When I published my book, Towards Cascadia, in Ebook format last fall, the number one piece of feedback I received was the desire for a physical book. There’s something about the printed word that will never be overshadowed by technology. After several months of coordination, formatting, and final tweaks, I’m pleased to announce that Towards Cascadia is now available in paperback.
The book itself is about the Pacific Northwest, why its society is set apart from the rest of North America, and how to achieve a new vision for the future. It explores notions of societal identity, bioregionalism, freedom, politics, and more as they pertain to Cascadia.
Ever wonder why living in, and being a part of, the Pacific Northwest truly feels different than living in any other part of the United States or Canada?
Ever wonder why you can travel from Oregon or Washington to British Columbia (or vice versa) and feel very much at home, while traveling to another region in your own country feels foreign and unfamiliar?
Ever wonder why political dysfunction or disunity within the United States or Canada feels more potent and more regionally-based than ever before in modern history?
Every wonder how Cascadia could unite and even possibly become independent from Canada and the United States without becoming hostile or starting a war?
Ever wish that a new beginning was actually possible and attainable, but you just don’t know where to start?
I asked myself these same questions. After more than 3 years of exploring these ideas, reading books and essays from fellow Cascadians, and challenging my own pre-existing worldview, I did my best to produce a cogent argument for Cascadia which could reach most in this region, including the majority of people who have never heard of Cascadia before. And now, it’s available for you to read in an actual physical book.
If you’re interested, you can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today:
The people of Britain have voted to leave the European Union. There were a few arguments used to support this decision, such as Britain has the right to vote democratically and reject an economic union which seemingly wasn’t benefiting many in the country, therefore asserting its right to self-determination. But another common narrative is that those who voted to leave did so in support of British nationalism, opposing the multi-national cosmopolitan elites in London and the pro-globalist forces of the EU. The people of Britain “wanted their country back,” as some have said, implying that they had lost something which they no longer had.
Of course, they had not lost their country at all. The United Kingdom hadn’t gone anywhere or dissolved. They hadn’t lost their right to vote. They weren’t of all a single political party and were just angry at the current government. No, they felt that Great Britain had become less great and less British because of a changing cultural landscape they grew less and less familiar with. Britain had become less ethnically British as more and more “foreigners” with different languages and different values immigrated.
The reaction by many to this reality was repudiation and an embrace of culture and values which define what it means to really be “British” in their eyes. And while not everyone immediately linked British culture and British values with a tendency toward white anglophile ethnic nativism, many who voted to leave drew that direct link between the two. In their eyes, a true British nation is white, English-speaking, and ethnically native to the British Isles. These are the characteristics which define their common sense of civic belonging; this is their definition of British nationhood. Their nationalism is an expression of this view.
Never mind the countless millions in Britain who aren’t white or aren’t ethnically British yet identify as such and exemplify the same culture and values many, who voted to leave the EU, champion and support. Never mind the absurd basis for drawing a link directly from race and ethnicity to culture and values is the assumption that one’s shade of skin color or one’s physical ethnic traits force an individual to behave a certain way. No, none of that mattered to many on June 23rd. Their nationhood is identified by auxiliary anthropocentric characteristics and their nationalism excludes anyone who could more easily be identified as “the other.”
The result was a good chunk of voters choosing to leave the EU based more on xenophobia than a cogent understanding of the totality of Britain’s relationship with the EU, or of the EU as an organization itself. Whether or not leaving the EU was “the right decision,” this factor cannot be ignored.
This should be a wake-up call to all of us. We need to change nationalism.
What is Nationalism?
At its most fundamental level, nationalism is simply an expression of one’s nationhood: a common sense of civic belonging. Void of any particulars, nationalism is when one acknowledges and supports the intangibles of their national society’s ethos. Support for whatever that foundation is can, theoretically, be a positive and inclusive force.
However, the predominant understanding of nationalism, and of nationhood, is that it has a basis in things like race, ethnicity, and/or religion. And it is with this understanding that nationalism results in exclusion and prejudice. If the basis of your nationhood is a particular ethnicity, anyone who doesn’t look like you or share your ancestry doesn’t belong in your national community; in your civic society. Ethnic diversity is not only undesirable, it’s threatening.
