Bioregional Council Meets Jan 28-30

You are cordially invited to the winter gathering of the Cumberland-Green (River) Bioregional Council, which will take place in Nashville from the 28th through the 30th of January. The Council has been convening regularly here in middle Tennessee for nearly thirty years, and the winter gathering is generally the most organized and best-attended of the Council's more-or-less quarterly meetings.

The theme of this year's gathering is “Seeing the Light In Dark Times,” reflecting our commitment to, as Gandhi put it, “being the change we want to see,” in spite of economic downturns and political right turns.

Friday night, there will be a party, and all day Saturday, at Brookmeade Congregational Church on Davidson Road, 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.

The afternoon will start with a potluck lunch and a fund-raising auction, which is how the Council funds itself. There are no annual dues, nor an admission charge for the gathering. The auction is a great opportunity to share and acquire all kinds of cool stuff, from home-made clothing to live plants to things you never knew you needed until you saw them. If you'd like to donate an auction item, bring something you love and want to pass on.

The afternoon is a time for workshops. This year's lineup includes:

Again, there is no charge for this event. Expenses are covered by the fund-raising auction. You are welcome to attend all of it, or any part of it. Go to the Cumberland-Green Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site for details, (or call 615-646-6266) and get involved.

WHAT IS BIOREGIONALISM?

Bioregionalism emerged as a vision 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) that 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 demonstrated its control over the world’s oil supply. By the early eighties, bioregionalism grew from a vision into a movement, and the first “North American Bioregional Congress” was convened, its rhetoric evoking the Continental Congress of revolutionary times two hundred years before.  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.

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 then there's 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 ship our industrial jobs overseas, promising the average American that this would mean lower prices. Most people didn’t buy this, but the government 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. Now we find that the American middle class, whose buying power has fueled the growth of the world's economy since the end of World War II, is an endangered species, and the world's “growth economy” is likewise endangered—which, in the long run, is probably a good thing...but... mobility, both geographic and upward, is much less of a possibility for Americans than it used to be. Suddenly, “thinking locally” isn't just some superstitious hippie aphorism—it's a reasonable coping strategy. Bioregionalism is back on the table.

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 manifest most often in the form of local food activism, as people comprehend the insecurity of eating a diet that depends on the long and increasingly shaky arm of petroleum-driven agriculture and transportation, 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?

This rebirth of local control has the potential to revitalize democracy in America. Democracy isn't just about who we vote for once every year or two. It's about having a say in all the decisions that affect our lives, whether they are made by governments, corporations, or our neighbors. This is the great promise of the bioregional movement, and it's why we have been gathering in Tennessee for nearly thirty years. We hope you'll join us!