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Rethinking (bio)regionalism during Covid-19 times

At Sparknews, we believe that they can also be great opportunities to adapt and rethink our relations with the world. As a team who wants to ignite new narratives that can accelerate the ecological and social transition, we can’t avoid asking ourselves what will be the shape of the global collective story emerging from the current worldwide sanitary emergency. In this week #SparkMinute, let’s focus on bioregionalism with local examples of solidarity, of businesses rethinking their models, and of articles and opinions that can nourish our imagination.

The Art Of Inhabiting The Land

Will we still talk about regions in the future? These administrative divisions are sometimes used as political tools that hardly serve their purpose of focusing on local issues. Reshaping and rethinking the meaning and importance of what’s local — this is precisely what those who have discovered their vulnerabilities in the light of Covid-19 are asking for. Although people know that food stocks in Paris cannot last more than three days if supply flows fail, Parisians had to witness almost empty supermarket aisles in the midsts of the pandemic. Regional-related obstacles are becoming growingly obvious in big cities. For the more than half of the world’s population who now live in urban centers, is it possible to build a 15-minute city? Will cities be resilient enough in the next crisis? Can countries move their urban centers closer to food security?

A fairer territorial balance between urban centers and countryside could be a first step. Could it be time, like Thomas Sankara, former Burkina Faso president, said, to produce what we consume and consume what we produce? One concept could help us rethink this issue beyond self-sufficiency — the bioregion. In his book Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision, Kirkpatrick Sale suggests to reorganise ourselves into “natural” regions — the bioregion being a space defined by its life forms, topography and biotope. In short, a division according to geographical boundaries, not human diktats, accompanied by a small, culturally-homogeneous, self-sufficient and self-managed economy and politics. For the French philosopher and urbanism professor Thierry Paquot, speaking of bioregion makes it possible to reconcile cities and countryside in a collective approach, with a new decentralised and self-managed territoriality. The Momentum Institute applied this concept to Île-de-France, and claims that each site and its resources can then properly develop if they rely on the natural assets of the territory. Such a change of paradigm is anything but straightforward, namely because of the world’s standardisation. To that end, the architect Mathias Rollot suggests a quick test to evaluate the environmental capacities of the place where we live in.

  • 1) Trace the path of the water you drink from its source to your tap.
  • 2) How many days remain before the next full moon?
  • 3) When was the last fire in the area?
  • 4) Name five edible native plants in your area and their season(s) of availability.
  • 5) How long is the growing season for plants in your area?
Organising in a bioregion is an “ethic of scale,” as Agnès Sinaï puts it, but it could also lead to profound changes in the way we eat, consume, produce and organise ourselves. A utopia for some, a reality for others — ecovillages already exist in Tanoun-Ténéga in Togo, in Ham-Nord in Quebec, and in French cities such as Loos-en-Gohelle, Lagraulet-du-Gers or Langouët, which lean towards certain forms of self-management. Hubs of Cities in Transition can be found in Australia, Chile, Germany and Japan. While nearly 150,000 seasonal foreign workers have left Italy because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many now unemployed Italians are turning to agriculture. A northern North Dakota tribe is reviving its food system through traditional edibles aiming to restore food sovereignty in the Spirit Lake Reservation, in the US. There is a multitude of models for bioregions (or cities in transition), as each bioregion is unique in its geography, typology and population. Some issues are nevertheless cross-cutting, such as reducing reliance on energy sources that are virtually non-existent in the subsoil, like oil,developing mobility so that it is clean and sustainable, and ensuring food self-sufficiency. In this newsletter, you will find initiatives that are taking this approach and which outline the many avenues open to us for its implementation.

When organizations walk the extra mile

A suburb in Costa Rica’s capital has reorganized its urban planning around its nonhuman residents, granting citizenships to plants and bees. Known as Ciudad Dulce — the Sweet City — Curridabat sees its green spaces as infrastructure to produce ecosystem services, according to this Guardian piece. Using geo-mapping technologies, the municipality has planned the massive reforestation of its urban environment, and pollinators thrive in a network of parks and bio-corridors.

In rural Colorado, United States, the kids of coal miners learn to install solar panels. Where the mines once provided steady employment, solar energy now offers jobs for the next generation, according to High Country News. The local school curriculum has been adapted with classes like ‘Solar Energy Training’, a course that provides not only a science credit needed for graduation, but also trains students for careers in solar energy or electrical trades.

Local initiatives against global disorder

A bunch of remote villages in Mexico have gathered to create a union of cooperatives that is achieving food sovereignty through agroecology. Their efforts started in the 1990s, when corporations were looming to come in and stir up ecotourism. They’ve created The Tosepan Titataniske and zoned their own community. Now the area is completely food self-sufficient, growing its own produce and making money on local coffee. Read more on Yes Magazine.

Cars will be banned from the historical center of Athens, Greece, for three months starting mid-June in order to provide more space to pedestrians. The joint ministerial decision will serve as a pilot for a pedestrianized network, with additional measures to facilitate the movement of pedestrians and lighter forms of transport such as bicycles. You can learn more about car-free Athens on Kathimerini.

In Budapest, Hungary, Cargonomia is a centre that reunites various co-dependent activities. The organic farmin the village of Zsámbok produces fruits and vegetables that are sent to Budapest. The social cooperative Cyclonomia builds the cargo bikes that are later used by Kantaa, an association of couriers, to deliver those fruits and vegetables to those who ordered them through AMAP (the Association to Maintain Rural Agriculture). Read more on the blog Cafe Babel or Le Parisien (in French).

Let’s imagine further

In this article on the Resilience blog, Jay Tompt, co-founder of the Totnes REconomy Centre, offers a six-point action plan to lean towards bioregionalism in the wake of the social and economic crisis. He analyzes the difficult question of how to maintain incomes, access to essentials goods, labour exchange and goods distribution with local examples in the South West region of the United KingdomYou can read more here.

A carbon-neutral world goes hand-in-hand with the concept of bioregions. Following the pandemic is like watching the climate crisis accelerate,” the Economist told its five million readers last week. The editors of the British weekly newspaper are calling for the creation of a carbon tax, to let fossil fuel companies (gas, oil, steel, cars) die and massively invest in climate-friendly infrastructure to stimulate growth and create jobs. “This is a unique opportunity to hijack the carbon economy at a lower financial, social and political cost than ever before,” says editor Zanny Minton BeddoesYou can read it here.

You might be familiar with William Golding’s bestseller Lord of the flies, and its pessimistic ending (spoiler alert) — a British boy weeping for the end of innocence and for the darkness of men’s heart. A similar story actually happened in 1965, when a group of schoolboys were marooned for more than a year on the rocky islet ‘Ata south of Tonga, an island group in the Pacific Ocean. This article by Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian and author of Utopia for Realists, in The Guardian explains how they chose to cooperate, adapted to their natural environment and, in the end, organized a collective life and made an inhabitable island out of what was previously doomed. Find out more here.

At Sparknews, are convinced that the coronavirus global outbreak will lead us to draw valuable lessons about our globalized economic system. Whether on matters like education, solidarity, biodiversity or our way of work, it will be up to us to return to the status quo once the health crisis is over, or to reshape everything. Discover our #SparkMinute on educationenergyworkour dietbiodiversity, and democracy.

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