This is the cancer that is nationalism in its current form. It creates hostility which weakens a civic community’s ability to unite and function. It’s a force that says, “If you look different than me, or don’t follow my religion, or don’t speak my language, then we can’t be in the same society. We can’t share the same neighborhoods. We can’t share the same civic institutions. We can’t share the same place. Your very presence is threatening and we don’t belong together.”
I reject this wholeheartedly.
In the context of identifying a common sense of civic belonging—a common nationhood—its foundation should not be these auxiliary anthropocentric characteristics. That doesn’t mean nationhood should necessarily be destroyed. Without it, we’d live in a monolithic global society; frankly, I don’t think such a lack of cultural diversity is possible or desirable. There are, and always will be, points of differentiation which separate the ethos of societies from one another.
So, what’s the alternative?
National Identity Rooted in Place
The planet has arranged itself in unique places, each defined by ecology, geography, watersheds, and climate. These places are called bioregions. Within each, the character of society is shaped by the nature of the bioregion itself; human communities learn appropriate ways to truly thrive as being a part of that place and adapt to its environment. This paradigm of societal identity, established by ecological philosophers such as Peter Berg, is called bioregionalism. It testifies to a simple and profound truth about our reality: place shapes identity.
Bioregionalism is the alternative. By using factors of ecology and geography to define and differentiate civic communities by, we establish a new understanding of nationhood and, thereby, nationalism. This new standard says that people of any given ethnic, racial, or religious background adapt to the place they live in. The community as a whole becomes an extension of this place and embodies the ethos—what Peter Berg called a “terrain of consciousness”—shaped by the characteristics of the place itself. To be of a certain nation, in this sense, means to truly inhabit a place; to embrace the values and characteristics which allow society to thrive in the place it’s in.
With this alternative, nobody’s anthropocentric characteristics become criteria for exclusion in a national society. Co-existence flourishes and nationalism ceases to maintain its potency for prejudice. We must begin defining nations by the places they correspond with and not the physical characteristics of the people who live there. Even if nations don’t necessarily correspond with states (multiple nations may be in a single country, a nation may be split between more than one country, etc.), it is vital we begin identifying nations within a bioregional paradigm. Only then will societies around the world have the ability to truly move past a dying era of struggle rooted in fear of “the other.” The differences between us as human beings become inconsequential and each will be free to embrace those who are different as their brothers and sisters in civic community.
Cascadia is a distinct bioregion which separates itself from the rest of the United States and Canada. But that doesn’t mean all Cascadians are the same and all areas within Cascadia are identical. Cascadia has smaller distinguishable regions defined by geography and culture just like any other nation on Earth. Unlike the boundaries of the bioregion, the borders of Cascadia’s regions are subjective and up for interpretation. There is no perfect or permanent way to map them out. However, there is little debate or doubt that these regions within Cascadia exist.
The most prominent example is the distinction between eastern Cascadia and western Cascadia with the Cascade Mountains acting as the dividing line between these two regions. Even for someone like me who believes the fundamental bonds between populations within Cascadia inherently tie us all together as one, I don’t deny that there are some noticeable cultural differences between a city on the east side like Spokane and a city on the west side like Seattle.
The question I have now is: where are all of Cascadia’s regions located? I’ve spent some time trying to identify them and have my own interpretation I’d like to share with you. This is more of a fun thought experiment than anything else.
Again, this is subjective; you may agree with this iteration and think it makes sense or you may have your own way of distinguishing Cascadia’s regions. The way I tried to approach this topic was by answering a hypothetical scenario: Cascadia is an independent country – what are its commonwealths/provinces/states/[insert your terminology here]?
Here’s my attempt at an answer. I give you the 10 regions of Cascadia.
*Please note the following maps contain existing state, provincial, and international border lines purely for reference and ease of understanding where, exactly, these regions are.
