienced through identification with a people or nation. Moreover, by ending
the fundamental alienation of human beings from their true selves and promoting "an ineffable sense of at-homeness in Nature,
and a disposition to live in harmony with it", an eco-identity brings freedom from the "tyranny of personal desires" and opportunities
to experience a deep sense of peace and joy (Mathews, 1991, p.150).
In terms of the current understandings of many human
societies, the principles of deep ecology resemble those of a religion. Thus, in contrast with the material benefits typically
sought by ethnic groups or nations, an ecocentric identification offers contentment and spiritual fulfilment. Ecocentrism
is nevertheless regarded by many of its proponents as truly emancipatory, both spiritually and socially - in the sense that
it would end both alienation and domination in human societies. This reflects the basis of an ecocentric identity as identification
with. There is neither requirement nor space for alien others, nor can there be claims of superiority over others. Acceptance
of the equal worth of all life forms (and the essential interrelatedness and interdependence of the ecosystems of which they
form a part) would inevitably involve, in human society, rejection of all forms of domination and exploitation. This reflects
the central belief that both environmental crisis and social malaise are a result of humans' alienation from the natural world.
Inevitably, perhaps, this conclusion has been contested, both from outside and within the deep ecology movement, on the
grounds that it is based upon inadequate understanding of the principles of social organisation. From those outside deep ecology,
criticism has focused upon the failure to appreciate the strength and endurance of social institutions. This is seen to reflect
a naive romanticism which is ultimately socially conservative. Thus for social ecologist Murray
Bookchin (1982) the central shortcoming of deep ecology is the failure to analyse and address the principles of hierarchy
and associated patterns of injustice which afflict human societies. A similar point, at the level of practical politics, is
made by the environmental justice movement in the USA
which has focused upon the disproportionate extent to which toxic waste and other environmental hazards affect low status
neighbourhoods. It is interesting to note the opening sentence of a recent work entitled Justice and the Environment: "One
of the principal curiosities of modern environmentalism is how little it has had to say on the issue of distributive justice"
(Dobson, 1998, p.12).
Criticisms of the failure to adequately take account of social structure and organisation can
also be found within the deep ecology movement itself. Thus, ecofeminist perspectives offer both an explicit critique and
an alternative analysis which emphasises the gendered structures of power and inequality underlying and legitimising disjunctures
between human social organisation and ecosystemic needs. An alternative approach, which examines the relationship between
socio-cultural factors and local ecosystems, is provided by bioregionalists. The focus of this perspective is upon the cultural
norms and values which shape social behaviour and upon adaptation and reconciliation to enable human societies to "reinhabit"
local places (Aberley, 1999, p.23). These two perspectives focus upon relationships between socio-cultural and ecological
systems, offering potentially important sources of ecocentric identity.
the significant differences in nature/culture relationships between and within societies. Humans, it is argued, are not equally
alienated from, and exploitative of, the natural world. Moreover, structures of social inequality are both prior to and a
source of domination over nature. These structures are deeply embedded and will not simply dissolve as a consequence of changing
human attitudes toward the natural world. Indeed, there is a need to direct considerable effort toward dismantling unequal
social structures in order to bring about the changes in human values and behaviour necessary for the development of an ecocentric
Ecofeminists share many of the premises of deep ecology in that they reject rationalist/materialist assumptions
in favour of a holistic, ecocentric worldview. However, their analysis of the causes of and solutions to the environmental
crisis differs considerably from that of deep ecology. For ecofeminists it is a central contention that gendered structures
of power, reflected in men's almost universal domination over women spring from the same roots as domination and exploitation
of the natural world. Thus, for ecofeminist.
The primary manifestation of the relationship between humans and nature is
the way a society sees men and women. Most cultures associate women with nature..and men with humanness, which is seen as
a condition permitting transcendence - superiority over, freedom from, control of nature (French, 1985, p.xvi).
perspective the domination and exploitation of women and of nature derives from gendered (masculine) values which emphasise
individual instrumental rationality. However, an ecofeminist reconceptualisation of rationality would reflect values associated
with women's lives, in particular their experience of vulnerability and interdependence. Such a reconceptualisation would
emphasise mutually supportive, cooperative behaviour, expressed through the idea of communal rationality. This concept has
considerable importance for the creation of an ethic of care for the environment and for the development of an ecocentric
identity which reflects women's lived experience. This contrasts with the masculine notion of rationality employed in Hardin's
(1968) apocalyptic metaphor of the "tragedy of the commons", in which the profit-maximising behaviour attributed to Hardin's
metaphorical herdsmen inevitably led to the destruction of the medieval commons. In this context traditional definitions of
rationality seem perverse. Had the communal values of herdswomen prevailed the "global commons" would not now be so imperilled
(Bretherton, 1996, p.108). A practical example is provided by Vandana Shiva (1988) who discusses, in the context of India, the designation of commons as "wasteland" available
for development and the important efforts, led by women, to preserve the traditional commons and their indigenous ecosystems.
