Bioregional Movements: A Story from Many Voices

Bioregionalism is a philosophy and idea that has been the dominant way that communities have existed around the planet for thousands of years. In western thought, bioregional movements, and the term bioregion can be traced back for more than four decades, rooted from naturalists like Aldo Leopold, and different strains of spiritualism, romanticism, anarchism, feminism, regional geography dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries.

From counterculture to place-based bioregional culture

In the United States, bioregionalism is linked to the San Francisco counter-culture of the 1960’s, emerging from groups like the Diggers, and their efforts to feed, cloth and support communities, as well through street theatre, distributing broad based newspapers and zines, and an emerging communes popping up throughout the area.

The term bioregionalism was coined by Allen Van Newkirk, who’s first written reference appeared in magazine in 1975, and would later start Nova Scotia’s Institute for Bioregional Research. However, this early definition still didn’t include human cultures, and it wouldn’t be until Peter Berg visited as part of a road trip in 1972, just before heading to the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm that the term was completely flushed out to include people and cultures as a part of it. The UN conference was the first world conference to make the environment a major issue – and for Peter, he was struck not with the countries meeting in the rooms, but rather the common threads that brought people together from around the world into the streets in front of the conferences. He would spend much of his time filming these events, finding inspiration in what he later called the global “planetariat”.

Peter Berg returned from that trip to San Francisco, where he cofounded the Planet Drum foundation with Judy Goldhaft in 1973, an organization that was a seminal voice for bioregional investigation over the next fifty years.

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