SEEING THE LIGHT IN DARK TIMES

8 01 2011

Sometimes, when you have an inspiration or a vision or a premonition, there are parts of it that don’t quite make sense at first.  It’s only later, as you start to realize (as in, bring into reality) your vision, or as your premonition takes shape in your daily life, that you understand its full import.

That’s what happened with “bioregionalism,”  which  emerged as a vision and a movement in the late sixties and early seventies, when many of us abandoned mainstream culture to go “back to the land” and found ourselves in intimate relationship with trees and forests, hills and mountain ranges, waterways and watersheds, and all the animal life (including the humans) who co-existed in our local ecosystem.  Some of us began to relate with our environment in much the same way as the native people our predecessors had displaced, and to sense the logic of a political organization that recognized communities based on organic boundaries, rather than lines drawn on a map.

This emerging vision was nourished by the first shocks of the possibility of resource depletion in the late 70’s, when OPEC first exhibited its control over the world’s oil supply.  But then, but then….North Sea oil and North Slope oil, among other factors, fed a borrowing and spending binge that all but erased the idea that there might be “limits to growth,” as the Club of Rome famously warned.  The idea that one’s watershed might be the de facto limits of one’s world seemed like a quaint hippie anachronism.

Now, nearly forty years after “Limits to Growth” and the first stirrings of bioregionalism, the full import of that early vision is starting to come into focus.  New oil discoveries are not keeping pace with increasing demand for petroleum products.  An increasing number of the commodities our culture depends on, from coal to uranium to rare earths, are  showing signs of depletion.

–C’mon, you say, there’s new oil discoveries being made all the time–they just found twenty freakin’ billion barrels under the Caspian Sea!  Peak oil, shmeak oil!

–Twenty billion sounds impressive, but current world consumption is thirty-one billion barrels a year, and demand is increasing–so that’s an eight-month supply.  Whoop-de-do.  New oil finds are increasingly small, difficult to access, as in a mile under the Gulf of Mexico, or difficult to process, like Canada’s tar sands.  What new oil we are finding is expensive to pump and/or expensive to process, and the environmental risks involved are costly, as well.  The price of oil is going nowhere but up, even as our ability to pay for it (at least in this country) is going down.

And I haven’t even mentioned the CO2/global warming factor…

Moreover,the “global marketplace” is coming unglued.  In order to lower labor costs, the US government and big business colluded to demolish our country’s industrial infrastructure, promising the average American that this would mean lower prices.  Most people didn’t buy this, but the government (can you say “Bill Clinton,” boys and girls?) went ahead and did it anyway, and sure enough those lower prices didn’t matter much because most people’s’ wages were lowered, too, if they were even lucky enough to keep their jobs…I’m getting ahead of myself.  More on that in the next segment!

Back to the topic–bioregionalism.  So, after the idea of bioregionalism was first floated in the late seventies and early eighties, and then buried under a heap of transnational trading trinkets, it’s coming back up out of the ground like grass in the cracks of the sidewalk, like the return of deer and woodland in Detroit, which I predict will soon be occurring in many more formerly urban locations around the country.

I think “bioregionalism 2.0” is a change for the better. While earlier bioregionalists tended to wrestle with big philosophical issues, the reborn bioregional movement has a more practical, from-the-ground-up focus–quite literally.  It tends to crop up most often in the form of local food activism, as people comprehend the insecurity of eating a diet that depends on “the kindness of strangers” in far-away places, and decide that they would rather grow their own, or at least know the person who grows for them.   This familiarity allows feedback, and thus control.  From this “seedling” of concern, as it were, it’s easy to see how other sprouts could soon begin to arise:  can we relocalize, and thus reclaim control over,  the production of our clothing and other household goods? What about the energy that heats and lights those households?

It is increasingly the case in this country that, despite the rhetoric, national and even most state politicians don’t serve the people, but the highest bidder, and it’s truly a shame that the corporate-funded Tea Party has, at least for the time being, stampeded many into supporting a movement that will only make that situation worse.  With the government increasingly divorced from and unresponsive to the needs of real people, the local food movement is, I believe, the kernel of a from-the-bottom-up regrowth of genuine democracy in this country.

Speaking of genuine democracy, it’s hard to talk about the history of bioregionalism without a shoutout to the Green Party of the United States, which was born out of a desire by some in the North American Bioregional Congress to bring the bioregional agenda into the political arena.  While perhaps most famous for nominating Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney as Presidential candidates, the  party has met with the most success at the local level, electing Mayors, City Council members, and other local officials whose ability to translate the party’s ideals of sustainability and participatory democracy into practical solutions to everyday problems has won them the hearts of the citizens they serve.

OK, enough self-congratulation for now.

The national situation, in which the North American Bioregional Council begat the Green Party, replicated itself here in Tennessee, where we have a small but active Green Party that is, to a certain extent, a subset of a larger Bioregional Council, and this is where I get down to, as they say, “brass tacks.”

“The Cumberland-Green (River) Bioregional Council” has been convening regularly here in middle Tennessee for nearly thirty years, and our winter gathering is coming up at the end of this month, from the 28th through the 30th of January.  And yeah, I know what happened last month with the local food potluck (which, alas, still hasn’t been rescheduled)–the Bioregional Council’s “snow date” is the following weekend.

Reflecting the continuing economic downturn and the wave of reactionary (not “conservative” at all!) politics that is sweeping the country, the gathering is entitled “Seeing the Light in Dark Times.”  Crisis and opportunity…you know.

Friday night, there will be a party, and all day Saturday, at Brookmeade Congregational Church on Davidson Road on the West side of Nashville, there will be events, starting with an introductory circle that’s a kind of open mike for attendees to introduce themselves or catch their old friends up on their year’s activities–summing up the highlights of your year in 2-3 minutes is a very interesting exercise!

In the afternoon, there will be workshops on a variety of subjects, from solar hot water to conflict resolution.  I’d tell you more, but the details are still being figured out.

Saturday night, another party–the Green Party ain’t the only party that came out of the bioregional council!  The whole thing is very informal–it’s at least as much about personal connections as it is about any kind of formal subject matter or agenda.

Sunday starts with a morning meditation, followed by a business meeting.  Does that sound like an odd combination?  I think most business meetings should be preceded by a meditation session.  I believe it would change the tone of this country.  The business meeting is followed by a potluck brunch and….another party–kind of a wrap-up.

There is no charge for this event–expenses are covered by a fund-raising auction that takes place around the Saturday potluck lunch.  Some people attend all of it, some only come for whatever part of it fits their schedule or their fancy.  You’re invited–go to the Cumberland-Green Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site for details, and get involved.

music:  The Indigo Girls, “The Wood Song”

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