Communal rationality, involving a set of values derived from women's lived experience, provides only the starting
point for development of an ecocentric identity. Of particular significance for ecofeminists is women's experience, shared
with the natural world, of exploitation and oppression by men (or, rather, by structures of power and production infused with
norms and values socially designated as masculine). This shared experience is believed to be the source of a special affinity,
even a certain equivalence, between women and the natural world.
For many ecofeminists, this view is associated with a
maternalist perspective in which women and the earth are equated, and revered, as givers and nurturers of life. While aspects
of maternalist thinking persist in most societies, the perception of the earth as a living being, a mother, has been almost
completely lost in Western developed societies. Historian of science Carolyn Merchant (1982) has documented changing European
attitudes towards the natural world, and towards women, from the 16th Century onwards. She illustrates the gradual rejection
of a holistic worldview in favour of a dualistic system of thought in which (female) nature became divorced from (male) culture.
In some non-western cultures, however, maternalist perceptions of the earth continue to influence the behaviour of humans,
both women and men. Examples are provided by Marglin and Mishra (1993) who document, again in the context of India, vibrant maternalist cultures whose practices directly
reflect an ethic of care for the Earth as mother. And for ecofeminists, recovery of a spiritual relationship with the Earth
is essential to an ecocentric worldview, and to the future wellbeing of the planet for "one does not readily slay a mother,
dig into her entrails for gold or mutilate her body" (Merchant, 1982, p.3).
The implications of ecofeminist ideas for
human identity are numerous. For women, particularly those (primarily Western) women who have become alienated from the natural
world, there is a need to rediscover their "natural" ecocentric/ecofeminine identification. Ecofeminism thus posits, for women,
an essentialist ecocentric identity. This would involve not a loss or negation of the self but an opportunity to experience
the fulfilment of recovering one's true maternal nature and to embrace the responsibilities associated with identification
as a saviour of the planet.
To some extent women have appeared to take up these responsibilities. In many parts of the
world they have undoubtedly contributed significantly to environmental activism. Moreover, a number of women's environmental
organisations have espoused overtly ecofeminist principles (Bretherton 1996). Indeed, Mies and Shiva (1993, p.3) claim, from
their conversations with women's groups in many parts of the world, "women, worldwide, felt the same anger and anxiety, and
the same sense of responsibility to preserve the bases of life, and to end its destruction." However, this raises the danger
that women, who are everywhere the least powerful members of society, might be expected to assume disproportionate responsibility
for cleaning up men's messes. Rather, an ecocentric identification demands that the "feminine" qualities of cooperation and
nurturance be valued and embraced by all members of societies. It demands, too, that the "masculine" qualities of competition
and dominance be devalued and rejected. Consequently, it must be concluded that, in many societies, the adoption of an ecocentric
identity would involve, for men, a change of consciousness very much more fundamental than that required of women. While the
major focus of an ecofeminine identity is positive identification with the natural world, there are implicitly elements of
an identity defined negatively against the alien other of unreconstructed "masculine" man.
Because of its implied exclusivity,
which reflects a tendency towards maternalist essentialism, ecofeminism is unlikely to provide the basis for a universal ecocentric
identity. Ecofeminism is important, nevertheless. It provides a trenchant critique of those cultural norms and values which
support the power structures of contemporary societies and which have facilitated the development of a dangerously dysfunctional
relationship between human collectivities and the ecosystems of which they are a part. In focusing very specifically upon
this latter issue, bioregionalists would be well advised to incorporate feminist insights concerning the origin, and persistence,
of gendered structures of power (Plumwood 1994; Bretherton 1998).
