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Bioregional democracy

Bioregional democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of Electoral Reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent body and environment concerns, e.g. water quality. 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.

The best known examples are the Great Lakes Commission of ten American states and the Canadian province of Ontario, which governs the largest fresh watershed in the world, and the cooperation by nations with Arctic Ocean boundaries. These are democratic entities cooperating in a transnational body, giving up some sovereignty by definition. This is the simplest form of bioregional democracy—cooperation to defend a single watershed.

Ecoregions and indigenous peoples

Ecoregions, as defined by the science of ecology, are the borders of ecologically-sensitive districts. Indigenous languages tend to include terms or distinctions applicable to one ecoregion, where that language has originated.

Supporters claim that Ecoregional Democracy can better preserve what remains of indigenous culture and indigenous language and lifeways, and permit new tribalists to live in better harmony with the land. Some even claim that this would in effect create new indigenous peoples.

Ecoregional consensus

Scientists claim that ecoregions are observed in nature rather than imposed by man. A natural border or keystone species or soil type or watershed or micro-climate reflects local natural capital constraints in that region leading to a homeorhic statis.

When a region is inhabited by man, indigenous or otherwise, this stasis can be extended by consensus, argue supporters of the Four Pillars, two of which are Ecological Wisdom and Grassroots Democracy.

The term "grassroots" itself invokes the metaphor of terrestrial ecoregions and implies that beings belong in a certain place in nature.

Ecoregions as habitats

The theory of Natural Capitalism, which developed in the mid to late 1990s, holds that the functioning natural ecology of a region is a form of living capital. Natural habitat performs services for all species including recirculation of air, water, replenishment of soil, prevention of erosion, and absorption of chemical, genetic, viral and bacterial threats.

In effect, any living being in an ecoregion has access to a commons from which it breathes, drinks, eats, and to which its wastes are disposed. Harms are reduced by the functioning ecology - as long as it is politically protected and is not required to provide more than its sustainable yield of resources. Ecoregional Democracy proposes to protect that habitat by giving more political power to those living within it, less to outsiders.

Ecoregions as trade barriers

While tax, tariff and trade barriers have generally been reduced worldwide, advocates of ecoregional democracy seek trading bloc biosafety rules regarding ecologically-alien imports (such as genetically modified seeds or entirely new proteins or molecules) with ecoregions. This reduces the probability of spreading a major virus, prion, bacteria, genetically defective seed, or dangerous chemical agent across a bioregional border, if political borders (where imports are inspected and tariffs are applied) are perfectly aligned with them. Critics argue that this is an excuse for yet more regulations, and panic-mongering.

For example, the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) area roughly corresponds to the Nearctic ecological zone. A proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would add the Neotropic ecological zone. Many groups in the anti-globalization movement demand more direct democratic control over the ecological, social, and trade rules in effect in such large trading blocs, fearing that ecology or society will be compromised. Critics argue that this is protectionism in disguise, and intended to protect an inefficient local agriculture from producers who grow the same foods abroad.

Language and biodiversity

A compelling but controversial argument for more bioregional democracy is the alignment of natural language and ecological stewardship illustrated by anthropological linguistics.

David Nettle, in "Linguistic Diversity", 1998, notes "the amazing fact that the map of language density in the world is the same as the map of species diversity: i.e. where there are more species per unit of area, there will be more languages too." According to the proponents of this theory, Grassroots Democracy organized by ecoregions seems to be one way to preserve biodiversity.

This prompts support from indigenous peoples, ecologists, new tribalists and Green Parties and Gaians, who tend to believe that indigenous customs, constraints, language or even local jargon reflects the natural ecology, and so local cultural sovereignty is critical to maintaining biodiversity. This is a common topic of study amongst academic linguists, e.g. Mark Fettes, who in "Steps Towards an Ecology of Language", 1996, seeks "a theory of language ecology which can integrate naturalist and critical traditions" and "An Ecological Approach to Language Renewal", 1997. Critics argue that languages tied to ecology or specific lifeways are irrelevant in an age of global communications - some claim that everyone should learn English to avoid disadvantage in the global economy.

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