towards a post-scarcity society

Towards a Social Bioregional Map

In Bioregionalism, Political, Social Ecology on December 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Social subsystems are extremely important elements of permaculture design. These soft-technologies, as opposed to physically manifest hardware-biological hard technology elements, are left in the bottom of the tool chest. Following in the libertarian municipalist strain of radical politics and bioregionalist trends I believe that federal and state political boundaries should be replaced with participatory democratic assemblies organized into regions based on the characteristics of the local ecosystem- bioregions. Surprisingly, I haven’t come across a useful comprehensive map of US bioregions! The US EPA provides a series of what they call “ecoregions” at differing resolutions. The state of Georgia at the IV level has something like 60 micro-ecoregions and the country at level II has about 50. The bioregional movement appears to be using these kinds of ecoregions, based on soil type, geology, climate, water drainage and predominating ecosystems. While these regional distinctions might be appropriate for organizing the different ecosystems in the US they are not useful for organizing social systems around their land base.

USA EPA Level II Ecoregions

USA EPA Level II Ecoregions

Permaculture teachers and designers, for example, have a need to organize themselves around regions with similair environmental conditions to aid the coordination of permaculture research and education. Similair areas can use similair tools, techniques and species lists! However, current bioregions as defined by the EPA level II extend thousands of miles which makes traveling through and organizing in these ecoregions unpractical in an energy descent culture. Anyone familiar with the USDA hardiness zones also knows that different latitudes support different plant communities.

USDA Out-of-Date Hardiness Zone Map

Out-of-Date USDA Hardiness Zone Map

I propose a bioregional map based on a hybrid of the EPA level II ecoregions and the USDA hardiness zones. Unfortunately, under the Bush Administration the up to date hardiness zone map based on the changes in climate were suppressed and are unavailable. In 2006, however, the National Arbor Day Foundation created a new hardiness map with climate data from the Meteorological Evaluation Services Co., Inc. of Amityville, NY, using temperature data collected from July 1986 to March 2002.

NADF Hardiness Zone Map (2006)

As you can plainly see the climate is getting warmer.

  1. Hi Liam – thanks for the blog

    I think it is important to consider bio/eco/socio/whatever regions in the development of policies. However, I am not convinced that we should do away with current political demarcations – which were designed with the intent of achieving democratic principles – and replace them with biologically determined regions. For one, there is the technical question: maybe the reason you can’t find any good bio-region maps is because it’s ambiguous and unclear how to make the demarcations. In any case, to the extent that clarity is reached on bio-boundaries it will involve some capitulation to technocracy in that scientists will be making demarcation decisions that would otherwise be political. Would we be trading off democratic principles for technocratic control if we followed your proposal? Perhaps it’s better to empower and fund bio-regions as systems for the generation and sharing of knowledge, for community development, for adaptive learning, etc. and thereby save them from the inevitable political wrangling should they become official political entities. I’m thinking sort of like the separation of church and state . . .

    -Paul H. (your former Tech professor)

    • Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’m glad to hear from Dr. Norton that you’re happy up in Syracuse. I agree with you that the definition of political boundaries should not necessarily be determined by ecological distinctions, let alone some map that I conjured out of a screen. Political assemblages form and should form in a much more organic and participatory manner. The reason that I’m interested in mapping out bioregions is for the exact reasons that you specified. That is,

      “to empower and fund bio-regions as systems for the generation and sharing of knowledge, for community development, for adaptive learning”

      I’m working to establish a Southeastern Piedmont Permaculture Guild to localize cospecies and design models for human subsistence in the Southern Piedmont. This guild, too, would not be a political body, but would perhaps engage in bioregional and municipal politics.


  2. Yes!

    Regional distinctions have degenerated into stereotypes and platitudes. We need to have a stronger sense of place; we need to feel a kinship with others who experience the natural world in a way similar to us.

    I think this would help the “local” movement, because current demarcations aren’t really applicable — they’re based on politics rather than truly regional characteristics. For example, I’m in Atlanta and I want to buy local tomatoes, but what is local? North Georgia? South Carolina? Kentucky?

    Also, this would engender a sense of pride for natural surroundings — the unique eco-systems that we experience as a community would be celebrated. We would have reason to protect them, because they would be recognized as something valuable, something that helps define who we are.

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