A Bioregional Reader
Van Andruss, Chritopher Plant, Judith Plant
and Eleanor Wright (eds.)
New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), 1990 (1990).
181 pages.

This book is actually a reader on the concept of bioregionalism. In other words, it collects a series of articles, many of them published in small print magazines, that discuss the topic at hand. As such, there is a lot of repetition in the articles included here, as well as many ideas that are barely developed. Also, since it was published in 1990, the book does show its age in certain respects although, perhaps not so surprisingly, much of the content is still relevant these days.

Judith Plant in the introduction, titled Growing Home, gives us an idea about why a book on bioregionalism was titled Home!:

Home! Remembering and reclaiming the ways of our species where people and place are delicately interwoven in a web of life —human community finding its particular place within the living and dying that marks the interdependence of life in an integrated ecosystem. This is the pattern of existence that bioregionalism explores. For this term is about being and acting and is more than just a set of ideas. It is the practice of coming to terms wit our ecological home. Each of us yearns for this experience, indeed our weakened species is crying out for this wholeness. There is no blueprint, no map of how to get there. How will we ever find our way home?

Judith Plant: Growing Home. An Introduction, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. IX)

It is a topic that has been gaining more and more relevance since the 1970s, approximately, although it was not perhaps until the 1990s that the politics of identity amd communitarianism became a central part of the mainstream. Notice that bioregionalism has little to do with communitarianism or identity politics, although there are plenty of people out there (yes, on both sides of the fence) who mistake one for the other. In any case, it was in that decade that we witnessed a clear return to the idea of community, a term that was bandied about all over the place.

Part one of the books bundles together articles that discuss the concept of bioregion and bioregionalism.

The first piece of this collection, titled Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice, Jim Dodge attempts to define what a bioregion actually is, not without warning us first about the difficulties of the task:

While I find an amazing depth of agreement among bioregionalists on what constitutes bios, and on what general responsibilities attend our place in the skein of things, there is some disagreement —friendly but passionate— on what actually constitutes a distinct biological region (as opposed to arbitrary entities, like states and countries, where boundaries are established without the dimmest ecological perception, and therefore make for cultural incoherence and piecemeal environmental management). Since the very gut of bioregional thought is the integrity of natural systems and culture, with the function of culture being the mediation of the self and the ecosystem, one might think "bioregion" would be fairly tightly defined. But I think it must be kept in mind that, to paraphrase Poe and Jack Spicer, we're dealing with the grand concord of what does not stoop to definition. There are, however, a number of ideas floating around regarding the biological criteria for a region. I'll mention some of them below, limiting the examples to Northern California.

One criterion for determining a biological region is biotic shift, a percentage change in plant/animal species composition from one place to another —that is, if 15 to 25 percent of the species where I live are different from those where you live, we occupy different biological regions. We probably also experience different climates and walk on different soils, since those differences are reflected in species composition. Nearly everyone I've talked with agrees that biotic shift is a fairly slick and accurate way to make bioregional distinctions; the argument is over the percentage, which invariably seems arbitrary. Since the change in biotic composition is usually gradual, the biotic shift criterion permits vague and permeable boundaries between regions, which I personally favor. The idea, after all, is not to replace one set of lines with another, but simply to recognize inherent biological integrities for the purpose of sensible planning and management.

Another way to biologically consider regions is by watershed. This method is generally straightforward, since drainages are clearly apparent on topographical maps. Watershed is usually taken to mean river drainage, so if you live on Cottonwood Creek you are part of the Sacramento River drainage. The problem with watersheds as bioregional criteria is that if you live in San Francisco you are also part of the Sacramento (and San Joaquin) River drainage, and that's a long way from Cottonwood Creek. Since any long drainage presents similar problems, most people who advance the watershed criterion make intradrainage distinctions (in the case of the Sacramento: headwaters, Central Valley, west slope Sierra, east slope Coast Range, and delta/bay). The west slope of the Coast Range, with its short-running rivers and strong Pacific influence, is often considered as a whole biological area, at least from the Gualala River to the Mattole River or, depending on who you're talking to, from the Russian River to the Eel River, though they aren't strictly west slope Coast Range rivers. The Klamath, Smith and Trinity drainages are often considered a single drainage system with the arguable inclusion of the Chetco and the Rogue.

