Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gerrymandering "Eco-districts" - It's Redistricting Time!

As debate ramps up over the redistricting efforts soon to be undertaken, we ask why redistrict for human demographics alone? One might answer that in effect we are redistricting to equalize populations in political units, but is that ever really the case?

In the process of “gerrymandering” in which political boundaries are manipulated to achieve specific results, we see that lines can be drawn haphazardly upon a map which is not meant to reflect anything other than the inclusion of as many people of one political persuasion as possible into a unit. There are other such reasons to manipulate these units and boundaries, but most depend on the direction of the political winds at any given moment. This process makes a mockery of fair political representation of our own species, and can swing boundaries wildly over landscapes which puts pieces of ecosystems in constant flux between which sort of representation they might receive from year to year, decade to decade.

Over the last 50 years or so, we’ve begun to realize that environmental protection and restoration cannot happen piecemeal over varying ecosystems without taking into context the remainder of each ecosystem. We cannot, for example, attempt to restore the health of the Salish Sea by focusing on a few estuaries and a small percentage of its shorelines and surface area while ignoring the rest. It is a functioning ecosystem as a whole just as a human body and will be sick until all parts are considered, protected and restored.

When ecosystems cross boundaries of political units, such as counties, states, and countries, it can be very difficult to coordinate efforts to restore them. Different political units will have different priorities based on a number of circumstances, but the ecosystem will usually only be a small priority in the grander scheme of things, and usually low on the list as well. Many cross border efforts are now finding limited success, but they still remain piecemeal at best and usually only last as long as the politics of the moment allow.

The Envision Cascadia project sees a future of political boundaries aligned with ecosystem boundaries and understands this eventuality to be the only way to bring true balance into the human/non-human relationship. Environmental exploitation will only stop when humans view themselves as part of the environment, and this means that at least the political/organizational aspect of human existence will have to reflect this union.

To call for the outright change of our political borders at present to reflect ecosystems is not at all possible. Humanity in general is not ready for such changes. This is a transitional process as EC sees it and may begin to happen in small ways through various means – perhaps as highlighted in the EC web guide. But there is a more immediate process that could in some locations be persuaded in the direction of ecosystem representation. That would be redistricting and the element of gerrymandering.

If we are able to influence the process in any way, we may be able to bring such ideas to the table and in doing so start to guide the boundary lines towards ecosystem edges, thus beginning the process of articulating the representation of our ecosystems in the political process through practical and foundational ways. It will be a long time before we are able to sway public opinion in favor of “eco-redistricting”, or even redrawing the borders of our organizational units. But if we hold fast and use our creativity and ingenuity, we might begin to sway the process and enlighten public opinion in favor of the ecological district.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Transition Cascadia

The United States and Canada are part of a global empire that encompasses global commerce and politics and which permeates cultures, ecosystems, and the flow of information and ideas. It is a nasty empire controlled by the worlds corporate elite and it is anathema to healthy ecosystem function the world over.

To make these statements is not to announce anything that most are not already aware of. It is however to put to question just what it is the billions of people negatively affected the world over intend to do about it? To take up arms and violently overthrow the world’s dominant governments? To keep our “hope” alive that the political systems will become once again fair and just? Perhaps we will sit back and await the inevitable apocalypse, billions of cell phone cameras clicking in unison to catch the last moments of life on earth as we know it.

As appealing as these potential solutions may sound to some, there are a few who have a different idea. They are part of a blossoming movement called by some the “Transition Initiative”. It has been described as “a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question: ‘for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?’" This question is somewhat rhetorical in that it is answerable by participants who are already using a defined model to, in their words “connect with existing groups in the community, build bridges to local government, connect with other transition initiatives, and form groups to look at all the key areas of life (food, energy, transport, health, heart & soul, economics & livelihoods, etc)”, among other lofty goals.

The Envision Cascadia (EC) web guide project finds kinship with the Transition Initiative through shared goals and ideals. There will be descents, in energy and climate stability yes, but also in other arenas. EC is founded in part on the premise that the world’s empires of present are no different than those of all history, in that they come and go. The United States and Canada will eventually falter. Where that leads is anybody’s guess, but it will in effect leave a void in the area’s organizational schemas. Something will be created to fill the void (that is assuming that in whatever happens, humanity survives at least in part).

