“Small societies occupying a small island or homeland can adopt a bottom-up approach to environmental management. Because the homeland is small, all of its inhabitants are familiar with the entire island, know that they are affected by developments throughout the island, and share a sense of identity and common interests with other inhabitants. Hence everybody realizes that they will benefit from sound environmental measures that they and their neighbors adopt. That’s bottom-up management, in which people work together to solve their own problems.” (277-8)
Simply put, when we are able to wrap our heads around and understand a place, we are better able to comprehend ecological problems within it. Regionalism implies not only an understanding of a place, but also a deep attachment and love, which is the fuel that allows us to protect it from destruction. In a mobile modern American society, people often lack a sense of belonging to a place, which means that if ecological problems compound, the easiest solution is to simply leave. Regionalism seeks to counter this option.
We must also remember that environmental protections that grow out of the local need and concern are often the strongest. On the other hand, those imposed from without become things of local hatred; just look at the reputation of the federal land management agencies with many Westerners. Some of the most successful environmental solutions are those that emerge from within a community, taking into account the people’s social and economic needs.When outside environmental concerns impose ecological regulation on a community without concern for the local situation, they create a recipe for disaster. This form of political imperialism, which breeds hatred, jealousy and despair. We all know how it feels that have the events and laws affecting your daily life are completely out of your control. It also breeds contempt for environmentalism itself, which is counter-productive to the cause of environmental protection and revitalization.
Small local initiatives are not nearly as flashy and exciting as the mighty preserves that are created by the great governments. Yellowstone, ANWR, Death Valley and similar projects draw more attention and funding than, for example, a 705-acre expansion onto Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. However, the history of the slow growth of the Adirondack Park shows that landscape protection can be done much more organically by communities (New York) that don’t have the tremendous resources of the Federal Government. Also, the Adirondack Park has shown a resilience that might or might not be true in newer parks and preserves. The very fact that 6 million acres has been set aside in the busiest, most crowded corner of the country (not to mention another 700,000 in the Catskill Park, 65,000 in the Allegany Park and tens of thousands in the 201 other parks and historic sites) shows that small scale protection can achieve results, albeit in a more patchwork form, that would be the envy of any environmental central planner.
Local identity goes further in environmental protection than simply aiding in the establishment of parks and preserves. Buying local not only helps protect local jobs, but it also decreases our reliance upon and use of oil. Why import apples from Washington State when New Yorkers grow them so much closer to home? Local breeds of plants and animals give local flavor to food, preserve precious genetic diversity in domesticate crops, and are often uniquely suited to local conditions (weather, soil conditions, etc).
The desire to enjoy local foods, protect local jobs and build local community can be fused with, and strengthened by, a deep love of a place and the mission to protect it from ecological destruction. In this end, the desires to protect our communities and our environment should be seen as natural allies and part of a greater push to create the type of Upstate that we would be proud to leave to our grandchildren.
Posted by Jesse