Everything In Its Place

new internationalist
issue 171 - May 1987

Everything in its place

Actions taken in one place usually have consequences in another. Chemicals dumped upstream will pollute fisheries downstream. Land purchases by city corporations will evict tenants in the countryside. Building expressways to carry goods and commuters can destroy indigenous communities. Natural wind patterns may even carry acid rain from one country to another. And all the while, artificial political boundaries cut the victims off from the aggressors.

This dislocation between action and effect is one of the targets of 'Bio-regionalism' a philosophy which argues that political and economic boundaries should be redrawn to match natural geographical ones. Production and consumption, wherever possible, should be localized and sustainable so that local people live with the consequences of their actions - both now and in the future.

On these pages we look at two alternatives for one such 'bio-region', a river valley. On the left; the valley is cut by a state line so that pollution upstream cannot be controlled by the community downstream. The production of goods and energy are large-scale and centralized. On the right: the mirror image without the political boundary; a self-governing bio-region committed to its own ecological upkeep. Work places are scattered and energy is produced where it is needed.

Left-hand side of the picture

Clearing forests for exporting lumber to the city - denuding hillsides and causing soil erosion.

Silted up with topsoil from eroded hills and poisoned with chemicals. Few fish survive.

Large fields are cleared for mechanized farming to feed other regions. Heavy use of herbicides and pesticides which leach into the river. Fewer farm-workers can be employed so they leave the area.

Coal mine
Exhausting the supply of fossil fuels.

Shrinking towns
Depleted by migration to the city. Skills and goods that used to be found there now have to be imported - using money from agriculture and mining.

Built to export coal and agriculture products to neighbouring regions - splits up traditional grazing land. Native communities disrupted.

State line
Divides poor north from wealthier south. North must export crops and minerals - to pay for imports of energy and processed food.

Power station
Coal and oil-fired. Power sold to neighbouring areas.

Canning factory
Processing agricultural products from neighbouring region - to be sent back there in cans.

Discharges into river.

Garbage dump
Mountain of waste to be disposed of - from cans to motor oil.

Inhabited by rural peoples who can no longer survive in rural areas.

Expanded by migration from neighbouring region.

Piped in from a distant reservoir - as river is polluted.

Leisure park
Built in a secluded rural area providing holidays for city dwellers.

Right-hand side of picture

Cutting of trees is mostly for local fuel supplies. Quantities limited to what can be replaced.

Garbage recycling
Sorting and recycling reduces the quantity at each location.

Generate electricity for their owners.

Series of small towns and villages with a variety of local trades and skills. Use of solar energy for heating.

Treated for use as fertilizer on nearby plots

Fishing and recreation
Centred round deep and clean river.

Taken from unpolluted river.

Smaller roads for more limited traffic between towns.

Indigenous community
Lives from cattle-rearing and trapping small animals.

Family farms supplemented by gardens and orchards in the towns.

Small dams supply power.


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