While sharing the general principles
of deep ecology, the central concern of bioregionalists is with praxis. They aim to develop a strong ecological consciousness
and identification based upon a specific sense of place - of belonging to and forming part of the local ecosystems associated
with a bioregion. Thus, while all ecocentric approaches place emphasis upon the importance of local communities and their
relationships with local ecosystems, bioregionalism is alone in its attempt to delineate specific regions and closely examine
related patterns of human behaviour. There is, however, no narrow specification of criteria for defining a bioregion; rather
its boundaries can be expected to emerge through the understandings and practices of human collectivities as they become attuned
to the needs of local ecosystems (Aberley, 1999, p.23). In practice, bioregions tend to be defined both geographically (in
terms, for example, of watershed or vegetation type) and culturally (in terms of the human value systems and practices associated
with the region).
The emphasis placed by bioregionalists upon the social and cultural dimensions of human interaction
is a further departure from deep ecology. There has been a tendency in deep ecological thought to regard culture negatively,
in terms of ideas and values which set human beings above nature and, hence, legitimise its domination and exploitation. This
is particularly evident among ecofeminists who regard the separation of (female) nature from male (culture) as fundamental
to the post-Enlightenment, dualist systems of thought which underlie patriarchy. For bioregionalists, however, culture is
a central aspect of human experience which mediates between social and natural systems. It is argued that "...bioregionalism
originates in culture, is contingent on context and history, and on people's connections to place and the natural world...."
(McGinnis, 1999, p.5). The key issue is therefore to strengthen, or revive, those cultural norms and values which are conducive
to a harmonious relationship between human societies and local ecosystems.
A central contention of bioregionalists is
that, in the past, cultural values were well adapted to the needs of local places; and that, today, such cultural adaptation
is revealed in the value systems and practices of indigenous peoples. In much of the contemporary world, however, the values
and practices associated with modernisation, and in particular the development of industrial capitalism, have caused a damaging
estrangement of culture from nature. Nevertheless, our understanding of how to live in, rather than with, nature is not completely
lost, rather it is deeply buried in cultural memory, so that "Knowledge of place, within us, needs to be uncovered and revered"
(McGinnis, 1999, p.9).
The central priority for bioregionalists is the cultural and social adaptation of human communities
to accord with the needs and characteristics of the bioregion. This is to be achieved through a process of "reinhabitation",
which involves "becoming native to a place through becoming aware of the particular ecological relationships that operate
within and around it" (Berg & Dasmann quoted in Eckersley, 1992, p.167). This involves "a kind of ecological citizenship,
in which individuals learn to become respectful citizens of an ecological place, rather than transforming the place to suit
themselves" (Dryzek, 1997, p.160). Through this learning process, the norms and values of human collectivities will gradually
adapt to the needs of local ecosystems. This, it is believed, will inevitably lead to increased cultural homogeneity among
the communities which inhabit a particular bioregion. Given the diversity of the earth's regions, however, the cultural homogenisation
said to occur within a bioregion would tend to be associated with increased differentiation between regions.
can be seen both as a way of thinking and a way of living. While many of the ideas expressed by bioregionalists might be characterised
as naive "anarchic primitivism" (Aberley, 1999, p.27), there is also a pragmatic acceptance of the need to adapt to present
circumstances - not least because it is through experience that learning will occur. Consequently bioregionalists have not
formally contested existing political boundaries, despite the fact that these frequently traverse or dissect bioregions. Rather,
sets of "bioregional overlays" have been proposed, for the guidance of local community action. Comprising ecological/cultural
boundaries of bioregions, it is hoped that these might be suggestive of "alternative political boundaries" in the future,
as new ways of living become established (Klyza, 1999, p.92).
