The North American Bioregional Congress

To integrate human activities into the larger earth community
we must recognize natural geographical divisions
that already exist in the world around us

One of the articles in Rediscovering The North American Vision (IC#3)
Originally published in Summer 1983 on page 32
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

One new approach to governance centers on the ideas of bioregionalism and ecological law. The following article describes plans now underway to give this movement new impetus through a continental bioregional congress in the spring of 1984. David Haenke is the NABC coordinator and lives in Drury, Missouri.

"So now we experience a moment when a change of vast dimension is demanded… A period of change from the mechanistic to the organic, from an oppressive human tyranny over the planet to the rule of the earth community itself, the community of all the living and non- living components of the planet, that neither the nation states nor western civilization has ever seen before."

Thomas Berry

HOW CAN WE RESPOND to this challenge and begin to integrate our human activities into the larger earth community? An important first step is to recognize the natural geographical divisions that already exist in the world around us. These bioregions are geographical areas which are defined by natural boundaries, such as rivers, or particular land forms which set them off as distinct from adjacent regions. Each bioregion is further defined by the kinds of flora and fauna that grow within it, which may be unique to it, or just exist in greater numbers or density than in adjoining areas. Unique human cultures which are shaped by the rigors, abundances, and general nature of the bioregion also contribute to its definition. Bioregional boundaries, being created by nature, often cross the arbitrary political lines drawn by humans in their creation of nations, states, and other subunits.

"Bioregionalism" deals with the bioregion as a whole system comprised of a set of diverse, integrated natural sub-systems (atmospheric, hydrologic, biologic, geologic) run by ecological laws with which humans (as one species among many) must work in cooperation if there is to be a sustainable future. These laws form the basis for the design of all long-term human systems, economic, technological, agricultural, and political. Political ecology is the politics of bioregionalism.

In 1976, Peter Berg, a founder of the Planet Drum Foundation, and a person who has done more than probably anyone else to take bioregionalism out to the world, wrote:

"There needs to be a Continent Congress so that the occupants of North America can finally become inhabitants and find out where they are… This time Congress is a verb… congress, come together. Come together with the continent."

In response to this challenge and vision, preparations are now underway for the first North American Bioregional Congress (N.A.B.C.) to be held in the spring of 1984 in the Ozark bioregion. The prime sponsoring organizations are the Ozark Area Community Congress and the Kansas Area Watershed Council. Co-sponsors include:

Consumer Cooperative Alliance – CCA (Washington, DC)
The International Permaculture Seed Yearbook (Orange, MA)
TRANET – Transnational Network for
Appropriate/Alternative Technologies (Rangeley, ME)
RAIN – Journal of Appropriate Technology (Portland, OR)
Planet Drum Foundation (San Francisco, CA)
Riverdale Center for Religious Research (Bronx,NY)
E.F. Schumacher Society (Great Barrington, MA)

The premise of the N.A.B.C. is that the sustaining, self-organizing laws of nature can be applied to man’s law. Specific areas considered are; agriculture (use of permaculture, organics), technology (appropriate types to increase harmony between man and nature), energy (renewable sources), economics (environmentally responsible, locally owned and operated), land usage (land trusts, stewardships under ecological covenants), conservation (alliances for environmental defense), health and education ("holistic, ecologically based), and political policy (political ecology, natural law).

We also feel that to begin this fundamental reformation it is not necessary to declare oppositional or adversarial stances toward existing human-centered systems. Neither is it necessary to seek official recognition of a formally established alternative organization. Rather, we just begin by calling the Congress, and setting its natural and self- organizing coordinative function in conscious motion.

We also affirm:

  • Politics based on a common perception of law is the force that coordinates and governs human affairs as they interact with the biosphere.
  • The body of laws known as ecological law is and always has been the real basic operant and inviolable law of this planet, all human actions and agendas notwithstanding.
  • The politics of ecology (political ecology) is the vehicle for the translation of ecological law into human language and law for the purposes of the implementation of that law for the coordination and governance of human affairs as they interact with the biosphere.
  • Political ecology is a powerful tool for discriminating which human systems, chiefly including economics, technology, agriculture, politics and land tenure are sustainable under ecological law.
  • Political ecology is the force which can not only identify, but call together and synthesize the elements of sustainability into a whole system: it is time to take political ecology far beyond preservation and defense into this whole-system advocacy.
  • Political ecology operates in accordance with the natural "big-political" subdivisions of earth, the bioregions, which further subdivide themselves into watersheds, and then ecosystems.

In all this, we feel it is now necessary to go beyond "human chauvinism"; to quote John Seed (who has had a central role in the Terania Creek, Nightcap Wilderness, and Franklin River Rain Forest preservation actions in Australia and Tasmania):

"When humans investigate and see through their layers of anthropocentric self-cherishing, a most profound change in consciousness begins to take place.

"Alienation subsides. The human is no longer an outsider, apart. Your humanness is then recognized as being merely the most recent stage of your existence, and as you stop identifying exclusively with this chapter, you start to get in touch with yourself as mammal, as vertebrate, as a species only recently emerged from the rain forest. As the fog of amnesia disperses, there is a transformation in your relationship to other species, and in your commitment to them."

What is described here should not be seen as merely intellectual. The intellect is one entry point to the process outlined, and the easiest one to communicate. For some people, however, this change of perspective follows from actions on behalf of Mother Earth.

"I am protecting the rain forest" develops to "I am part of the rain forest protecting myself. I am that part of the rain forest recently emerged into thinking."

What a relief then! The thousands of years of imagined separation are over and we begin to recall our true nature. That is, the change is a spiritual one, thinking like a mountain, sometimes referred to as "deep ecology."

The green movement now beginning to flower all over the earth is a deep and beautiful re-awakening, joyful, a celebration of reunion. The North American Bioregional Congress and the process of its coming to be is a part of that awakening.

For more information, write: NABC, P.O. Box 129, Drury, MO, 65638. Please enclose $1 to help cover postage and material costs.