The EC project then in its envisioning process sees an opportunity to advance a worthy cause through that which has the most potential to do so. That being the advancement of “ecosystem rights” by building into the human political, cultural, and economic systems an inherent consideration of ecosystems and the non-human at all levels. The best and perhaps only way to do so is to model human systems around ecological systems. Both ecosystem rights and ecosystem modeling will be discussed in later posts, but needed to be mentioned in order to put into perspective the transitioning process as seen by the EC project.

Therefore, a “transition ecosystem” becomes the object of our organizing efforts when we move beyond the scope of the human-designed world (neighborhoods and cities). This would be “transition watersheds”, “transition ecoregions”, and “transition bioregions”. Why not just keep the ol’ counties, states, and countries in our transition models? Well, for one they are to-be remnants of a political and economic apparatus designed to refine the process of “resource extraction” or more accurately, “ecological exploitation”. Abstract borders have no place in a sustainable and respectful human-nature relationship. They serve only to streamline the human destruction of the planet’s environments.

It is also important to keep in mind that the protection of ecosystems requires in intimate knowledge of them. Having an environmental science or biology course in a school’s curriculum does not instill within an adolescent an intimate knowledge of local ecosystems. To transition we must understand our collective impact as communities on the ecosystems within and around us. If we want to localize we have to understand the carrying capacity of the local landscape, and plan our communities accordingly. If we want to become self-reliant, we must be able to understand how our use of local natural resources, i.e. members of the biotic community, will be affected not only at present, but generations into the future. This can be done with nothing less than an intimate relationship between communities and their local ecological systems. To achieve this, integration is necessary. It harks back to the era of segregation of a different sort, sanely ended by those who understood that making positive change requires the extending of rights to others different than oneself. The time has come to extend our hands once again.

In sum, we see no hope for a changing of the worlds (Cascadia’s included) borders to reflect local ecological realities. It is therefore one of the main missions of the EC project to integrate these ideas and imperatives into the transition initiative of the bioregion of Cascadia.

And with that we leave you, for now, with a passage from Kirkpatrick Sale …

“Now, it seems to me that there are only two possible paths to achieving such a [ecological] future: either by design or by catastrophe. By design if during the next decade the hopelessly large institutions of our industrial world prove themselves utterly inept and bankrupt and the citizens begin looking around for alternative, responsive, eco-centered institutions to put in their place; or by catastrophe, some devastating global eco-catastrophe, which alters or eliminates all existing systems and structures and vastly reduces many species, including the human, assuming they survive at all.

In either case I would argue that the challenge for us is the same: to start now to establish small, local, bioregionally guided alternative institutions that can provide the information by which human communities can live in harmony with nature, the strategies by which such communities would go about doing this, and the model of how it is actually to be carried out. Specifically, I mean institutions guided by three essential tasks: (1) to gather the scholarship and lore that teaches us the characteristics of the species and habitats of our specific local area, from eco-niche to bioregion; (2) to inaugurate projects of rehabilitation, chiefly by ecological restoration that returns specific areas of the land and its species to their natural, largely wild state, within which humans fit their social and cultural constructs; and (3) to develop human communities, small-scale and eco-centered, that will carry out these tasks and guide us toward living within our restored eco-niches on the species level.

I have in mind something that might be compared, within European history, to the time after the fall of Rome when there emerged a small-scale, community-based, agriculturally rooted society and along with it the invention of the monastery, the institution more than any other that kept alive the wisdom of the past, that provided models of a new way of living, that became the source of creation and invention, not to mention inspiration and dedication, for the next thousand years.

I am suggesting that the most important institution we can begin to create right now is something we might think of as an "ecostery"—a small community of men and women living and working together to learn about and restore important, sacred, and fructive portions of the earth to their fullest complexity and productivity, living within and keeping holy and learning from those ecosystems, systems that are wild and free and know us as one more large mammalian species marked especially by a capacity to carry on knowledge through myth and ritual and by the ability, unique in humans, to blush. Ecosteries that, however odd they may look now, come to be understood as the only ecologically based way of human existence in the future, where there is kept alive for at least the next thousand years the minority sensibility that has existed for centuries, even as the Modern Age was forming and marginalizing it, from St. Francis to Aldo Leopold, from the Celtic witches to Rachel Carson, the sensibility that has always reminded us of the right method of living on the earth; where there is developed and spread the system of values that reminds us of the inherent tragedy of the modern industrial way and teaches us that though we may have—I suppose we will have—the knowledge of how to cross the oceans, to make war, to build skyscrapers, to construct atomic bombs, to splice genes, none will choose to do those things, because they transgress the will of Gaea, they bespeak an alien, violent, disregardful, and nature-hating culture.”