In describing bioregionalist experiments in Vermont,
USA, Klyza (1999) paints an optimistic picture, although he admits that
successes in Vermont reflect the post-industrial context
in which they have occurred. Since living standards have remained high, ecological restoration in Vermont has been achieved at the expense of increased exploitation elsewhere. This raises
a key question, "What is our responsibility for problems caused beyond our bioregion by our consumption and production?" (Klyza,
It is evident that considerable cooperation would be required between bioregions in the interest of safeguarding
larger ecosystems and in order to address distributional issues flowing from unequal access, among bioregions, to life sustaining
natural resources such as water. Bioregionalists answer this problem with the hope that "The experience of collective action
on behalf of the local environment can serve to instill an ethic that will apply outside of that locality" (Lipschutz, 1999,
Despite this, there is a danger that the bioregionalist appeal to a local ecocentric identity resonates too closely
with the primordialist emphasis upon affective identification with the known or familiar, which has as its corollary exclusion
of the unknown and unfamiliar. It is stressed by bioregionalists that their concern is with the development of a sense of
rootedness that is "biotic, not merely ethnic" (Morris Bergman, quoted in Eckersley, 1992, p.168). Nevertheless, there remains
a potential, in many parts of the world, for politicisation of a sense of place along ethnic lines. In the early 1990s, for
example, anti-Soviet movements in the Baltic Republics
consciously linked concerns over environmental degradation with a heightened sense of place and extreme nationalism in a manner
reminiscent of the "blood and soil" movement of Nazi Germany
(Tickle and Welsh, 1998, p.158).
Undoubtedly it remains possible for an exclusionary ethnic dimension to develop alongside,
and coexist with, an ecological identity, with the further potential for politicisation of this aspect of identity should
conflicts of interest arise between bioregions. An example, given the inevitability of unequal resource availability between
regions, might be drought migration. There is a need to question the extent to which an influx of "outsiders" can be tolerated
by communities which have become culturally homogenous through adaptation to local ecosystems. Ethnic closure against outsiders
is clearly a possibility, not least because it would serve to defend the local bioregion. Indeed this is implied by the emphasis
upon reverence only for indigenous life forms, underscored by the slightly chilling assertion that "plans to remove 'non-native'
plants or animals...are widespread" (McGinnis, House & Jordan III, 1999, p.214). Alternatively, unchecked migration might
lead to dilution of the locally based ethic of care for the bioregion. Evidence of problems arising from migration into Central
American communities is worthy of note:
...this effort at community-based natural resource management is confounded by
several factors that are predicates for bioregional management. The influx of new residents to the region has diluted the
community cohesiveness that would appear to be a requisite for community management. These communities lack the degree of
cultural identity and intergenerational commitment typically found in indigenous communities (Ankersen, 1999, p.181).
in the case of ecofeminism, bioregionalism displays both strengths and weaknesses. At grassroots level, bioregionalism has
strong advantages in that it provides a framework for experiments in "living in nature" which could prove an important focus
for social learning and for replication. Even more than ecofeminism, bioregionalism implies an exclusionary identification
whose explicitly local focus raises important questions about the ability to address transregional or global issues. The bioregionalist
emphasis upon cultural factors, while celebrating an important aspect of human experience, tends to divert attention from
the structures of power in society. Bioregionalists tend to be middle class, white men who have little to say about the social
divisions of race, class and gender. Their focus upon localised ecocentric identification emphasises the position of humans
within the broader ecosystem, and there is a clear prioritisation of ecological imperatives over social justice. While the
power relations which underpin the operation of inequitable social systems remain unquestioned and unaddressed, an ecocentric
identification is unlikely to be widely attainable. The social divisions within the broader environmental movement are graphically
illustrated by Lois Gibbs, spokeswoman for the environmenal justice movement in the USA, "Environmentalists are people who eat yoghurt, while my people drink Budweiser
and smoke" (Quoted in Dryzek, 1997, p.178).
Ecocentrism and Politicisation
Identity politics, it has been argued,
involves the prioritisation of one particular facet of identity over others in a manner that influences political choices
and potentially provides a basis for political action. Discussion of the potential for a politicised ecocentric identity began
with the assumption that the contemporary environmental crisis demands a transformatory project, involving changes to the
way in which individuals (primarily) in industrialised countries perceive, and act upon, their position in/relationship with
the natural world. Such a change in consciousness would demand a reorientation and politicisation of identity in order to
prioritise ecologically functional ways of being and to construct societies whose shared norms and values are conducive to
a harmonious relationship between nature and culture.
The political programmes advocated by proponents of ecocentrism
focus primarily upon the lifestyle of individuals and communities, in terms of "authenticity" (simplicity, "naturalness")
for the self, and example to others. For deep ecologists, "politics is not about devising strategies to achieve tangible goals;
rather it is an arena in which different kinds of experiences can be sought and developed" (Dryzek 1997, p.155). An ecocentric
identity and associated ways of living become not simply the means, but also the desired end, of deep green politics. From
this perspective, the future of the planet is a matter of strong personal commitment, so that the capacity of this "politics
of identity" to extend its influence becomes crucial.
