Bioregional Democracy

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"Bioregional democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of electoral reforms and commodity reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g. water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This movement is variously called bioregional democracy, watershed cooperation, or bioregional representation, or one of various other similar names—all of which denote democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions—while not removing more generalized civil rights protections of a larger national state." (

2. James Quilligan:

"Bioregional democracy is the provisioning of vital resources for all living things across areas wet and dry, agricultural and non-agricultural, energy-rich and energy poor. Diversity in the management and distribution of resources means opening up entrenched political systems and building capacities for the governance of ecosystems by the people who depend directly upon them. In this sense, the watershed symbolizes a strategic vision of regional pluralism and peaceful cooperation which satisfies people’s thirst for resource democracy.

The plot of this narrative involves the three stages of a watershed—the headwaters, the waterway and the sea. These areas correspond to three aspects of human reality—self, other and world.

Headwaters are the source of a bounded water system. In a similar way, the self is the origin of a person’s higher intentions to respect and take responsibility for all life forms.

Waterway is a course of water that sustains communities and natural things. Similarly, the other is a living reminder that people and nature are not separate but deeply interconnected.

Sea (or river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland or ocean) is where a waterway converges after nourishing the life-forms in its watershed. Likewise, the world is where people can learn the natural patterns and methods for provisioning resources and designing sustainable ways of living." (



Mark Whitaker:

"The points left out of Enlightenment democratic theory are:

(1) the empirically durable human-environmental contexts of all governmental arrangements,

(2) ideas about the state as an economic developmentalist organization,

(3) the issue of the innate geographical particularities of citizenship and political concern,

(4) ways to check and balance gatekeeping powers of informal political parties on the state, and

(5) that political power is more than the formal state—it is exercised in conjunction with scientific, financial, and consumptive/economic organizational power as well.

The four types of checks and balances:

(1) the more typical Western democratic theory issues that discuss only "formal -toformal" institutional checks and balances; more are required for a sustainable bioregional state.

(2) Additionally in the bioregional state, three other levels of checks and balances are required: other "informal-to-informal" checks and balances entirely ignored in existing democratic theory that assure a competitive party context of informal factions is durable and kept in place formally, because only heightened party competition assures that the full electorate (instead of only the partial electorate) are valued, and that party corruption can be checked.

(3) Furthermore, the other level of checks and balances required are the "informal-toformal" checks and balances that keep particular informal election outcome issues from being allowed to influence and bias the formal frameworks in unrepresentative clientelistic ways. This means having a flexible formal framework that interacts to check and balance against the several particular informal election outcomes, to assure that the "informal to informal" checks and balances between parties are maintained in operation in all situations instead of demoted. This type of "informal-to-formal" is seen in both formal institutional design issues (like the flexible cameralism and flexible executive branch issues described in more detail in the Constitution of Sustainability) as well as in the voting framework (proportional representation with a majoritarian allotment) that makes sure that all pa rties are forced to compete for 100% of the full electorate instead of being able to operate by excluding large numbers of the electorate because of the gatekeeping of the political agenda by party frameworks.

(4) The fourth check and balance framework is organized around ecological and consumer issues: ranging from securing public consumer choices against an enforced corporate imposed consumption of singular items, to enhancing ecological feedback from particular geographic areas as a method against less representative developmentalism.

Six points about the bioregional state:

1. The false sense that the state is only a 'social' organization; the bioregional state is a developmental organization and a political feedback mechanism for making developmentalism democratic and sustainable.

2. States are always situated within particular ecologies or across particular ecologies.

3. Nothing called an abstract or individualized citizen in practice: citizenship and its politics are historically bioregional and watershed specific, influenced by human health, ecological, and economic externalities that are shared ecologically and which impinge upon the people and ecologies involved.

4. A people's self-interest is additionally geographically specific and protective of a particular geography, leading to an environmental proxy based politics where human health, ecological, and economic externalities from ecological degradation are effected in human political pressures.

5. An environmental proxy based politics is p art of the human condition, instead of a novelty of the 20th-21st century. It has only been expressed through other discourses and manners in the past with the ideas and techniques available.