1. Cascade Plateau
Alternative Name: Columbia Plateau
Approximate Population: 1.96 Million
Largest City: Spokane
Other Notable Cities: Bend, Yakima
2. Columbia Mountain
Alternative Name: Rocky Mountain
Approximate Population: 1.20 Million
Largest City: Kelowna
Other Notable Cities: Kamloops, Missoula
3. Fraser & Archipelago
Alternative Name: Northern Cascadia
Approximate Population: 0.33 Million
Largest City: Prince George
Other Notable Cities: Juneau, Prince Rupert
4. Klamath Mountain
Alternative Name: West Jefferson
Approximate Population: 0.86 Million
Largest City: Medford
Other Notable Cities: Eureka, Grants Pass
5. Olympic Peninsula
Alternative Name: N/A
Approximate Population: 1.09 Million
Largest City: Vancouver (WA)
Other Notable Cities: Olympia, Port Angeles
6. Puget Sound
Alternative Name: N/A
Approximate Population: 4.79 Million
Largest City: Seattle
Other Notable Cities: Bellevue, Tacoma
7. Salish Coast
Alternative Name: Fraser Delta
Approximate Population: 3.02 Million
Largest City: Vancouver (BC)
Other Notable Cities: Abbotsford, Bellingham
8. Snake River
Alternative Name: Southeast Cascadia
Approximate Population: 1.37 Million
Largest City: Boise
Other Notable Cities: Idaho Falls, Pocatello
9. Vancouver Island
Alternative Name: N/A
Approximate Population: 0.74 Million
Largest City: Victoria
Other Notable Cities: Courtenay, Nanaimo
10. Willamette Valley
Alternative Name: N/A
Approximate Population: 2.95 Million
Largest City: Portland
Other Notable Cities: Eugene, Salem
Total Approximate Population: 18.3 Million
Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today:
When I first became intrigued with the idea of Cascadia, it derived out of my fascination with maps. I love maps and always have. Now that I think about, that’s probably why geography was my favorite subject in elementary school. But I digress; the notion of a culturally and nationally distinguishable Pacific Northwest peaked my interest. I needed to know exactly where it was. How far did it spread? Where were its boundaries?
I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn out Cascadia on a map of North America in the past five years. It’s been my favorite thing to do when I’m bored. As sad as that sounds out of context, I’m grateful my curiosity got the best of me. I’ve learned a lot about what Cascadia really is and how it’s defined. And, now that I’ve explored this idea, I sometimes find it odd and silly that this question is still up in the air among self-proclaimed supporters of Cascadia.
So, let’s settle this question once and for all. Shall we?
The Problem with Subjectivity
The most common point of friction I see and hear when it comes to resolving the question over Cascadia’s borders is that many people see Cascadia solely as a cultural or political phenomenon; one-sided and partisan. Some see Cascadia as being a narrowly-defined area along the I-5 corridor; from Eugene up to Vancouver, from the Cascades out to the Pacific Coast. Others envision a much grander area spreading east into the Prairies, north up to Arctic, and south to the Great Basin and the California valleys.
I get where these visions are coming from. Really, I do. At one point, I had my own subjective idea of what Cascadia should be and how far it should reach. But this vision was (and any comparable vision is) extremely naïve and subjective.
I can’t speak for anyone else who has or has had similar dreams for Cascadia. But there was one day while I was happily playing with my maps that I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was neglecting what makes Cascadia “Cascadian” in all that identity encompasses. I was ignoring the facts of bioregionalism and geography that were staring me in the face. In trying to subjectively define the borders of Cascadia, my justifications were no better than the diplomats who forced imperialism on our continent by drawing arbitrary lines on their maps to define the political borders we live with today.
I was forgetting the single most important thing we all need to recognize and accept if we’re ever to unite as one people and one region: Cascadia is a bioregion.
Cascadia and its borders are defined by its nature, and its nature helps define our society in turn; that’s the essence of bioregionalism. We don’t get to pick Cascadia’s borders. Cascadia wasn’t forged out of the minds of humans. Cascadia was forged out of the Pacific Ocean, mountains, and rivers, born out of an environment of evergreen trees, rain, and plateaus. Cascadia exists as it does and it’s pleading for our attention.