A politics of identity reflecting ecocentric principles is likely
to encounter numerous obstacles. Many of these are inherent in ecocentrism as a system of ideas which is intimately connected
to the political prescriptions of ecocentrism as practice. The ideas underlying ecocentrism are essentially romantic; that
is, they reflect the belief that "nature and humanity belong in an organic relationship best understood and developed through
feeling and insight" (Dryzek, 1997, p.155). Thus, ecocentrism, in its various guises, expresses both a preference for emotion
over reason and an essentialist view of human nature. It is at odds with rationalist/modernist and post-modern conceptions
of identities as relatively fluid and processual. Ecocentrism's rejection of contemporary cultural values also seriously underestimates
their attractiveness. In many societies self realisation through an ecocentric identification would involve rejection of the
central components of existing identities including, inter alia, works of art and the architecture of great cities which might
be regarded as among the major achievements of human culture. For many individuals this radical change of values and of consciousness
would undoubtedly be perceived in terms of sacrifice and loss; indeed, it is arguable that "human beings everywhere rank their
own cultural products above the realm of the physical world" (Yuval-Davis, 1997, p.6).
A romantic rejection of cultural
achievements, and in particular the scientific values of modern societies, is evident in both ecofeminist and bioregionalist
thinking. These perspectives share a desire to recreate the values of a past age when, variously, maternal thinking or the
instinctive knowledge of indigenous peoples enabled human societies to live in harmony with the natural world. For bioregionalists,
this focus has tended to obscure the need to identify the causes of contemporary social malaise and to develop a critique
of the structures of domination and inequality characteristic of ecologically dysfunctional modern societies. In contrast,
ecofeminists emphasise the mechanisms through which patterns of gender differentiation determine the power structures and
value systems responsible for the contemporary separation of human societies from the natural world. In short, for ecofeminists,
econcentrism and social justice are inextricably linked.
This difference between ecofeminist and bioregionalist perspectives
has implications for practice, in that bioregionalist experiments in "living in nature" are relatively untroubled by concerns
over distributive justice. Such experiments are also facilitated by their localized nature. A further distinction is evident
between the two perspectives. While ecofeminism would exclude men (and women) unsympathetic to its values, bioregionalism
raises the unhappy prospect of a localised identification degenerating into a reactionary and defensive politics of ethnic
Such negative outcomes are not inevitable. Ecocentrism, in common with many religious sources of identification,
appeals to an identity politics based on love, inescapable duty and potential sacrifice. For the human individual, the rewards
offered by religious identification are significant. They include not only a sense of membership in a wider community but
also of continuity with the past, and hope for the future, which serves to assuage the knowledge of human mortality. In this
respect, ecocentrism offers comparable, potentially even greater rewards, since an ecocentric identification would be deeply
satisfying to these human needs. The apparent eclipsing or immersion of the self within the greater whole (whether this involves
taking one's place in the ecosystems of the bioregion or the biosphere) is not experienced as a loss; rather it involves self-realisation,
becoming fully alive. For Freya Mathews (1991, p.150), ecological identification involves more than spiritual experience and
...this love of Nature is no pale intellectual shadow of love, but the real thing...This loving of the world
is a blissful state which warms and animates everything around us...It bursts the bars of the personal heart, and vastly expands
our sense of self.
Despite such protestations, appeals to an ecocentric identification do not fit neatly into romantic/rationalist
or Hegelian/cosmopolitan categorisations. Bioregionalism, and to a lesser extent ecofeminism, move towards reconciling the
romantic and the rational by permitting the inclusion of socio-cultural dimensions of identity. Bioregionalism, in particular,
evokes notions of Gemeinschaft as an alternative to the competing options of Hegelianism and cosmopolitanism as foci for human
identity. In consequence, bioregionalism differs from deep ecology in ways that enable it to "straddle green romanticism and
green rationalism" (Dryzek, 1997, p.160).
Ultimately romantic (ecocentric) attachments and rational self-interest can
and must be reconciled. Indeed, in the most fundamental sense, they are already compatible. Affective identification with,
and an associated ethic of care for, the natural world are crucial to human survival. This is clearly expressed in the words
of (the late) Czech activist Josef Vavrou_ek (Quoted in Welsh and Tickle, 1998, p.11):
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diversity, the beauty of harmonious land-scape and many other gifts of nature. And this is also our responsibility, not only
for future generations of humanity, but for all living beings as well as non-living elements of nature.
