From Watersheds to Mountains, What If We Based Our Borders on Nature? – Rachael Stoeve

There’s little natural about the boundaries that divide states and countries. They’re often imaginary lines that result from history, conflict, or negotiation. But imagine what the world would look like if borders were set according to ecological and cultural boundaries.

Bioregionalism says that’s the only logical way to divide up territory: Let watersheds, mountain ranges, microclimates, and the local knowledge and economies that exist in them guide the way we set boundaries. That way, life within those boundaries is tied together not by arbitrary decisions but by common interests. For instance, in the United States, there are many cases where ecologically and economically distinct areas are encompassed in one state, which makes for political difficulty.

Oftentimes, no matter who wins in elections or policy, someone is left out or disenfranchised. Governing ourselves in smaller, naturally-bounded regions might ease those tensions.

Bioregionalism was first advanced in the early 1970s by poet-ecologist Allen Van Newkirk and popularized by thinkers and activists, such as environmental advocate Peter Berg and conservation biologist Raymond Dasmann.

Today, bioregional thinking is expressed in the many climate justice groups that organize on a local or regional scale, such as Tar Sands Blockade and Rising Tide. These groups are community-based efforts that empower local residents to take action on the environmental issues that directly affect their lives. Big environmental nonprofits typically fight for laws to limit or mitigate environmental destruction, while treating our current political and economic systems as legitimate. But bioregional thinkers see those systems as part of the problem—and suggest that restructuring our society along smaller ecological lines will empower communities and help shift our relationship to the Earth to one that is sustainable.

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