Gaia Nation

If you allow that environmentalism may be the new nationalism then bioregions are the new nations.

Nationalism - the invented histories and myths that go to support the notion of a particular chosen people - is the essential precurser to the making of nations. We tend to forget how recent was the invention of these 'old' nations: the United States was an early adopter of the concept in the late 1700's but most countries embraced the idea of nationhood in the nineteenth century. Germany, a late adopter, delayed until the waning years of the 1800's before embracing this new organizing principle and used the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 to solidify its newfound sense of national unity much as the United States had done with the War of 1812 (1812-1815).

As soon as one is freed from the idea that nations are somehow a natural god-given way of classifying societies their fragility becomes apparent. Towards the end of the last century we saw how easy it is for erstwhile nations to fracture and re-assemble along revised ethnic, language, religious or geographic fault lines and this process continues today.

I identify as a Californian and a chaparralian. As a Californian I live, according to the California Biodiversity Council, in the far south of the Central Coast bioregion that stretches north to Santa Cruz and which sits atop the South Coast bioregion that extends to the Mexican Border. As a chapparalian, I have a wider ambit. Chaparral exists in every county in California (Sacramento has the least, San Diego the most) and snakes beyond the borders into Baja and north into Oregon.

Regional identity (arguably bioregional identity) handily pre-dates national allegiance. Throughout the world, historic regions tended to generate unique traditions, crafts and farming practices that were relevant to the bioregion in which they were situated and today we celebrate their drinks, cooking and produce as expressions of the essence of localism; in this country, this is the ethos that has driven Edible Ojai  to become a country-wide collection of magazines celebrating the local - but these are limited, solipsistic views of the power of region focused on human appetites and consumption.

In the past, in England, allegiance was owed to the dales, the downs, the fens or the moors - as much as to County or Country: a sense of belonging to the environmental and physiographic characteristics of place was twinned with a connection to it as a source of food and shelter. The unique spirit of place (or genius loci) can transcend its prosaic function of nurture.

The ancient mosaic of Native American bands, languages and customs reflects the broader pattern of ecosystems and terrain as they type-shift over the landscape. The accepted anthropological regions of California echo those of the State Biodiversity Council: Ojai exists at the southern edge of Central California which is the largest cultural zone running from the north of the Central Valley south to the northern fringes of Los Angeles and east to the crest of the Sierra Nevada. The Chumash represented the apogee of California culture, for this was the resource-richest area of the state, generated largely by the teeming fisheries of the Santa Barbara Channel. The center of their cosmos, however, was located not along the coast or islands of their world but in the looming land form of Mount Pinos.

The Great Basin region is dominated by the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, some of the harshest environments on the planet and their Numic speaking inhabitants roamed more widely than the relatively sedentary bands to the north and west. But as is indicated in the rock art of the Painted Rock (a metaphoric land form) on the Carrizo Plain, there was social and trade interaction between the Chumash and Yokuts of the Central California region and the Shoshone of the Great Basin area (Cave and Rock). Northwestern California, however,  the coastal strip, valleys and mountains from Petrolia northward and east to Mount Shasta, stands apart from the rest of the state. Here, the intense rainfall and dense coniferous forests generated cultural patterns more in common with the Native traditions of the Pacific Northwest.

As a chaparralian then, my roots are in the Central and South Coast bioregions promulgated by the State and which coincide, broadly, with the westerly portions of the Great Basin and Central California Native American cultural areas - a land of valleys, basins and coastal ranges where chaparral predominates.

The environmental concerns that I have are typical of the times and several have been expressed in this deeply local and bioregional blog; they include preservation of the existing wildlands, enhancing the connectivity between wildland islands to extend wild animal rangelands, preserving the ocean shore line,  dunes and wetlands and reducing the levels of pollution in our air and water while using solar energy (wind and sun) to substantially power the region.

At a more broadly conceptual level I favor urban 'intensification' and wildland 'sanctification' - the anthem, if you like, of a brand of environmentalism that seeks greater urban density, dramatic reduction in commuter traffic, the establishment of city wide car-free zones and the gradual reduction of the suburban and exurban footprint along side of a greater protection for expanding swathes of wildland preserved for their own sake rather than for our recreational pursuits.

These are the themes of an interest in the environment that does not necessarily rise to the level of my being an 'environmentalist' but have guided me to an emphatic post-nationalist position: to identify with a particular bioregion and the planet rather than the nation.

I share in a growing holistic awareness of the universe that incorporates the local and the global and attempts to reach beyond the narrow interests of humankind. The first institutional evidence of the existence of such a global, or gaia consciousness can be observed in the attempts to forge international environmental agreements including, most conspicuously, those on climate change.

The timidity of these agreements and their sometimes outright failure, along with this country's unconscionable foot-dragging should not conceal the significance of the effort. They are the pale reflection beamed back at the world by the 'old' nations of a vibrant, bright and shining environmentalism that seems, increasingly to be a core value of young and old.

We are hearing the strains of a new hymn to the glory of the universe: it will, I believe, eventually result in a radical rethinking of the way we organize societies and my guess is that this will have a lot more to do with bioregions than with the false agglomerations of coerced affiliation that we currently call nations.

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