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Found at http://www.gmu.edu/academic/ijps/vol6_2/Bretherton.htm
Bioregional Perspective on Global Ethics
Hachioji-Shi, Tokyo 193, Japan
(Professor, Aoyama-Gakuen University)
of Asian and International Bioethics 9 (1999), 60-62.
The term "bioregionalism" was first popularized in the 1970s
by ecologist Raymond Dasmann and social activist Peter Berg. Berg defines a bioregion as ". . . a geographic area defined
by natural characteristics including watersheds, landforms, soils, geological qualities, native plants and animals, climate,
and weather." Bioregionalism, Berg suggests, ". . . promotes an inhabitory attitude by which humans adapt themselves to the
natural characteristics of a bioregion in an appropriate way (Evanoff 1998, 1). Contrary to current trends towards a global
economy, in which both resources and goods are freely traded around the globe, bioregionalism emphasizes relative economic
self-reliance based on the principle of local production for local consumption. Dasmann (1976, 413ff.) used the term "ecosystem
people" to describe cultures that are able to live comfortably and sustainably within local environmental conditions. The
term "biosphere people," by contrast, describes cultures which exploit resources from other environments in order to support
a higher standard of living than they could maintain otherwise. While ecosystem cultures have been the norm throughout most
human history, current trends towards globalization encourage people, particularly in developed countries, to become biosphere
people, i.e., to consume more resources than their local bioregions can sustainably provide.
Bioregionalism is not opposed
to all forms of trade nor to remedial aid in times of genuine distress (such as famine). It does suggest, however, that the
goal of development assistance should not be to draw a given region into the global economy but rather to enhance local self-reliance.
Dasmann suggests that self-reliance ". . . involves development of the capacity to supply the basic needs of people-food,
energy, water, clothing, shelter. . . ." (1981, 10). People should be encouraged to grow crops not for export but for their
own consumption; manufacturing should similarly be geared not towards export but towards meeting local needs. Once basic needs
have been met, surpluses can be traded.
The principle of local production for local consumption fosters local control
over the economic and political decision-making processes. In a global economy decisions are increasingly made by centralized
economic and political institutions which show little concern for the consequences of their actions on local communities.
Transnational corporations by definition do not belong to any country and ultimately there is no effective democratic means
of controlling their activities. International development and trade institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF, and World
Trade Organization, reflect the interests of global capital more than they do the interests of local communities. Both wealth
and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a global capitalist elite, often at the expense of average citizens
in both the developed and developing countries. A study by the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce predicted that by the year 2000 a
few hundred transnational corporations will control more than 50% of the world's total assets (cited in Rifkin 1991, 294).
The world's ten largest multinationals make more money annually than the 100 poorest countries ("Globalization-The Facts,"
18). The 400 richest people in the United States have incomes that are
more than the combined gross national products of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal-where one billion people live (Korten 1995, 108).
offers a radical, but non-Marxist, alternative to capitalist-style development. Bioregionalism is as opposed to the centralization
of political power in government bureaucracies as it is to the centralization of economic power in multinational corporations
(cf. Sale 1991). Although bioregionalism respects cultural
diversity and seeks to avoid the creation of what Berg (1981) calls a "global monoculture," it is by no means insular or racist.
Bioregionalists advocate not only the creation of decentralized political and economic structures that are democratically
controlled by local communities, but also the need to build an international grassroots movement that links people together
across racial, cultural, and national lines.
The international dimension of bioregionalism, however, has remained undertheorized
and it is proposed here that any bioregional approach to cross-cultural dialogue on global ethics should be based on the following
principles: (1) A concern for meeting basic human needs on a universal basis. A high quality of life should not be equated,
however, with consumerism or overconsumptive lifestyles. (2) A concern for social justice. Social justice does not necessarily
mean achieving complete equality but it should minimally involve avoiding any form of exploitation which allows some individuals
in the global arena to benefit at the expense of others. (3) A concern for ecological integrity. The concept of integrity
includes both the idea that natural resources should be conserved for human use and the idea that sufficient natural habitats
should be preserved to allow the continued evolution of non-human species.