A similar method of bioregional distinction is based upon land form. Roughly, Northern California breaks down into the Sierra, the Coast Range, the Central Valley, the Klamath Range, the southern part of the Cascade Range, and the Modoc Plateau. Considering the relationship between topography and water, it is not surprising that land form distinctions closely follow watersheds.

A different criterion for making bioregional distinctions is, awkwardly put, cultural/phenomenological: you are where you perceive you are; your turf is what you think it is, individually and collectively. Although the human sense of territory is deeply evolved and cultural/perceptual behavior certainly influences the sense of place, this view seems to me a bit anthropocentric. And though it is difficult not to view things in terms of human experience and values, it does seem wise to remember that human perception is notoriously prety to distortion and the strange delights of perversity. Our species hasn't done too well lately working essentially from this view; because we're ecological dominants doesn't necessarily mean we're ecological determinants. (In fairness, I should note that many friends think I'm unduly cranky on this subject.)

One of the most provocative ideas to delineate bioregions is in terms of "spirit places" or psyche-tuning power-presences, such as Mount Shasta and the Pacific Ocean. By this criterion, a bioregion is defined by the predomnate psychophysical influence where you live. You have to live in its presence long enough to truly feel its force within you and that it's not mere descriptive geography.

Also provocative is the notion that bioregion is a vertical phenomenon having more to do with elevation than horizontal deployment —thus a distinction between hill people and flatlanders, which in Northern California also tends to mean country and city. A person living at 2000 feet in the Coast Range would have more in cultural common with a Sierra dweller at a similar altitude than with someone at sea level 20 miles away.

Jim Dodge: Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, pp. 6-8)

But, together with the more or less objective way to define a bioregion in geographical terms, there is also a political side to the concept:

A second element of bioregionalism is anarchy. I hesitate using that fine word because it's been so distorted by reactionary shitheads to scare people that its connotative associations have become bloody chaos and fiends amok, rather than political decentralization, self-determination, and a commitment to social equity. Anarchy doesn't mean out of control; it means out of their control. Anarchy is based upon a sense of interdependent self-reliance, the conviction that we as a community, or a tight, small-scale federation of communities, can mind your own business, and can make decisions regarding our own individual and communcal lives and gladly accept the responsibilities and consequences of those decisions. Further, by consolidating decision making at a local, face-to-face level without having to constantly push information through insane bureaucratic hierarchies, we can act more quickly in relation to natural systems and, since we live there, hopefully with more knowledge and care.

Jim Dodge: Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, pp. 8-9)

This connection with anarchism directly links the concept of bioregionalism not only with the environmentalist movement, but also with the New Left of the 1960s, which could make it immediately suspect of political bias to quite a few people:

I don't want to imply that bioregionalism is the latest sectarian addition to the American Left, which historically has been more concerned with doctrinal purity and shafting each other than with effective practice. It's not a question of working within the system or outside the system, but simply of working, somewhere, to pull it off. And as I mentioned at the beginning, I'm not so sure bioregionalism even has a doctrine to be pure about —it's more a sense of direction (uphill, it seems) than the usual leftist highway to Utopia... or Ecotopia, for that matter.

Jim Dodge: Living by Life: Some Bioregional Theory and Practice, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 9)

In More than Just Saving What's Left, Peter Berg speaks of bioregionalism as a step beyond the traditional politics of protest that characterizes the environmentalist movement:

Classic environmentalism has bred a peculiar negative political malaise among its adherents. Alerted to fresh horrors almost daily, they research the extent of each new life-threatening situation, rush to protest it, and campaign exhaustively to prevent a future occurrence. It's a valuable service, of course, but imagine a hospital that consists only of an emergency room. No maternity care, no pediatric clinic, no promising therapy: just mangled trauma cases. Many of them are lost or drag on in willing protraction, and if a few are saved there are always more than can be handled jamming through the door. Rescuing the environment has become like running a battlefield aid station in a war against a killing machine that operates just beyond reach, and that shifts its ground after each seeming defeat. No one can doubt the moral basis of environmentalism, but the essentially defensive terms of its endless struggle mitigate against ever stopping the slaughter. Environmentalists have found themselves in the position of knowing how bad things are but are only capable of making a deal.