The Map of Cascadia
Cascadia is a bioregion. What are the borders of Cascadia’s bioregion? Thankfully, we don’t have to figure that out ourselves. Someone has already done all of the work for us in mapping out Cascadia in the most extraordinary detail.
Over the past 40 years, professor and cartographer David McCloskey has traveled throughout Cascadia in its entirety. He completed a life-long project in finishing the definitive map of Cascadia just last year. Up until this time, the geography of Cascadia had largely been ignored and neglected in favor of focusing on the United States or Canada.
McCloskey’s map not only details patterns of Cascadian geology and dendrology; it clearly defines the bioregional borders of Cascadia. Cascadia stretches as far north as Mount Logan and the Alaskan panhandle, and as far south as Cape Mendocino in California, the Oregon high desert leading to the Great Basin, and the mountains bordering the Snake River Valley. Cascadia stretches as far east as the Great Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains and as far west as Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, and the Pacific Ocean.
It’s simple and self-evident: Cascadia is its bioregion. Everything within these borders is Cascadian, including us. This land and its environment fundamentally define who we are as a people beyond any human-centered criteria we can come up with on our own. These are our boundaries. This is our home. Let’s embrace it!
If you’re interested in the map of Cascadia and want one for yourself, visit the Cascadia Institute today. There, you’ll find more information about the geography of Cascadia and how to purchase your very own map. I’m biased, but I highly recommend getting one. I have a copy hanging prominently on my wall and it’s a great conversation starter for company beyond just being a stunningly beautiful map.
Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today:
Reverence of our lands, mountains, rivers, forests, and seas is in our civic DNA as Cascadians. They sustain us and give us our sense of shared identity. We get to wake up each morning and veer out to the mountain peaks in the distance knowing we’re privileged to live in a special place. We’re inspired by temperate sunny days and gray rainy skies alike. We thrive in the evergreen forests, in the high desert, on the banks of the river gorge, on the plateaus and in the valleys.
It should come as no surprise then that sustainability and conservation are pillars of our shared civic religion as Cascadians. Regardless of political party or location, there’s a significant and noticeable bias toward protecting our wondrous home region:
Oregon enacted the first of its kind bottle recycling law in the US more than 40 years ago to reduce pollution.
British Columbia leads Canada with a carbon tax policy that has drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions per capita since its implementation in 2008.
Oregon, Washington, and Idaho consistently rank in the top 10 in terms of states which have lowest carbon dioxide emissions per capita.
Idaho has led the US in percent of electricity produced from renewable sources in recent years.
Despite these examples, Cascadia stands at a crossroads—both metaphorically and literally—when it comes to the integrity of our home region. Right now, there are oil pipelines, fossil fuel trains, and export facilities transporting dangerous and dirty fuel sources from the Prairies to the Pacific through Cascadia, all so large energy corporations can sell to markets in Asia. Furthermore, there are several similar projects being pushed for expansion right now by these same companies.
The existing fossil fuel infrastructure already puts us at risk of permanent damage to our home and our livelihood; expansion would increase these risks exponentially. Many of our region’s inhabitants are understandably angry at this prospect and want to do something about it. Indeed, some already have. What many people don’t yet realize, however, is that we have an opportunity as a region to unite as Cascadians and overturn this trend.
A few years ago, the Sightline Institute—a non-profit think tank devoted to environmental issues and sustainability in the Pacific Northwest—came up with this concept of the “thin green line.” It states that Cascadia has the opportunity act as a barrier to the furthering of climate change and to the increased risks to our region. They created this short video to explain how:
While the video focuses on British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington, we’re already seeing examples of unity and action across all of Cascadia:
British Columbia’s provincial government has formally opposed both major oil pipeline projects.
First Nation tribes in British Columbia have exerted their legal rights to block expansion of new oil pipelines.
Some permits have already been denied in the state of Washington for coal and oil terminal expansions.
Several councils and similar public bodies in Oregon and Washington have opposed expansion of fossil fuel traffic through their cities and towns.