This paper argues that modern capitalist-style
development is unable to satisfy any of these three principles. A growing critique is being mounted against "free trade" and
the global economy on the grounds that it increases rather than decreases the gap between rich and poor, undermines democratic
decision-making processes, and is environmentally irresponsible (see, for example, Nader et al. 1993; Lang and Hines 1993;
Goldsmith et al. 1995; Mander and Goldsmith 1996; Ekins 1997; Greider 1997). Capitalist development models are based on a
unilinear view of cultural development (cf. Rostow 1960, Kerr et al. 1964) which assumes that developing countries should
eventually "catch up" with the developed countries in terms of material affluence. This view contends that people should give
up their traditional cultures and "modernize," taking developed countries such as the United
States and Japan
as their models. It further assumes, in a spirit reminiscent of old imperialist conceits, that since developed countries are
"rich" and technologically "superior," they have a moral obligation to "help" countries which are "poor" and technologically
"backward." The globalization of the economy represents a form of cultural imperialism on a global scale. Whereas the older
forms of imperialism attempted to impose Western values on non-Westerners, the newer form attempts to impose first-world values
on "non-first-worlders." At least two objections can be made to the catch-up model of development. First, the notion that
the developing countries can eventually "catch up" with the developed countries is a biophysical impossibility. The catch-up
model erroneously assumes that the earth has sufficient resources to support a growing population at standards of living that
now prevail in the developed countries. The dominant value of industrial civilization is that economic growth is a good thing
and that increased levels of consumption lead to greater human well-being. The success of the economy is accordingly measured
by how rapidly the production of goods and services can be expanded. The bioregional paradigm questions the assumption that
continued economic growth is possible, given the fact that the earth has both limited natural resources and limited sinks
to absorb the pollution generated by industrial processes. Calculations show that at least 2-4 planets would be needed to
support the earth's present population at levels of consumption currently found in the developed world (Wackernagel and Rees
Ecological economists contend that since current rates of economic growth are clearly unsustainable over the
long-term, it is impossible for everyone in the world to enjoy ever-rising levels of material affluence. We cannot, moreover,
rely on "technological advances" to save us. In the 1972 book The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972) researchers from
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated through computer simulations that even if we could double the present
energy supply, recycle 75% of other resources, reduce pollution to one-fourth its present level, double agricultural production,
and make effective means of birth control universally available, economic collapse within the next century could not be avoided.
An update of The Limits to Growth published in 1992 (Meadows et al. 1992) largely confirmed the results of the earlier study
but argued that present levels of economic growth have already pushed us "beyond the limits" of ecological sustainability.
Together with The Limits to Growth, the bioregional paradigm suggests that global collapse can be avoided only if concerted
efforts are made to give up the pursuit of economic growth and the "catch-up" model of development. Bioregionalism is by no
means opposed to technological innovation, nor does it advocate a return to Neanderthal lifestyles. It simply argues that
economic production should be brought now within the parameters of sustainability made available by existing technology rather
than placing faith in the ability of technological advances that do not yet even exist to save us from ecological collapse.
The goals of bioregionalism are consistent with those set forth by the economist Herman E. Daly (1991, 1996), who argues
that we need to move towards a "steady-state" economy in which resources are not used up faster than they can be replenished
and pollution is not generated more rapidly than the earth can absorb it. A steady-state economy would discourage people from
indulging in luxurious, overconsumptive lifestyles and focus instead on providing for the basic material needs of all on a
more or less equitable basis. While affluent people in the world would be asked to give up unnecessary consumption, a steady-state
economy would insure that everyone on the planet had access to adequate housing, food, health care, and education-things which
many of the world's poor do not enjoy even in today's high-growth economy.
The second objection to the modern development
paradigm is that it is simply not working. Despite the fact that development assistance has increased from $1.8 billion per
year in the early 1950s to more than $60 billion per year at present (Hancock 1989, 43 and 187), the gap between rich and
poor is actually growing. In 1960 the richest 20% of the world's population had 30 times more wealth than the poorest 20%;
in 1994 the figure was 78 times more ("Some sobering facts and figures" 1997). Bioregional critics of development point out
that development projects are often the cause of, rather than the solution to, poverty. Many case studies could be cited in
support of this claim (see, for example, Chatterjee 1994; Greer and Bruno 1996).
The creation of a "global market" based
on "free trade" ultimately serves the interests of first- and third-world elites more than it does the interests of non-elites.
