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Bioregional Awakening with Alexander Baretich

Bioregionalism is a shift in consciousness that roots the individual and community into place, the bioregion. That shift in consciousness is away from an anthropocentric worldview to a worldview that is biocentric (life centered), ecocentric (ecosystem centered), kin-centric (from Indigenous scholars meaning relationship centered) and Gaia-centric (Mother Earth centered) in its consciousness. It is the awareness of the interconnectedness of the water-life cycle within a given region. In bioreigonalism, the individual is deeply aware that they are not in a vacuum and isolated from existence, but operate and exist in networks of complex, interconnected and dynamic communities (human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate). Bioregionalism in its manifestation of consciousness with bioregion and the greater biosphere becomes communion or κοινωνία (the Greek koinonia) with all existence (Nature or Cosmos).

Simplest definition of bioregionalism is the ideology or philosophy advocating for human communities to live as part of their prospective bioregions. Bioregions are defined by watersheds (river drainage systems), water cycles and often the biodiversity within them. They are a coming together of tectonics, hydrology, biodiversity and sociological landscape. They are a gestalt of dynamic communities and elemental forces. Bioregions could be called the organs of the biosphere (Gaia or Mother Earth). Even in the driest of deserts, a bioregion is defined by its water-life cycle, no matter how short and seemingly sparse a cycle may be. The great water-life cycles are actually the generation and transfer of energy. So each bioregion is a living system of interconnected communities and churning of energy. My dear colleague, the late Leif Brecke, described bioregionalism as basically political and socioeconomic institutions structured around the watersheds. Unlike nation-states, bioregions are defined by natural processes and bioreigonalism seeks to embrace that natural flow.

The term bioregion came from the American expatriate and poet Allen Van Newkirk who was living in Nova Scotia in the early 1970s. Possibly influenced by the popular idea of the time called biorhythms, the idea that biological cycles have direct impact on our daily and seasonal life. The word bioregion literally means "life-place" from the Greek word “βίος” (life) and the Latin word “region” via French to English the word region meaning place, direction or rule. A bioregion was seen as the interaction of plants and animals with the space they inhabited.

Where Van Newkirk coined bioregion, it was Peter Berg that gave it currency.  Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft were visiting Van Newkirk where he shared this new term and idea. Berg and Goldhaft were activists who were part the anarcho-street theater troop called the Diggers in San Francisco. Their travel across North America awakened them to overwhelming ecological crises that the Industrial Revolution had unleashed on the landscape. Both Van Newkirk and Berg recognized then the inadequacy of the environmental movement of that time to the ecological devastation. That the crises of toxic spills, release of pollution and deforestation was growing faster and bigger than the environmental movement could keep up with. Berg had proposed that the idea of bioregions be inserted into “popular culture” as a means to combat the exponential growth in the ecological crises. Van Newkirk wanted the concept of bioregions to remain as a scientific term. Eventually Berg met Raymond Dasmann, an ecologist of academic training, and proposed the idea to him.Dasmann along with the Hungarian ornithologist Miklos Udvardy had been working for the UN on cataloging what they called “Biotic Provinces.”Dasmann was also grafting with the ecological crises and when hearing the idea of making bioregions or bioregionalism a “popular culture” phenomenon was “enthusiastic about the prospect and wanted to help.” With the goal of creating a shift in our collective relationship to the space. Berg and Dasmann wrote “... 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.” For Peter Berg bioreigonalism was a conscious and that made it different from the environmental movement of the early 1970s in that environmentalism was reactionary to the aftermath of destruction and saw humans as outside the realm of Nature while bioregionalism was proactive and was about living within Nature and not apart.

Another interpretation of bioregionalism that I put forth is that it is the decolonization of cartography and space. It is the dissolving of lines on a map and the dismantling of human imposed barriers that only exist in the minds of the imperialists and those out of habit or nativity adhering to a paradigm of domination. In the dominant culture, the idea is that land and places as objects to be owned or controlled. Consumer civilization projects space as nearly homogeneous with exception being a market value or mass productive value. Geography and cartography of the past was usually the realm of informants and mapmakers sponsored to compile data for empires, monarchs, companies and fledgling republics seeking to exploit or conquer distant lands, people, resources or trade. Bioregionalism as a discipline of geography then is the decolonization of power over the land, people, Nature and home. Bioregionalism shifts away from the ownership concept to the idea that land and places are dynamic communities interacting and interconnected. Ideally thriving and dynamic as well as unique. Each place with its own spirit of the place, genius loci. Each place we inhabit is part of our very being and interconnected with all the communities we pass through. Yet it is far more than just decolonization of the immediate surroundings, but the greater regions with their flow of energies like water, tectonic movement, fluidity of air and the unbound manifestation of life. Ideally, bioregionalists seeks to remove the human made obstacles (physical, mental, socioeconomic and more) that dictate to the Living Mother Earth and disrupt the vibrant flow of Nature. To live as part of the Earth and not as lonely and alienated beings seeking to be monarchs of all they survey. Recognizing that humans cannot exist in vacuum, but are part of the air we breathe, the water that gives us life, the biotic communities that gives us sustenance and place, the bioregion, that gives us groundedness as well as that sense of belonging we call home.