Peter Berg, More than Just Saving What's Left, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 13)

In this context, Peter Berg thinks that bioregionalism has something that could help: an alternative approach to the problem at hand. He is convinced that, at least in part, our current political structures are firmly tied to the fate of industrial society at large. Thus, the only way to start changing things is by inventing a different practice. A practice, he thinks, that passes for reinhabiting our bioregions and moving the center of our existence from the large national and international structures, to the local.

Gary Snyder, in his article Bioregional Perspectives, discusses the importance of the local, paying special attention to where he lives in Northern California:

In the times when people did not have much accumulate surplus, there was no big temptation to move in on other regions. I'll give an example from my own part of the world (I describe my location as: on the western slope of the northern Sierra Nevada, in the Yuba River watershed, north of the south Fork at the 3,000 foot elevation, in a comminity of Black oak, Incense cedar, Madrone, Douglas fir, and Ponderosa pine). The west slope of the Sierra Nevada has winter rain and snowfall, with a different set of plants from the dry east slope. In pre-white times, the Native people living across the range had little temptation to venture over, because their skills were specific to their own area, and they could go hungry in an unfamiliar biome. It takes a long education to know the edible plants, where to find them, and how to prepare them. So the Washo of the Sierra east side traded their pine nuts and obsidian for the acorns, yew bows, and abalone shells of the Miyuk and Maidu to the west. The two sides met and camped together for weeks in the summer Sierra meadows, their joint commons. (Dedicated raiding cultures, "barbarians," evolve as a response to nearby civilizations and their riches. Genghis Khan, at an audience in his yurt near lake Baikal, was reported to have said, "Heaven is exasperated with the decadence and luxury of China.")

Gary Snyder, Bioregional Perspectives, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 19)

Page 25 shows a useful table, taken directly from Dwellers in the Land, by Kirkpatrick Sale, that clearly shows a comparison of the old industrial paradigm and the new bioregional paradigm:

Bioregional Paradigm Industrio-Scientific Paradigm
Scale Region
Economy Conservation
World Economy
Polity Decentralization
Society Symbiosis

As it tends to happen with this type of tables, it certainly simplifies things quite a bit (especially on the side of the paradigm that it opposes), but it does give us an overall idea of what bioregionalism stands for and how we could benefit from it.

Part two of the compilation is about living in place, which is quickly defined in the article Reinhabiting California, written by Peter Berg and Raymond F. Dasmann:

Living-in-place means following the necessities and pleasures of life as they are uniquely presented by a particular site, and evolving ways to ensure long-term occupancy of that site. A society which practices living-in-place keeps a balance with its region of support through links between humans lives, other living things, and the processes of the planet —seasons, weather, water cycles— as revealed by the place itself. It is the opposite of a society which makes a living through short-term destructive exploitation of land and life. Living-in-place is an age-old way of existence, disrupted in some parts of the world a few millenia ago by the rise of exploitative civilization and more generally during the past two centuries by the spread of industrial civilization. It is not, however, to be thought of as antagonistic to civilization, in the more humane sense of that word, but may be the only way in which a truly civilized existence can be maintained.

Peter Berg and Raymond F. Dasmann: Reinhabiting California, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 35)

In other words, bioregionalism and living-in-place have little to do (they are, actually, the antithesis) with the process of globalization that started centuries ago, but has been sped up in the past few decades. Also, that last sentence from the quote above, raises the issue of civilization itself, which has been debated by the anarcho-primitivists. The ultimate question is: should our current destructive and exploitative lifestyle and mentality be blamed on capitalism or civilization itself? The anarcho-primitivists argue that the root of the problem does not lie in capitalism itself, but rather on a civilization that was born together with agriculture about 10,000 years ago. If they are correct, solving our current environmental and social problems may be far more difficult than we think. Jeremiah Gorsline and L. Freeman House argue something similar in their piece:

Humanity is an implicit and benefitial element of nature. Cultural history of the genus reveals a two million year span of successful adaptation during which people collected their food and materials from naturally productive geo-biotic regions and locales. A cultivation of the wild. The term primitive refers to this long and stable phase of human culture —so persistent it survives today on the most marginal lands. The replacement of this very successful adaptive culture with an exploitative/industrial culture occurred only very recently in the North Pacific Range. Human presence in the New World dates back at least twenty thousand years. From Mid- to Late-Wisconsin glaciation, populations began to grow and spread until encountering the continental margins. Through a process of bio-cultural evolution the journey over earth became a union with her body.