Protests and vocal opposition have grown in eastern Cascadia—places like Sandpoint, Idaho, Missoula, Montana, Boardman, Oregon, and Spokane, Washington—to further coal-by-rail and oil-by-rail traffic.
Cascadia is beginning to unite in defense of our home, our livelihood, and our planet. More importantly, it’s working. To quote Sightline’s policy director Eric de Place, “There is not one single [fossil fuel] project that has faced an opposition movement that has been able to proceed so far.”
There’s every reason to believe that this unity in Cascadia will not only strengthen, but result in victory over current and future exploitation. You can be a part of this movement too.
I’d like to extend a very special thank you to the Sightline Institute for all they do and providing a wealth of great information. For more on their current efforts, visit the links below:
In honor of this coming Spring and Cascadia’s rich craft brew culture, I wanted to devote this blog post to the Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA). If you don’t know what a Cascadian Dark Ale is, it’s a dark or black India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer prominent in our home region. It’s a fusion of a more hop-intensive IPA and a dark-malted ale, resulting in a medium-bodied black ale which has an alcohol by volume (ABV) level comparable to a typical craft American IPA (usually between 6% – 8%).
The Cascadian Dark Ale goes by other names (i.e. Black IPA, American Dark Ale) and many breweries throughout the United States and Canada have their own versions. I want to focus on ones specifically brewed within the bioregional borders of Cascadia. Using beer rating sites such as Untappd, I’ve compiled a list of 40 true Cascadian Dark Ales you may want to try if you haven’t already.
This list is sorted alphabetically by brewery and is meant to be a simple overview used as a resource. Some are brewed year-round, but most are seasonal releases. While I narrowed this list to just 40 beers, that doesn’t mean there are only 40 brewed within Cascadia; the ones in this list have relatively high average ratings from beer drinkers. I may make updated versions of this list as new Cascadian Dark Ales are introduced and/or become popular in the future.
Without further adieu, here are 40 Cascadian Dark Ales brewed in Cascadia: *Ratings as of February 28, 2016
The United States of America is currently in the midst of its most politically polarized era since the Civil War.
The room for moderates within the two main political parties is vanishing, there’s a historical level of legislative obstructionism with a divided government, and distrust between voters of differing ideologies is becoming more potent. I’m not just saying this because it feels true; there’s plenty of data to back this up.
Just a few days ago, a Supreme Court Justice passed away unexpectedly and statements from leaders in both political parties demanded opposing courses of action regarding the nomination of his replacement no more than half an hour after the news broke. The level of such clear divisiveness is disturbing, frustrating, and sobering.
It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that political dysfunction is resulting from stark differences in political ideology or economic class; these are very apparent in the everyday lives of American citizens. Policy proposals to solve these issues are rooted in these differences. However, I believe there’s a more fundamental element at play.
After all, there have been more extreme ideologies to take hold in the halls of Congress, more blatant examples of corruption, and more dire levels of income inequality within the past 100 years than what we witness today. And yet, the schism seems more irreconcilable now than ever before.
I believe the real root cause of this political divisiveness and dysfunction is due to the fact that the defining elements of what constitutes the American ethos are no longer unified across the country. In other words, the commonalities of what defines American nationhood (even outside of the realm of politics) are scarcer and more diminished than ever before.
There is more prominent and more fundamental divergence from the traditional “American norm” in the daily lives of its citizens to the point where the United States can no longer be legitimately considered a single united nation.
Before I continue with this argument, I want to clarify what I mean by the term “nation.” A nation is a collective of people who share a common sense of civic belonging (a common nationhood) and have some level of commonality in culture, economy, etc. in a geographically coherent region.
A nation is not defined by auxiliary human characteristics such as race, ethnicity, skin color, language, or anything similar, as these characteristics do not force or compel any person(s) to act or interact with others in distinguishable ways which exemplify a given nationhood. Furthermore, a nation (in the sense I’m referring to) speaks to a collective of people meant to be effected by civic policy in a unifying manner, be it through formal self-governance or some other form of public power.
