“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot
Health is our ability to adapt to our environment. The level of our vitality determines our ability to either adjust to a situation or to move away from it. But at a certain point, if our environment is too toxic, adaptation is no longer healthy, and eventually, if we continually move away to cleaner, better places without addressing the mess we have made, we run out of places to go. This is the juncture at which personal health becomes environmental health. Bioregionalism is a system for living that emphasizes the importance of the natural world and a participatory relationship with the place where we live. A bioregion, eco-region, or life-place, is a land area whose boundaries are determined by the terrain, topography and watersheds within it rather than by state or county lines. Each region has its own unique form and pattern, its own watersheds. It is an area that sustains an interrelationship of natural characteristics which includes animals, plants, pollinators, soils, waters and climate.
There are three main goals of bioregionalism:
Restoration and Conservation – The first and primary goal is restorative ecology, a way of living that seeks to restore and maintain local, natural systems including waters, watersheds, plants, soil ecology, and wildlife. This is an active process of conservation and healing. A bioregional worldview places highest importance on the health of the natural terrain, whether that terrain is comprised of wilderness, suburbs or cities. The focus is on restoring the natural integrity of the region.
Local Resourcing – The second goal is to work towards providing basic needs: food, water, housing, energy and commodities to the inhabitants of the region in sustainable ways from within the region. This is becoming a somewhat more popular idea now with the proliferation of farmers’ markets, CSA’s and restaurants featuring local foods. But there is still little awareness about our soils or our waters – where they come from and where they go when we flush them away – and we live in ways that are divorced from these issues. The loss of habitat and the extinction of species are abstract concepts when we can get our food from a supermarket and our water from a tap. But when we begin to source our basic human needs locally, it becomes imperative to pay close attention to climate, weather, growing season, and health of the land.
Education and Re-inhabitation – Thirdly, bioregionalism works to support proactive education, employment and re-inhabitation of the land. To this end, educational curricula of all levels are designed to teach the importance of the natural world and our relationship to it. The goal of re-inhabitation is a long-view goal, perhaps taking a century or more to implement fully. It includes fostering an understanding of the history of the region along with knowledge of the land.
Bioregionalism fosters a kind of stewardship of the earth that has been sorely lacking during the last several generations. It is a vision for healing the earth while also creating better living for ourselves. It is not about relinquishing technology or culture, but about living on the earth in ways that do not exceed the carrying capacity of the land and developing ways of drawing on the local resources without also using up those areas as living space. It is not only the natural terrain and animal life that defines a region, but also human culture. A bioregional worldview includes cities as important structures and as centers of culture and commerce. The use of technology is included in a bioregional vision if it is sustainable or contributes to a vision of sustainability. Living within the cycles of nature there is a place for innovation, but without exploitation. In fact, we most likely cannot survive the environmental predicament we are now in without many technological solutions.
Each bioregion is both independent and self-sustaining but also interdependent with other regions. Networks of water, migrating birds and animals, winds and weather patterns cross natural boundaries so that each region can affect the next positively or negatively. But the most important aspect of a bioregional worldview is the idea that we, as human beings, take into account our right relationship with the place we live, understanding that our region can provide us with most, if not all, of what we need.
Our own wellbeing is ultimately dependent on the wellbeing of our environment. Living locally, eating the foods, drinking the waters and using the medicinal plants of our region will help to keep us healthier as individuals and also help us to re-inhabit the place we live with a more physical, cellular, and natural connection.