6. In terms of the bioregional state, affirmative institutions are ones that are designed jurisdictionally to be ecologically aware and facilitative of the particularities of environmental proxy politics --influenced geographically in its orientation by bioregional and watershed variegation. Formal state institutions h istorically have been created under "political slack" instead of full representation because all existing states have been hinterland based. In the past 50 years, the removal of the hinterland changes the political dynamic towards inexorable environmental amelioration pressures in formal policy and formal institutions because it changes the pressures of informal politics from exit to voice, facilitating more environmental proxy politics." (

James Quilligan on bioregional self-sufficience as a condition for bioregional democracy

James Quilligan:

"In coming years, the resources that we now waste, especially water and food, will become much less available. Without new economic thinking on wealth creation and sustainable development, free trade will continue to expand mass consumption and swallow the world’s natural resources. More fundamentally, society will be prevented from adjusting its economy to the world’s natural processes and designs, especially Earth’s hydrological and agricultural cycles.

It’s time to consider that bioregional self-sufficiency—the principle of meeting human needs within the constraints of resource areas—is really what leads to democracy and prosperity. Instead of seeking a Ricardian comparative advantage through global trade integration and rentier economies, the new social imperative will be for regions to become as self-sufficient as possible in the production and distribution of resources within their own eco-regions. Rather than maximizing total assets through a macroeconomic calculus, communities will focus on maximizing supply for the common good, producing and distributing resources according to the natural functions and rhythms of their environment.

Self-sufficiency means staying within the local or regional carrying capacity and taxing, not the value that people add to the commons, but the value they take from the commons. This creates dividends for citizens and the means of regenerating their resources. When people recover the capacity to sustain their population directly through the region where they live, there is no need to seek comparative advantage over the resources of others. Only when this is not possible would they look outside of their bioregion for trade.

The management of commons on a small scale has been successful throughout history because of interpersonal engagement. It’s easier for people to share resources when they know and trust one another. But technology-driven networks now enable the qualities of small-group dynamics to be applied in the collaborative management of much larger resource areas. This can be done without sacrificing personal trust, transparency or self-organized cooperation.

Just as the interests of corporations are not limited to a single nation, the social interest in an ecosystem is not confined to sovereign borders. Collective management systems may be created through communities of resource users, whether their ecosystems are within a single nation or spread across sovereign lines.

It’s important to remember that the members of local and regional communities are much closer to resource distribution problems than national governments, and a far richer source of local knowledge, innovation and ways of meeting human needs equitably and ecologically. For example, local communities have pioneered water management techniques like rainwater catches and drip irrigation which reduce water evaporation, and the recycling of household sewage for agriculture rather than publicly dumping the waste and polluting aquifers and wells.

What bioregional democracy requires is collaborative decision-making within a resource area. This is not such a novel idea. Identifying and building bioregional coalitions is a phenomenon that predates private property and sovereign boundaries. In fact, communities for resource management have historical roots all over the world, ranging from the Arab waqf, the Jewish kibutz and the Brazilian cooperative to the European guild, the English commons and the communitarian practices in hundreds of indigenous cultures.

While often unrecognized, transborder resource communities are rapidly growing. These include subsistence commons based on forests, fisheries, arable land and wild game; regional associations for the re-localization of food production, community-supported agriculture and permaculture; subsistence agriculture; seed-sharing cooperatives; and coalitions for irrigation and regional water access. There are also attempts to create collaborative resource management zones for the Arctic, the Amazon Basin, the Great Lakes of North America, the Jordan Rift Valley and the world’s wilderness areas, rivers, oceans and atmosphere.

In most cases, large-scale resource communities need the approval of their governments to work effectively. Through multilateral treaties and charters for the public benefit, the State may partner with these coalitions. This will allow transborder communities—comprised of civil society organizations, community associations, merchants, farmers, engineers, producers, professionals, educators and many other groups—to cultivate cooperative relationships and develop the legitimacy and mandate to leverage governmental policy. By organizing, they can begin to share power through stakeholder trusts and State trusteeships for collective resource management.

Here’s how this might work. The trust determines a specific, measurable cap to protect a resource for the future based on the preservation, consumption and regeneration of the common resource. The trust then leases an agreed portion of this resource to the private sector. Businesses extract and process the resources available outside of the cap, allocate and sell them as products, make profits and pay taxes to the governments of the region. The governments recirculate these funds to their citizens as dividends or subsistence income. And the trust spends its leasing income on the maintenance of protected commons and the replenishment of those resources that are depleted.

The capping of resources for future generations can also create a new source of monetary equity and credit. Regionally protected commons such as water, soil, forests, wildlife, seabed minerals, energy and indigenous patents may be used as reserves for a regional bank. This would generate a broad measure of sustainability that is not based on productivity, profit or interest, but on the resilience of natural assets in supporting a good quality of life and well-being for all citizens of a region." (

On the relation between resource democracy and nation-states

James Quilligan:

"It’s the commons—not government regulation, military stabilization or even unarmed peacekeeping—that provide an authentic basis for effective resource provisioning at local and regional levels. In effect, when there is violent civil conflict, citizens are not uprooted from the arbitrary sovereignty of national borders so much as they are displaced from the actual resources of their bioregion. When the smoke clears and the dust settles, it’s the ecology which supports people’s survival and livelihood and defines their deepest sense of self and community.

