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Envisioning Protected Area Networks & Local Economies
In the Bioregional Web of Life
By Randy Hayes

There are 846 ecozones on terrestrial earth. Bioregions are smaller areas inside them.

There are 846 ecozones on terrestrial earth. Bioregions are smaller areas inside them.


Want greater world peace and fewer resource wars? In this late stage of capitalism, it is critical to achieve ecologically sustainable economic systems.
Such a shift will require more local, regional, and continental self-reliance. Most food and energy you use should come from your part of the planet – and they can! Now is the time for a new era of low-impact lifestyles, smaller numbers, and a new economic model characterized by zero waste, closed-loop, sustainable production and consumption systems. Now is the time to think out a fast-track shift to prosperity without growth. Bioregional living will help achieve this, but what is a bioregion?

A bioregion employs a common sense and somewhat fungible definition of a local area that combines a natural community with a human community. Its boundaries are often watersheds, valleys, mountain ranges, or coastal bay areas. Picture similar weather patterns, soil, vegetation, and other terrain characteristics such as in a desert or alpine area. Typically one can walk across the bioregion in a few days. Sometimes it largely matches political boundaries, but not often. Baja, Mexico or the Hawaiian islands could be bioregions with natural boundaries. Bioregions operate on fairly finite energy inputs to their ecosystems. Human communities embedded in bioregions should as well.

Thinking of human communities in their local geographic and biological areas offers a fresh approach to planning. It encourages systems thinking across silos. Bioregional thinking breaks out of the constraints that the government-set straight-line boundaries often impose. Envisioning your bioregion helps you understand the underlying flow of water through watersheds and the ecological fabric of life. Bioregional living connects individuals to the natural world around us. Think of the area around your town that you could bicycle across in two or three days. Programs to strengthen community resilience exist at the Post Carbon Institute and with other groups.

The richness of that bioregion should satisfy much of the town’s food, clothing, and shelter needs, employing local renewable energy and food systems (including urban gardens). Continental networks of bioregional economies can provide up to 90% of what we need to live well. Some trade back and forth from adjacent bioregions can add to the comfort of living well in a low-impact lifestyle. A small amount of global trade for some chocolate and coffee can supplement living in comfort. Most of what we trade globally should be art, culture, and ideas – not physical stuff.

Leaders who only talk about the human economy are doing a disservice to their citizenry. Natural habitats with diverse species play key roles in nature’s life-giving functions. Pollinating food crops and providing drinkable water are obvious examples of how natural habitats also benefit people.

Recent science indicates that by protecting at least 50% of an ecozone we can effectively protect the vast majority of that zone’s existing species of flora and fauna. (E. Dinerstein et al., An Ecoregion-Based Approach to Protecting Half the Terrestrial Realm. Bioscience. 67, 534–545 (2017). The inclusion of local ecosystems and parks into a Linked Protected Areas System in your region is critical to the survival of our planet’s web of life. The Nature Needs Half initiative amplifies this clarion call. It is imperative for regional leaders to discuss the long-term target of your region’s protected area coverage. We suggest that all bioregional leaders expand and link existing protected areas, to protect at least 50% of your bioregion’s land and adjacent oceanic areas.

For certain concerns, continental and/or global coordination is important. Each continent should set up technology assessment programs to assess the unintended consequences of technology. Who in the late 1700s or early 1800s thought the steam engine powered by coal or internal combustion engine powered with oil would change the atmospheric chemistry, foster extreme weather events (eco-spasms), and possibly extinguish whole orders of life on this planet? Climate change is not best characterized as ’a problem’. It is the result of a deeper problem of technology’s unintended consequences. What are the unintended consequences of current inventions? Techno-fascination and techno-optimism can mean techno-death, but they need not. Bioregional self-reliance networked continentally (with limited global networking) can ensure a good quality of life for generations to come.

Listen to our recent interview with Randy on the Rewilding Earth Podcast!

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© Randy Hayes

© Randy Hayes

Randy Hayes has been described in the Wall Street Journal as “an environmental pit bull.” His is Executive Director of Foundation Earth, a new organization fostering the big rethink to help protect the planet’s life support systems. Hayes, a former filmmaker, is a veteran of many high-visibility corporate accountability campaigns and has advocated for the rights of Indigenous peoples throughout the world. Hayes founded Rainforest Action Network.

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Keith Bowers - April 20, 2019

Love your description of Bioregions and the power they have in reconnecting us to Earth’s biorhythms and limits to growth.

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Rachel Rakaczky - April 29, 2019

I love the idea of this, living more naturally, living with nature, not fighting against it. But how do we implement this plan?

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    Rewilding - May 2, 2019

    Jack Humphrey interviewed Randy on our Rewilding Earth podcast. He has much more to say about implementation along with a couple of documents in the “Extra Credit” section that you might find interesting on the subject.

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