Bioregionalism and economic localisation

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Bioregionalism is the notion that human societies and economies should organise primarily in relation to the specific ecological and cultural details of place.[1] Arising as a philosophy and movement in North America during the 1970s, it has developed initially in parallel and later in synergy with permaculture, which has become among its most important practical tools.[2] Both view climate change as a consequence of dislocation between the causes and consequences of human environmental impacts, and restoration of these a vital part of any remedy.

A key implication of bioregionalism is economic localisation: meeting material needs as far as possible using resources available within the bioregion.[3] The consequences are thus directly visible to and felt by the users themselves – in contrast to the dislocation of cause and effect that is one of the key causes of climate change. Neither bioregionalism or localisation are isolationist movements: both are about improving the quality of relationships, between people and the ecological setting in which they live, among people within a locality, among localities within and across bioregion, and among bioregions, nations and at all scales. A basic thesis is that local economies, self-sufficient as far as possible, can enter into trade and other forms of interaction based on values of sharing, accountability and cooperation.[4]

Such a combination of local self-reliance and cooperative interchange at wider scales is or has been a source of resilience and adaptability in many indigenous and traditional societies. Economic security in Alpine villages prior to their full integration into national economies depended on nested, intersecting systems of production and trade at local and regional scales.[5] Traditional residents of frost-prone areas of the New Guinea Highlands relied on fields close to home in normal circumstances, kept secondary fields in different microclimatic zones to safeguard against seasonal frosts likely to damage one field but not the other, and maintained intricate social support networks to allow structured temporary migration to lowland areas when occasional extreme frosts totally wiped out agricultural production in any given year.[6] In Bristol, South West England, mutual support among small scale independent producers using permaculture and other low input approaches allowed those worst affected by floods in 2013 to continue production. This informal social permaculture network also connects with projects in the wider bioregion and geographical region through trade, financial investment, training, and exchange of materials, skills and services, many of these vital to the survival of rural projects.[7]

Economic localisation is a key strategy of groups in the Transition Movement, a network of several thousand local initiatives in over 40 countries worldwide using permaculture to devise and implement community-led responses to climate change based.[8] By identifying and creating alternatives to carbon-intensive and climate-vulnerable features of local economies, they devise resilience-building strategies that go beyond the mitigation-adaptation distinction.[9] Local Economic Blueprints developed by several Transition Initiatives show massive potential financial benefits of partial localisation of key economic sectors such as food production, energy, and housing.[10] Localisation thus directs money and other resources towards energy descent, creating new entrepreneurial opportunities based on regenerative enterprise.

South Devon Bioregional Learning Centre takes as a starting point the idea that the whole region is a tapestry for learning, inspired by the Transition movement.


  1. Sale, K., 1983. Mother of All: an Introduction to Bioregionalism. Third Annual E.F. Schumacher Lecture. Great Barrington, MA: The E.F. Schumacher Society.
  2. Lockyer, J. & J. Veteto, 2013. Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Introduction, pp. 1-31.
  3. Douthwaite, R., 1996. Short Circuit: Practical New Approach to Building More Self-Reliant Communities. Totnes: Green Books.
  4. Cato, M.S., 2013. The Bioregional Economy. Land Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. London: Earthscan.
  5. Netting, R., 1981. Balancing on an Alp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Waddell, E., 1975. How the Enga Cope with Frost: Climatic Perturbations in the Central Highlands of New Guinea. Human Ecology 3(4): 249-273.
  7. Henfrey, T., 2017. Resilience and Community Action in Bristol. Pp. 47-56 in Henfrey, T., G. Maschkowski & G. Penha-Lopes (eds.) Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation. East Meon: Permanent Publications.
  8. Bailey, I., R. Hopkins & G. Wilson, 2010. Some things old, some things new: The spatial representations and politics of change of the peak oil relocalisation movement. Geoforum 41(4): 595-605.
  9. Hopkins, R., 2010. Localisation and resilience at the local level: the case of Transition Town Totnes (Devon, UK). PhD thesis, Plymouth University.