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
Reinhabiting a Separate Country
Planet Drum Foundation, 1978
Found at http://www.columbiana.org/bioregions.htm
(Defined and Updated 2002)
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.
Bioregional 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
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, and Australia.
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
by 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.
The purpose 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.
An ecoregion 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
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.
No 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
by Janet Johnson
© 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.
found at http://www.columbiana.org/cascadia_institute.htm
Ecology & Community:
The Bioregional Vision
by 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…
…Our 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…
…We 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…
…pervasive displacement of native-to-the-place life on all levels is linked, of course, to that forbidden word, domination…
…Today, global has come to mean globular, everything melted into one under their [global economic orders] control…
…when 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
…Coming home to a bioregion means, first of all, learning how to reinhabit it, and then restoring its natural and social
…Reinhabitation involves 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…
…when 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
…Communities can provide the essential social basis for restoration. And restoration is also a community-building practice--it
works both ways…
…where 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
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 commitment.
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 of identity.
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,
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 Politics
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
In 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, 1992, p.28).
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.
The implications 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.
Ecofeminists emphasise 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 identity.
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).
From this 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.
Bioregionalism 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, 1999, p.94).
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,
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).
As 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 enclosure.
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
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):
It is in the basic interest of all human beings to have clean air and water, unspoiled soils, healthy forests and conserved
natural resources, biological 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
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Found at http://www.gmu.edu/academic/ijps/vol6_2/Bretherton.htm
Bioregional Perspective on Global Ethics
- Richard Evanoff
Hachioji-Shi, Tokyo 193, Japan
(Professor, Aoyama-Gakuen University)
Eubios Journal 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).
Bioregionalism 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
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 1996, 15).
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
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 1995).
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