-by Peter Berg (Aug 10, 2012)
The most obvious conclusions sometimes disguise the most mysterious situations. Ask city dwellers where their water comes from, for instance. Most will answer with something like “The faucet, of course. Want water? Turn the tap handle. Got another timeless puzzler you need help with?” So it seems, especially if your life has been spent mastering survival in apartment buildings. But the faucet is only the last place water was, not where it came from. Before that it was in the plumbing, and before that in the mains. It got there from a reservoir, and from an aqueduct connected to a storage lake. “So tell me the name of the lake and I’ll know where the water really comes from.” Finding out the name and, even better, walking on the shore of that lake is definitely a start toward acquiring a sense of care and gratitude. But even that lake is just another place where water was. It got there as runoff from rain or snow that fell from clouds. Where do clouds come from? Evaporated ocean water? Two weather systems meeting? Whatever forces are involved in making any particular cloud, the source of every particle of water in it remains a deep mystery. If anything can be said about the ultimate state of water, it is probably that it doesn’t begin or end anywhere but is constantly cycled through one form and location to another.
Here’s another easy observation: We all live in some geographic place. And here’s the accompanying mysterious and very critical situation: the places where we live are alive. They are bioregions, unique life-places with their own soils and land forms, watersheds and climates, native plants and animals, and many other distinct natural characteristics. Each characteristic affects the others and is affected by them as in any other living system or body. [...]
There were no unsolvable physical mysteries during the industrial era, and Nature was thought to be merely physical. Physics, chemistry and engineering could unravel any puzzle for what was thought to be the inevitable betterment of humankind: produce anything imaginable, restructure any environment, remove any amount of a wanted resource, and exterminate or discard anything unwanted. If it came to the point that doing these things created new problems (considered a doubtful outcome for the greatest part of the period), there were still ways that were believed capable of restoring a human upper hand: (a) just be thankful for what progress has been made and accept living with whatever negative consequences come with it; (b) stop doing something that is known to be disastrous and start doing some new thing whose effects are completely unknown; and (c) apply more industrial techniques to solve problems brought through industrialism in the first place. The result of all this self-deception? We live with poisons up to the waist in a junkyard of breaking machines.
Most environmental agencies won’t ultimately relieve our situation. They would only be further appendages of a political core that is welded to industrialism itself. We need a core based on the design of Nature instead, from watershed to bioregion and continent to planetary biosphere. Is it self- defeating to avoid established governments other than immediately local ones? Not if we want to anticipate a society whose direction already lies outside those institutions. We need to uncover and follow a natural design that lies beneath industrial asphalt.
What about world spheres of influence, global economics and other international considerations? The whole Planet is undergoing the severe strains of the Late Industrial period now: chemical plagues, wholesale mechanical removal of landscapes, disruption of the most major river courses, accelerated destruction of ecosystems, and overnight disappearance of habitats. Humanity is suffering the consequences of these suicidal devouring attacks on the biosphere as Late Industrial society begins to eat itself. Couldn’t we tame that suicidal appetite by adopting sustainability as a goal? If we become bioregionally self-reliant that would be a large step toward taking the strain off the rest of the Planet’s life-places.
On a farm in the country or in a city apartment, we’re all completely enmeshed in the web of life. We can’t know all of the details of all the connections. Bioregional politics doesn’t try to overcome the mystery, it is aimed toward making a social transition so that we can live with that mystery. Can we stop tearing the web apart, and consciously build a role as partners in all life? We’d better, and we can by beginning where we live.