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B is for: Bioregionalism. The other cultural construct.

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
December 5, 2002


"Is it not a bit beside the point for us to be so solicitous about institutions without giving so much as a thought to preserving the environment which produced them and which may now be one of our effective means of keeping them alive?" — Aldo Leopold

Regional governance is now in vogue. SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments, now has regional transportation authority, and everyone running for office promised regional vision during the last election. In San Diego County, the term regional is only synonymous with traffic and traffic mitigation. Other than that, we are a collection of bureaucracies trying to protect our piece of the pie, safe within the distinction of "city."

Population is a regional conversation, as are water availability, agriculture, and the preservation of indigenous populations and corresponding habitat. None of which is being honestly assessed in regards to ecology and long-term sustainability. Biology, hydrology, and geology are seldom discussed, and our quality of life reflects this.

Encinitas is separate from Carlsbad, as Carlsbad is from Oceanside. Solana Beach from Del Mar. Artificial boundaries fail to look beyond arbitrary lines on a map. Misleading everyone into a false sense of disconnect. Decisions made in Oceanside severely affect Encinitas, as is the case of jetties and natural sand replenishment.

Obstructing sediment flow, transportation corridors cut through estuaries adding to bluff collapse and receding beaches. And since few are willing to look at the cumulative affects of life out of balance, natural processes have been replaced with a "Sand Tax" to keep sand on the beach. It's kind of sad.

By ignoring the biological systems that define life in Southern California we continue to add to the impact of our actions. Air quality, and urban run-off are also topics of regional importance, deserving consideration beyond shortsighted transportation planning.

As important transportation planning is to the future of coastal communities, there is much more at stake. How many coastal residents can identify the watershed in which they live? Do they know what is happening upstream, and what is making its way down? How many more people can uncomfortably call the San Diego region home, before our bioregion of rolling hills, coastal estuaries, and riparian canyons is unrecognizable under the weight of progress.

Underneath the infrastructure we continue to build, is a biology of place. Our bioregion is unique to the planet. Nowhere else on the planet is this ecosystem duplicated. The biotic community, humans included, are parts of a natural process, which depends on favorable living conditions. Kelp, coast, estuaries, creeks, rivers, coastal sage scrub and chaparral all contribute to our quality of life.

A bioregion is defined in terms of an overall pattern of natural characteristics found in a specific place. Generally connected through a continuous geographic terrain, particular climate, seasonal aspects, watersheds, soils, and plant and animal communities, bioregions vary in size and environmental diversity. Cascadia, Shasta, Sierra, Mohave and Sonoran are recognized as Californian bioregions.

Here on the South Coast, the eco-region in which we live stretches from the North side of the L.A. basin, to the California deserts to the east, Mexico to the south and the continental shelf to the west. Unique to the Pacific southwest, estuaries that once teamed with biodiversity mark California's coastline. Slowly, the very elements supporting the ecological systems of this region are being destroyed. While planning for the wrong things, we further distance ourselves from biological sustainability.

Bioregionalists, concerned primarily with their local areas and biotic communities, seek to address everyday living conditions with special emphasis on conservation, restoration and reinhabitation. Stressing a fundamental transformation of consciousness, bioregional thinking is more than saving what's left. Bioregionalism requires an awareness of the ecology, economy and culture of where you live, and an understanding there are ecological limits to consumption, population, and pollution.

In stark contrast to current systems of government, a bioregional perspective wholeheartedly rejects the perceived restorability of nature as justification for the abuse and degradation of nature. Precautionary by design, bioregional planning anticipates future harm as a way of preventing irreversible environmental damage, while working towards a biocentric governance model.

With this paradigm shift, the separation between economics and ecology becomes impossible. Pollution will no longer be tolerable when it is seen as the waste it is, and most households will find strength in efforts to grow their own food. Communities will find pride in restoring neighborhoods to functioning units which nurture civic life, allowing individual members to contribute to grassroots democracy and a vibrant local economy.

Now that we have stumbled on to regional planning it is time we took the big step and embraced bioregional governance for the salvation it could be.

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