Jeremiah Gorsline and L. Freeman House: Future Primitive, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 39)

In other words, as the anarcho-primitivists point out, the key tends to be the transition from a hunting and gathering culture to one based on agriculture. While the former is more or less respectful of the environment and involves a mere adaptation to it, the latter changes things completely, for human beings now become masters of their environment. One could argue that this particular change brought about a significant increase in material possessions, as well as longer lifes (what we normally call progress). However, it is also clear that it brought about an estrangement from our surroundings, as well as a whole slew of new problems (social anomie, health issues, psychological problems...). We may be completely unable to turn our backs to civilization (that may be the major weakness of the anarcho-primitivists, although they do not defend a return to a primitive lifestyle tout court, as their critics like to point out), but that still does not change the fact that many of our current problems can perhaps be traced precisely to that moment when we abandoned hunting and gathering, and chose to place all our bets on agriculture. As a matter of fact, there is a good reason that this is precisely why we often tend to assign the blame for many of our problems to human nature. We may be right, so long as we limit human nature to what happened after the Neolithic, which is not very accurate. In reality, human nature precedes the Neolithic. We just choose to ignore anything that happened before the birth of agriculture and civilization and, as it tends to be the case, our silence (i.e., our ignoring anything that happened before that fatal moment) points anyone interested in finding out the roots of our current problems in the right direction. It just happens to be a direction that is very difficult to accept.

Part three is titled Nature, Culture and Community. In How Humans Adapt, Kelly Booth refers to what distinguishes us from other animals:

Unkike other organisms, humans do not have adaptive behavior fixed in their genes. They must learn it. But there is more to human adaptation than can be learned in the lifetime of one individual. Our hominid ancestors overcame this problem by having learned patterns registered in the customs of the group. There came to be stable groups with stable customs passed on from one generation to another.

The group became the unit of adaptation. The individual can only adapt by being a member of an adaptive community. If the individual is to act adaptively, the group as a whole would have to be like an adaptive "social organism."

What would this "social organism" look like? What kinds of society would it be that could act in an organized and adaptive way?

It is difficult to see how we can approach such large questions, but there are two sources that may provide us with some clues. One source is biology and our observations of the natural world. What are the features of organisms that enable them to adapt to their environments? The second source is anthropology. Some forms of tribal organizations have lasted for at least 40,000 years, and a few features may be as old as one, two, even three million years. Clearly, these forms were sustainable.

Kelly Booth: How Humans Adapt, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 73)

We find, once again, a prelude to what would later become the primitivist approach. From these musings to the writings of people like John Zerzan or Daniel Quinn there is only a little step. We get a similar impression from parts of the essay Home is Here, by Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole. For example, the section where they describe a regular human habitat in modern civilization:

Then I took a look around. I saw city halls, courthouses, houses of parliament, churches, schools, and universities by the hundreds and thousands. I saw systems —systems for managing the land, the air, and the water; systems for managing human behavior; systems for managing religion; systems for managing learning; systems for managing food, shelter, clothing; systems for managing love and procreation: a vast complex of carefully engineered systems. I saw millions of people working, not for themselves, but for someone else. I saw millions of people doing, not what they themselves want to do, but what someone else wants them to do. I saw the depressing evidence of a people who have externalized and institutionalized —in fact, have tried to standardize— the very nature of humanity. I saw a whole people who've lost their way of life and in its place have built a mechanical monster which does most of their hard work, carries their water, delivers their food, raises their kids, makes their decisions, says their prayers, transports them, "informs" them, entertains them, and controls the people it serves, absolutely. I also saw that the monster, unable to manage itself, was running wild, totally out of control, ripping the land to pieces, spreading poisons, filling the air with filth, dumping garbage and shit in the rivers and lakes and oceans. I saw all that, and I saw the people, millions of them, crowded together in cities, living side by side in towns, villages, rural areas. But I didn't see a single community.

Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole: Home is Here, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 76)

We all have seen that, right? As a matter of fact, we are still seeing it on a daily basis all around us. It is our civilization, which has now been running out of control for a while and destroying everything on its path. To those who believe in bioregionalism, the solution (or, at least, a solution) is to return home and rebuild our local communities. Yet, this does not entail forgetting about the planet as a whole. On the contrary, it involves applying that old motto, think globally, act locally. William Koethke offers a good example in his essay, Earth Diet, Earth Culture when talking about food:

What one puts in one's mouth is a fundamental spiritual, cultural and political act. The nature of the energy one feeds upon either puts one in balance with the cosmos or it puts one in disharmony with the cosmos —an organic state of disease.

William Koethke: Earth Diet, Earth Culture, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 90)

The link to vegetarianism, veganism and similar movements is obvious.

In part four, the editors collect a series of articles that discuss the ideas of reinhabitation and restoration. The overall spirit is summed up by the conclusions of the essay Taking Steps Toward a Restoration Ethic, by Jamie Sayen:

(...) we must be guided by an ethic of humility, which acknowledges our "abysmal ignorance." Can-do optimism is a prescription for furthering the destruction caused by what conservation biologist David Ehrenfeld has aptly called "the arrogance of humanism."

Instead of attempting to control evolution or create ecosystems, we should work to restore the possibility of the evolutionary dance. We must rely upon the resiliency of Mother Earth, not on our species' cleverness.

Jamie Sayen: Taking Steps Toward a Restoration Ethic, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 124)

Yet, while I agree with the statement, it also seems obvious to me that the use of New Age inspired terms such as "evolutionary dance" and "Mother Earth" will do little to convince those who are deeply invested in the opposite approach. In other words, my problem is perhaps not so much with the content of what these authors talk about as with the form. By using these concepts and terms, they are preaching to the choir. Few people outside the hippie-like groups will even listening to this sort of rhetoric. There must be (indeed, there is!) a different way to promote these ideas.

The final part of the book is about self-government, introduced by the editors as follows:

Bioregional politics is the politics of scale, of decentralization, the politics of cultural autonomy and self-government. By extension, it is also the way by which we can most clearly see the reality of empire —how Western Civilization has emerged on the backs of indigenous peoples and at the expense of viable local cultures and local ecosystems. The bioregional project, in this regard, is to establish the conditions for the re-emergence of sustainable local communities that might form the nuclei of new worlds.

Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 130)

As Michael Zwerin explains in Devolutionary Notes, this cuts across the traditional right versus left approach to politics:

Contemporary events will become increasingly confusing if we continue to try and classify them as right and left. Left and right as we know them did not exist before the growth of the Nation-State. Left and right is now ceasing to have any meaning whatsoever. We might try and look at the world with another perspective. A horizontal perspective. Big and little.

Michael Zwerin: Devolutionary Notes, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 135)

To some extent, that is precisely what the neoconservatives did in the USA. At least since the early eighties, many Americans have re-defined right and left as a small government versus big government axis. Yet, little has changed. Several green parties here and there have also tried to define themselves as "neither right nor left", but with little success. It could be argued that this is due to the fact that the old mentality is still entrenched in our societies. However, it could also be argued that all that is needed is not so much to get rid of the left versus right axis, as perhaps change what we identify them with. In other words, since the days of the French Revolution (where we find the origins of the terms, actually), the right stood for preserving the main outlines of the existing social, political and economic system, while the left tried to change them. It does not look to me as if that axis is outdated today. As I said, all we need to do, perhaps, is to redefine what is right and what is left. In that sense, it seems clear that the bioregionalists who wrote the articles collected in this book cannot be but left, since they are advocating a pretty radical change of today's society. We should perhaps stress that it is not the same as the left from the 20th century, but it still is left, as far as I can see.

Bill Mollison, the renowned expert in permaculture, discusses the strategies to build an alternative society. Among other things, he clearly warns about the vested interests of the ruling elite:

We know how to solve every food, clean energy, and sensible shelter problem in every climate; we have already invented and tested every necessary technique and technical device, and have access to all the biological material that we could ever use.

The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, for to let people arrange their own food, energy, and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves.

The very first strategies we need are those that put our own house in order and at the same time do not give credibility to distant power-centered or unethical systems. In our present fiscal or money-run world, the primary responsibility that we need to take charge od is our wealth, which is the product of our sweat and our region, not representable by valueless currency.

Bill Mollison: Strategies for an Alternative Nation, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 149)

One of the strategies that can be used to start building (right now) an alternative society is a Local Exchange Trading System, also known as LETS:

When a community has its own currency, full employment can be available to anyone who wants to work and has a skill or service, of any nature, that is required by that community. It need no longer be the case that there are jobs that need doing and that people who wish to work are kept idle for want of money. This is a natural consequence of the necessary recirculation of the local money; in contrast, conventional money will generally drain out of the community to the cheapest available source of labor or goods. A community with its own currency has the capacity to adopt and maintain a coherent and relevant direction of development with minimal dislocation by external events.

Michael Linton and Thomas Greco: LETS: The Local Exchange Trading System, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, p. 155)

This solution has spread throughout a few Southern European countries after the financial crisis of 2007-2008, especially in those countries (like Greece) that have seen the economy sink to historical lows. These local currencies have also spread to Portugal and Spain but it remains to be seen whether they will actually succeed in building any sort of parallel alternative economy based on bioregional principles. Nevertheless, the experiments may be interesting to follow.

Finally, this fifth part of the book ends with an article, authored by Caroline Estes, on the consensus decision-making process, offered as an alternative to the majority principle applied in our representative democracies:

Consensus is based on the belief that each person has some part of the truth and no one has all of it, no matter how we would like to believe so, and on a respect for all persons involved in the decision that is being considered.

In our present day society the governing idea is that we can trust no one, and therefore we must protect ourselves if we are to have any security in our decisions. The most we will be willing ro do is compromise. This means we are willing to settle for less than the very best —and that we will always have a sense of dissatisfaction with any of our decisions unless we can somehow maneuver others involved in the process. This leads to a skewing of honesty and forthrightness in our relationships.

In the consensus process, we start from a different basis. The assumption is that we are all trustworthy (or at least can become so). The process allows each person complete power over the group. The central idea for the Quakers was the complete elimination of majorities and minorities. If there were differences of view at a Quaker meeting, as there were likely to be in such a body, the consideration of the question at issue would proceed, with long periods of solemn hush and meditation, until slowly the lines of thought drew together towards a point of unity. Then the clerk would frame a minute of conclusion, expressing the "sense of the meeting."

Built into the consensual process is the belief that all persons have some part of the truth, or what in spiritual terms might be called "some part of God" in them, and that we will reach a better decision by putting all of the pieces of the truth together before proceeding. There are indeed times when it appears that two pieces of the truth are in contradiction to each other, but with clear thinking and attention, the whole may be perceived which includes both pieces, or many pieces. The either/or type of argument does not advance this process. Instead the process is a search for the very best solution to whatever is the problem. That does not mean that there is never room for error —but on the whole, in my experience, it is rare.

This process also makes a direct application of the idea that all persons are equal. If we do indeed trust one another and do believe that we all have parts of the truth, then at any time one person may know more or have access to more information but at another time, others may know more or have more access or better understanding. Even when we have all the facts before us, it may be the spirit that is lacking and comes forth from another who sees the whole better than any of the persons who have some of the parts. All of these contributions are important.

Decisions which all have helped shape and in which all can feel united make the carrying out of the necessary action go forward with more efficiency, power and smoothness. This applies to persons, communities and nations. Given the enormous issues and problems before us, we need to us the ways that will best enable us to move forward together.

Caroline Estes: Consensus, from Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright (eds.): Home! A Bioregional Reader, pp. 165-166)

The volume closes with a section listing recommended reading and a short biographical note on each and every contributor.

Altogether, this book makes for a good introduction to the topic of bioregionalism. However, by its very nature, since it is a collection of essays from a very diverse procedence, it feels a bit unstructured. There is a good amount of repetition, as well as discussion of topics that are perhaps way too limited to a particular area of the United States (i.e., Northern California). I suppose that could be expected from a volume that stands for the concept of bioregion, but there is no reason why it could have not been made more open and inclusive in that sense. After all, the ideas of bioregionalism apply to the United States as much as to Finland, Kenya or Indonesia. Therefore, while acceptable, the book feels as if it was just put together rather quickly to be published. In any case, the issues raised here still apply more than twenty years later.

Entertainment Factor: 5/10
Intellectual Factor: 6/10