Multinational corporations frequently close down factories in developed countries and reopen them in developing countries
to take advantage of low taxes, lax environmental regulations, and cheap labor. Corporate profits skyrocket at the same time
that thousands of first-world workers lose their jobs and tax revenues for social services are cut. While business elites
in the third world also profit from such ventures, third-world workers are often forced to endure working conditions similar
to those described in the novels of Charles Dickens. The combination of exploitive working conditions and global "free trade"
policies leads to competitive pressure which also drives down wages and benefits in first-world countries. Workers in both
the North and the South are engaged in what has been described as a "race to the bottom" (Brecher and Costello 1994; Korten
In the context of a global market economy, goods are produced not for those who need them but rather for those
who have the money to buy them. The poor, of course, often do not have enough money to buy even essential goods. At present
the richest fifth of the world's population receives approximately 82.7% of the world's wealth while the poorest fifth receives
only 1.4% (Reid 1995, 7). Much of the discrepancy can be blamed on increased globalization. The economies of many developing
countries now depend on exporting natural resources, agricultural products, and manufactured goods to developed countries.
In other words, the poor are not extracting resources, growing food, or making products for themselves, but rather for the
benefit of people in developed countries. In export-driven economies imbalances are created in which the siphoning off of
labor and goods from developing countries to developed countries leaves the poor with insufficient resources to meet their
own basic needs. It is not difficult to see why developed countries, which make up only about one-fourth of the earth's population,
consume about three-fourths of the earth's resources at a rate per capita that is 15 times that of most people living in the
developing countries (Trainer 1985, 3).
The poor in developing countries are increasingly rejecting the idea that their
resources and labor should be used to subsidize the overconsumptive lifestyles of affluent individuals in both the North and
South. Alternative development paradigms consistent with bioregional principles (see, for example, Dag Hammarskjöld Institute
1975; Galtung 1980; Trainer 1989; Max-Neef 1991; Dube 1988; Rahman 1993; Burkey 1993) suggest that citizens in both developed
and developing countries should use their resources, agricultural productivity, and labor to meet basic human needs at the
local level. Communities can "delink" themselves from the global economy (Amin 1990) by achieving greater economic self-sufficiency
and greater political autonomy. By refusing to ship resources and wealth to developed countries, the poor would be able to
provide for their own basic human needs in a socially just and environmentally sustainable manner. In the North, meanwhile,
there have been increasing calls for developed countries to engage in a process of "de-development" (Trainer 1985). As early
as 1972 A Blueprint for Survival (Goldsmith et al.
1972) suggested that affluent Northern societies should limit both economic and population growth and try instead to create
decentralized communities based on the concept of self-sufficiency. Similar views have been advanced by Green Party activists
(Porritt 1984; Bahro 1984, 1986; 1994) and advocates of deindustrialization (Goldsmith 1988; Kassiola 1990; McLaughlin 1993).
In the bioregional model, levels of wealth could rise slightly in developing countries-i.e., to levels sufficient to meet
basic needs-while levels of wealth in the developed countries would fall since they would no longer be able to exploit the
labor or resources of developing countries. Ted Trainer suggests that the overaffluent should reduce their per capita resource
consumption at least 80% so that everyone can share the earth's resources in an equitable and sustainable way (1985, 248-249).
The result would be a rough parity between North and South at levels of material affluence that both meet basic human needs
and are ecologically sustainable. In the words of a popular slogan, the rich must learn to live more simply so the poor can
The capitalist development paradigm permits a minority of the world's people to enjoy wealth and luxury,
but only by forcing others into dehumanizing poverty, creating unjust inequalities between rich and poor, and destroying the
environment. The capitalist development paradigm therefore fails to satisfy any of the three ethical principles presented
earlier in this paper. A bioregional approach, to the contrary, would satisfy these principles. There is no doubt that asking
developed countries to drastically reduce overconsumption and developing countries to curb their aspirations for development
will not be popular, but the bioregional paradigm is hardly utopian. It is based on an eminently realistic assessment of how
basic human needs can be globally satisfied in a socially just and ecologically responsible way. Rather, it is the capitalist
development paradigm with its unfulfillable promise that everyone on the planet can duplicate the overconsumptive lifestyles
of the affluent North which is utopian and unrealistic.
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Found at http://www2.unescobkk.org/eubios/EJ92/ej92r.htm