Bioregional democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of Electoral Reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g. water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This movement is variously called bioregional democracy, watershed cooperation, or bioregional representation, or one of various other similar names—all of which denote democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions--while not removing more generalized civil rights protections of a larger national state.
The best known examples are the Great Lakes Commission of ten American states and the Canadian province of Ontario, which governs the largest fresh watershed in the world, and the cooperation by nations with Arctic Ocean boundaries. These are democratic entities cooperating in a international body , giving up some sovereignty by definition. This is the simplest form of bioregional democracy—cooperation to defend a single watershed.
But there are more profound forms that challenge many political assumptions:
Ecoregions and indigenous peoples
Ecoregions, as defined by the science of ecology, are the borders of ecologically-sensitive districts, and may often converge with the borders of indigenous lands and lifeways. Indigenous languages tend to include terms or distinctions applicable to one ecoregion, where that language has originated.
Supporters claim that Ecoregional Democracy can better preserve what remains of indigenous culture and indigenous language and lifeways, and permit new tribalists to live in better harmony with the land. Some even claim that this would in effect create new indigenous peoples.
Scientists claim that ecoregions are observed in nature rather than imposed by man. A natural border or keystone species or soil type or watershed or micro-climate reflects local natural capital constraints in that region leading to a homeorhic statis.
When a region is inhabited by man, indigenous or otherwise, this stasis can be extended by consensus, argue supporters of the Four Pillars, two of which are Ecological Wisdom and Grassroots Democracy.
The term "grassroots" itself invokes the metaphor of terrestrial ecoregions and implies that beings belong in a certain place in nature.
Two other Pillars, social justice and non-violence, are optimized by ecoregional borders because of the way that ecology itself imposes a certain type of natural equality and harms reduction between living species.
Some scientists claim that even predatory-prey relations are consensual on the species level. This would be an extreme ecoregional democracy of all species, and it seems to resemble Noah's Ark more than nature.
Ecoregions as habitats
The theory of Natural Capitalism, which developed in the mid to late 1990s, holds that the functioning natural ecology of a region is a form of living capital. Natural habitat performs services for all species including recirculation of air, water, replenishment of soil, prevention of erosion, and absorption of chemical, genetic, viral and bacterial threats.
In effect, any living being in an ecoregion has access to a commons from which it breathes, drinks, eats, and to which its wastes are disposed. Harms are reduced by the functioning ecology - as long as it is politically protected and is not required to provide more than its sustainable yield of resources. Ecoregional Democracy proposes to protect that habitat by giving more political power to those living within it, less to outsiders.
Ecoregions as trade barriers
While tax, tariff and trade barriers have generally been reduced worldwide, advocates of ecoregional democracy seek trading bloc biosafety rules regarding ecologically-alien imports (such as genetically modified seeds or entirely new proteins or molecules) with ecoregions. This reduces the probability of spreading a major virus, prion, bacteria, genetically defective seed, or dangerous chemical agent across a bioregional border, if political borders (where imports are inspected and tariffs are applied) are perfectly aligned with them. Critics argue that this is an excuse for yet more regulations, and panic-mongering.
For example, the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) area roughly corresponds to the Nearctic ecological zone. A proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would add the Neotropic ecological zone. Many groups in the anti-globalization movement demand more direct democratic control over the ecological, social, and trade rules in effect in such large trading blocs, fearing that ecology or society will be compromised. Critics argue that this is protectionism in disguise, and intended to protect an inefficient local agriculture from producers who grow the same foods abroad.
Ecoregions contain biological dangers to citizens
In addition to their convergence with indigenous people's lands and languages, and their natural reduction of threats to natural capital, ecoregional borders also naturally support biosecurity - by definition, water, soil and gene flows within terrestrial ecoregions do not endanger the natural capital of those regions as they are part of it.
However, culturally-imposed industrial age borders tend to bisect rather than follow ecoregions - proponents argue that this leads to conflict as ecological threats to a cut-off corner of an ecoregion do not threaten lives in the main body of the constituency. Whereas upstream and downstream citizens are dealing with the same leaders and legislatures by definition in an ecoregional constituency, and these conflicts remain contained locally.
Some argue that to permit political borders to bisect ecoregions is much like requiring a citizen to live in one place while requiring only his left arm to answer to the government of another. If ecologies reliably maintain homeorhic balance in themselves, this is a valid way to view the problem - and a major opportunity to cut conflicts by better aligning political to ecological borders, taking "body parts" out of politically defined conflict. This topic is addressed at some length and elaboration with examples in Toward a Bioregional State.
If biological warfare or ecological pathways for biohazards become a major concern in national governance, even national Electoral Reform seems likely to adhere to these ecoregional borders to minimize costs of implementing a robust, fair and defensive biosecurity protocol.
Language and biodiversity
A compelling but controversial argument for more bioregional democracy is the alignment of natural language and ecological stewardship illustrated by anthropological linguistics.
David Nettle, in "Linguistic Diversity", 1998, notes "the amazing fact that the map of language density in the world is the same as the map of species diversity: i.e. where there are more species per unit of area, there will be more languages too." According to the proponents of this theory, Grassroots Democracy organized by ecoregions seems to be one way to preserve biodiversity.
This prompts support from indigenous peoples, ecologists, new tribalists and Green Parties and Gaians, who tend to believe that indigenous customs, constraints, language or even local jargon reflects the natural ecology, and so local cultural sovereignty is critical to maintaining biodiversity. This is a common topic of study amongst academic linguists, e.g. Mark Fettes, who in "Steps Towards an Ecology of Language", 1996, seeks "a theory of language ecology which can integrate naturalist and critical traditions" and "An Ecological Approach to Language Renewal", 1997. Critics argue that languages tied to ecology or specific lifeways are irrelevant in an age of global communications - some claim that everyone should learn English to avoid disadvantage in the global economy.