My argument is that American nationhood, as has been apparent in previous generations of American citizens, is not and has never been an identity formed out of a single, coherent foundation. I believe what we recognize as American nationhood is actually a conglomeration of commonalities derived from environmentally-distinguished regions within the geographic boundaries of the country.
The United States isn’t a single nation in this sense, but a country made up of several nations, each made distinguishable by its respective environment. Over the past 2-3 decades, the natural ethos (plural) of these regional nations have grown more influential and significant in their own right, causing the level of commonalities apparent between all of them to diminish. This is directly due to the effect of bioregionalism.
If you’re unfamiliar with bioregionalism, I’ll reference you to two of my previous blog posts here and here.
The “too long; didn’t read” summary of bioregionalism is this: the identity of a society is directly shaped, at least in part, by the bioregional environment that society resides in (bioregional environment includes plant life, animal life, geography, climate, etc.). You can understand bioregionalism as a philosophy, a phenomenon, or a system of intangibles, but each framework asserts the same truth: place shapes identity.
When we apply a bioregional framework to the United States, we see the country as a collection of bioregions which each have their own distinct ethos that contribute to the conglomeration of the whole. Because each region’s ethos is shaped by its respective bioregional makeup, there will be some level of fundamental differentiation between “national” identities from region to region.
The existing federal system within the United States is not capable of adequately embodying what each respective region understands to be “American” because that identity is subjective and regionally based. The federal system cannot and will not reflect any one region’s concept of national identity fully.
I believe this is why the American people, across many differing political ideologies, classes, and backgrounds feel something is fundamentally wrong with the federal body politic, as evidenced by the emergence of credible political candidates in the “extreme” wing of their respective party.
Factors such as too much money in campaigns or gerrymandering certainly exacerbate this problem, but I do not believe they are the cause. These issues have been present for nearly as long as the United States has existed, yet the country was able to function as a coherent federal system for most of its history prior to the present.
The problem now is that non-central bioregional identities (i.e. not the Northeast or the South), which were of small influence without significant population size up until a few decades ago, now have a very noticeable effect on the American ethos. This phenomenon is throwing the country out of whack because the existing federal system was not designed to handle the current level of bioregional diversity.
Think of it this way: the American identity is the black circle in the middle of the picture below. Its existence is made out of the commonalities which are present between its bioregional identities, represented by the colored circles below.
Throughout most of its history, the United States was almost exclusively influenced by 2 or 3 regional identities. Over time, the other bioregions grew in population size and have become home to generations of Americans which have lived their entire lives in these regions, each being influenced by their respective environment.
These other regions have “divergent” identities which don’t fit as well with those of the regions more central to America’s identity. As the influences of these other regions grow, it shrinks the level of commonality within the collection, thereby causing the black circle in the middle (aka the American identity) to shrink. And, as that black circle shrinks, each region finds themselves more distinguishable from the others now versus the past when the level of commonality was sufficient to adequately cover most everyone.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This bioregional reality means the citizens of the United States need to cease trying to understand the country as if it were a single united nation and, more importantly, trying to get the federal system to behave as if it was a single, coherent nation-state. Bioregionalism’s effect on national identity must be acknowledged and reconciled with the existing system. And, by the way, this argument holds true for Canada too, which is also a country made up of several bioregions.
If the United States is to continue to thrive as a federal union, this may mean significant changes in the near future, such as constitutional reform (i.e. a 2nd constitutional convention), the realignment of state boundaries to better reflect bioregional ethos, or possibly even the contraction of America’s borders to allow for greater unity.
I don’t know what the “correct” answer is. But, as a Cascadian who embraces that identity because it holds coherence and fidelity with my sense of civic belonging, I realize the path forward for Cascadia may eventually diverge from that of the United States and Canada.
Regardless, I believe one of the most important steps forward all Americans can make together is to recognize, understand, and embrace the true nature of American nationhood. Only then can there be clarity to move past this potent era of political division and polarization once and for all. Otherwise, I fear the consequences of what an angry populace will do when faced with a system which is no longer capable of responding to its will.
Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today: