Small is Powerful By Kirkpatrick Sale When you have a bunch of crushed grapes and introduce yeast cells, you produce one of the most energetic and successful events in biology. The yeast eats up the sugar of the grape and produces alcohol as a waste byproduct, and keeps on eating and eating, happy as a, well, yeast in juice—until there is no more sugar to eat, or the alcohol content gets close to 14 percent, at which point the yeast can no longer survive. It chokes, more or less, in its own waste. And the wine is made. This is a process ecologists call drawdown. The next steps are bloom, crash, diedown, and dieout. That is the process of many species. It is the process through which industrial civilization is going today—only we are still in the first two phases of it. Drawdown of the world's resources at an alarming rate—to the point where the distinguished Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has declared that “Earth's capacity to support our species is approaching the limit.” Bloom, though of course not for everyone, but about a fifth of the world's population, and at levels of grandeur never before known to the earth. But it is obvious that the other three ecological stages are upon us. We can already see that crash is coming. Wilson again: “The appropriation of productive land—the ecological footprint—is already too large for the planet to sustain” and “has stressed the earth beyond its ability to regenerate.” That means that unless we drastically change our ways, soon, our species—the one that calls itself sapient—will crash and die down and possibly even die out, taking with us a great many other species on the surface of the earth. It's very simple. There really is no argument about it. Not among serious people. That's the problem. So what's the solution? Also simple: localism. Now there are many ways of going about that, and one of the great strengths of localism is that it takes different forms in different places, adapted to its context. But there are two forms that I think hold some real promise for the future: bioregionalism and separatism. I won't bore you with a lot of stuff about bioregionalism—I've written a book, still available, that spells it out in some detail. For all its 7-syllable grandeur, it just means life-place, the way that nature has patterned herself, the scale at which she has organized distinctive flora and fauna, water and climate, rocks and soils. The borders of such bioregions of course are fuzzy, but they are there: the world, the continents, are really made up of small self-defining regions. As original people everywhere knew. Like American Indians. I have seen a map of Indian tribes' territories in the mid-19th century, when the American government was trying to draw up treaties with them. Almost all the territories are watersheds of large rivers—in other words, bioregions that contain distinctive flora and fauna. That is the way the Indians naturally settled themselves, how they lived on the land. As earth scientists know. The latest map from the U.S. Forest Service's Ecosystem Management Division in Fort Collins, Colorado, is of “Ecoregions of North America,” with provinces mapped out by what can only be called a bioregional method, though naturally with an emphasis on trees because that's their charge. The result is essentially a map of bioregions. As other professionals know. Geographers as long ago as 1985 began using the term; landscape architects, too, who were recently enjoined by the president of the American Society of Landscape Architects to operate with a “bioregional hypothesis.” As we all know, really, in our heart of hearts, when we stop to think of it. We know that we live in a natural region of some sort, with distinctive natural elements, a river, say, or a lake, or a mountain range. City dwellers tend to overlook this, and cities tend these days to ignore their hinterlands and look to the world. But most other people do see themselves as part of a region of some kind. They know where their water comes from and where it goes, what the typical animal and tree species are, and so on. Industrial capitalism has done much to destroy that identity, and globalism finds it anathema, but it is there nonetheless. So bioregions are a reality, and bioregionalism is about trying to think about living, and growing and eating and traveling and using and eventually governing, within them. To put it briefly, the whole concept is simply trying to give people a new way of thinking about nature, and then acting within it. That is the first, and the absolute necessary, principle by which we can think about localism. The other principle is separatism, which I take to encompass secession, regionalism, tribalism, self-determination, and all forms of devolution. It is clearly a movement of our time, whatever counterforces of globalism and imperialism exist. It is, as I've noted before, the worldwide trend since World War II, capped most recently by the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. It is also a strong and growing trend in the United States, for all the superficial unity wrought by mass marketing and mass media. The red-state and blue-state divisions are only one form of it, though they point to a real and serious gulf in the land. The response to the last presidential election in this country has been regional and holds the seeds of a real separatist movement. A group on the West Coast called MoveonCalifornia was established in November 2004 and has since been holding meetings under the rubric of a “Committee to Explore California Secession.” The League of the South, which has been pressing for Southern secession for some decades, has found renewed fervor for its cause. A group in New Mexico has proposed a “Republica del Norte” that might include Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and southern Colorado. Hawaii has three secessionist organizations and there's a move to have a statewide referendum on a return to the independent state it once was. The Alaska Independence Party has been a real force in the state for years—it even got Walter Hickel elected governor on its slate in 1991, though he soon rejected the party—and now has grown to more than 20,000 members, the largest statewide third party in America. And a group in New York City, connected to a weekly called the Brooklyn Rail, has been writing and meeting and propagandizing for a Free NYC movement. It's too soon to say what any of these organizations will achieve. But it's important to see that they exist and they express a very deep-seated attitude of regionalism in this country that goes way back and has recently been revivified. At one time our diets, sex lives, family relations, education, and jobs were all under the serious and daily control of churches and kings. We are no longer under their thrall, at least not in this country. Is it so fantastic to think about being as free of the regular interference of the government of the nation-state? Let us think back to the emergence of the mammalian class, long eons ago. Their success was due to the fact that, unlike the dinosaurs that until then had dominated the earth, they were small and able to adapt to all kinds of diurnal and climatic conditions the big lizards were not. They were able to survive and eventually to proliferate, even dominate. Let us imagine we are in another political Eocene epoch now, again watching the emergence of nimble, smaller forms to challenge the old, collapsing dinosaurs of nation and empire.