Bioregional Economy

Isabel Carlisle introduces the panel for ‘Bioregions: a powerful way to reconnect people to land’

Yesterday I attended the Oxford Real Farming Conference, primarily to attend the session on bioregions which featured a panel chaired by Isabel Carlisle of the Bioregional Learning Centre and included Green Party MEP Molly Scott Cato,  the writer John Thackara, and my friend Andy Goldring – the Permaculture Association CEO. I’ll try and capture more of what I learned in a subsequent post, but hearing Molly Scott Cato speak reminded me that I had reviewed her book The Bioregional Economy; Land, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for Permaculture Magazine back in October 2014, but that they never ended up publishing it.

Here’s that review:


The Bioregional Economy; Land, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

by Molly Scott Cato

The dust hasn’t settled on the Scottish independence referendum. Post-No, the questions it kicked up still hang in the air, with devolutionary desires now expressed across the nations, cities and regions of the UK. There’s talk of a constitutional convention that might address issues beyond subsidiarity (political decisions made at a level as close as possible to the citizen) and representation – issues like land reform and a bill of rights. A window of opportunity has opened for deeper questions about people and place. It’s a timely moment necessitating our participation if we are to shape liveable futures; Cato notes that the traditional boundaries of states are already fading, transcended by global corporations unbeholden to democratic process and driven to eternally externalise ‘elsewhere’ social and environmental costs.

The bioregionalist argument that boundaries are better determined by natural characteristics and capacities than by human dictates, compels us to rediscover attributes of local distinctiveness that go deeper than arbitrary borders like the Anglo-Scottish one defined in the 1707 Act of Union. This book envisions self-reliant regions, economies, that keep within planetary limits and deal fairly with the question of how both scarce resources and the rights to global commons might be allocated. These issues are familiar to us as the matter of the third permaculture ethic and permaculture is referenced throughout.

In proposing local organisation and provisioning the book suggests a path towards ‘low-entropy’ (energy conserving) societies that can meet the challenges of the massive carbon emission reductions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have indicated as necessary for climate stability. The currently dominant capitalist system and the ‘dismal science’ of mainstream economics, meanwhile, are rightly admonished for their energy illiteracy, being rooted in the work of thinkers, like Adam Smith and David Ricardo who wrote before the formulation of the laws of thermodynamics. The regional communities of the future must move beyond ‘free’ market systems that cannot function without a constant growth that’s is energetically and ecologically unsustainable.

The book is lacking detail on some elements of how these societies might function and how we transition to them from where we are now. Cato admits that the book is more of a ‘clarion call than a complete vision’. The destination is clear however: resilient local economies of empowered and productive citizens enjoying joyful, convivial lives in tune with the natural world. It’s something to which we all can all say Yes.




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