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.

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