As a source of non-violent cooperation between regions, the growth of transborder resource communities brings us well beyond present political boundaries. Yet this does not obviate the need for stable government. Liberal pluralism is an essential start: rule of law; maintenance of representative systems responsive to the people; the separation of powers among the branches of government; individual freedoms; the guarantee of equal rights for women and men; a free press; and the public legitimacy of government through free and fair elections.

Resource pluralism rests upon these rights. But bioregional democracy also focuses on the inclusive alliances of all actors within an ecosystem and the new class of rights which emerge from these relationships. These rights include human dignity; self-determination; economic and social development; cultural heritage; reconciliation of historical grievances; protection from sexual violence; protection for the uprooted; legal empowerment of the poor; human security; cross-border justice; rights to natural resources; rights to a healthy environment; intergenerational equity; the rights of children; and the rights of all living beings.

It must be emphasized that transborder resource communities are not secessionists. In creating the structures and conditions for bioregional pluralism, transborder resource communities are not seeking to instigate revolution but to act in partnership with their contiguous states. They promote a peaceful, cultural transition that does not reject what is being transformed, but demonstrates how to model and adapt to the new structures of resource cooperation which are emerging.

Resource democracy does not imply that sovereign states should stand aside or disappear. But they must expand the nature of their relationships with their neighbors through multilateral agreements and treaties which allow new forms of power and wealth to emerge in cross-border resource areas. There must be room for the creation of open platforms, proportional representation and diversified institutions by the people who produce and circulate their own resources within nations and between them.

There is evidence that the crisis of political succession in government—sometimes leading to failed states—arises from the inability of a society to provision resources and create fulfilling lives for its citizens within the boundaries set by nature. Closely-held natural resource endowments in sovereign states, particularly fossil fuels, are strongly correlated with domestic corruption, state repression and erosion of democratic ideals.

New research by organizations such as the Mumbai-based Strategic Foresight Group reveal another, much-neglected dimension of governmental stability. When there are resource agreements among nations which share bodies of water, agricultural areas or distributed energy networks, governments are more likely to create the conditions for regional peace. This, in turn, keeps these governments in power and responsive to their people, encouraging a stable process of political succession. It’s becoming clear that the orderly and non-violent alternation of political power depends on a government that is committed to resource cooperation with neighboring states as well as resource provisioning for its own people.

Global warming and its chaotic effects are providing some hard lessons. Nations cannot continue to divert rivers, over-pump regional aquifers and use water inefficiently without creating shortages in local communities, uprooting people from their commons and provoking violence. Present clashes over water may be only the beginning.

In 2014, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that, based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius in atmospheric temperature over coming decades, the demand for water and food will rise but production will decrease. Governments can thus expect another wave of social unrest over escalating prices for water, food and energy like that experienced in 2008-2011. These conflicts could involve religious militancy, terrorism, open hostility between rich and poor, spiking inflation, high unemployment, national deficits and further destruction of the commons. Greater nuclear proliferation is also possible.

Before long, governments will recognize the advantages of redistributing the power for resource management. As citizens invest in their commons and the commons pay them dividends, the extreme competition for resources and the potential for violence will decline because the commons are available for everyone’s use. To make this possible at regional levels, institutional mechanisms must be created to share power within and across borders for the common management of resources.

This could take the form of confederations or associations for bioregional cooperation, especially in those areas of the world, like the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, which face political instability complicated by a lack of water and food. In turn, this could lead to the creation of Regional Cooperation Councils and the authorization of Bioregional Conventions which sanction partnerships between nations and their transborder communities for the sharing of resources.

The sea (or river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland or ocean) is where a watercourse converges after supporting life in a watershed. Upon reaching the end of its natural run, this water is released into a new cycle of activity. By applying the patterns of a flowing watershed, society can also develop accountable systems for the peaceful rotation of governmental power.

The safekeeping of resource areas requires the support of democratic governments which ensure political diversity in lasting and effective ways. Protecting transborder commons is not possible without governments which are credible and durable. Only sustainable democracies can ensure the public security which bioregional communities need to provision resources for present and future generations and to stabilize their consumption within the natural flows of the biosphere." (

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