Coming Back Home

Today marks one month since I moved back home to Cascadia after four years in the American Midwest. I left my home in Seattle just two weeks after getting married to my longtime boyfriend (whose graduate schooling was the reason for our move). We both were sad to leave this place in which we began making our life together; a city which truly felt like home since our first morning living here. We left knowing we would be back someday. I snapped a picture of Seattle’s skyline through our car’s side mirror as we drove east. The notice on the bottom which read “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” suddenly seemed poetic.

I’ve spent these past years of my life split between the sprawling metropolis of Chicago and the rolling hills of southern Minnesota. I made some great friends and explored many new places which I would likely have never otherwise visited had we not moved. I’m thankful for many of these experiences. Yet, throughout this entire time period, I felt at many times an overwhelming sense of being out of place, like an alien in a foreign land.

I missed home terribly during these years. I can’t recall how many times I listened to The Lonely Forest’s “I don’t want to live there” to help cope with this feeling. I was lucky enough to fly home about once a quarter for work as I was able to keep my Seattle-based job and work remotely. I silently rejoiced each time I realized the plane was crossing over the Rocky Mountains into Cascadia flying west. Likewise, I silently lamented each time it crossed over those same mountains flying east, revealing a seemingly endless landscape of flat prairie lands.

When we made our drive back a little more than a month ago, I remember the exact moment I knew I was home. We left Salt Lake City heading north on hot and dry Wednesday morning. We drove past a rocky landscape of red-gold southwestern desert for hours. Then, we arrived at the southern mountains bordering the Snake River Plain in Idaho. Red and gold gave way to green as we crossed the mountains and onto the plateau. I didn’t need to reference a map to confirm what I knew to be true at that moment: the bioregion of Cascadia revealed itself in plain sight. We still had a ways to go before we got back to Seattle, but I was home.

I know what I have to say next may sound ironic at first, but keep going with me. When I look back on the last four years of my life, I’m thankful for my experiences living apart from this place I love. Don’t get me wrong: I’m beyond glad that I’m home. But I was able to really experience both the vast differences and some similarities between living in Cascadia and living in the American Midwest which I otherwise would have been ignorant of.

You see, not only did I leave Seattle shortly after getting married, I also left shortly after finishing the 2nd draft of my book. During the following two years, I was able to take a very hard look at the arguments I had made regarding the effects of bioregionalism—the phenomenon of the physical characteristics of place (a bioregion) shaping the identity of society in both tangible and intangible ways. As I worked through my 3rd draft, I felt many of my arguments held up well while some others did not. I ended up removing about a third of my work and adding or re-writing even more. In the end, I had a near-finished product which I was proud of and, more importantly, said what I truly wanted to say in the most coherent and rational sense possible.

It took me almost another year to finalize a 4th draft which was then published. I can confidently say this final published work would not have been possible if it weren’t for my time spent living outside of Cascadia. I was able to both reflect on and appreciate home so much more because of my experiences, and I am truly grateful for this.

We’re now (mostly) settled once again in the Emerald City. I look forward to spending many, many more years living in and exploring this wondrous region. There’s still so much I haven’t seen: the archipelago of the southeast Alaska, the valleys of the Fraser Plateau and south-central BC, the mountains of Missoula, Cascadia’s coast in southern Oregon and northern California, and more. As the song goes, “I just want to live here, love here, and die here.” Although I hope that latter part doesn’t happen for a very long time; I’ve got too much to love and live for in Cascadia.

Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today:

Cascadia & Bioregionalism: A Rejection of Exclusionary Identity Politics

north cascade mountains

Cascadia is not a liberal idea. Cascadia is not a conservative idea. Cascadia is not a capitalist idea. Cascadia is not an anti-capitalist idea. When it comes to political ideology, Cascadia is not a partisan idea. Cascadia is a bioregional idea.

So long as you embrace that Cascadia and being Cascadian is inherently tied to, and a result of, the natural essence of this region itself, then personal political ideology is not a qualifier which either precludes or excludes authenticity to being Cascadian. You can be liberal and be Cascadian. You can be conservative and be Cascadian. You can be libertarian, socialist, anarchist, or almost any other political affinity and be as legitimate of a Cascadian as any other.

I say “almost any other” because there are some elements of political affinities, and a select few ideologies in and of themselves, which fundamentally reject the premise of bioregionalism and, thereby, the very idea of Cascadia. These elements are attributed to a subset of identity politics which argues that auxiliary human characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or personal political affiliation have essential power in defining a civic community or civic belonging in general. When such elements are embraced, the result is a tendency for groups of persons to form exclusive political alliances based on such characteristics. A given race or ethnicity, for example, is used to preclude or exclude other people from being a member of that community; “we” is exclusive and “the others” don’t belong.

One key component of bioregionalism is recognizing and acknowledging that our societal identity—our shared sense of civic belonging—is shaped from the bioregion itself. Our shared traits and values as one common civic community comes in part from our shared geography, climate, flora, fauna, et cetera. Place shapes identity. This is why the shared culture and values of our region exist as they do and are recognized as they are.

By accepting this, you inherently reject this exclusionary subset of identity politics. By accepting this, you affirm that auxiliary human characteristics do not define who belongs in Cascadia and who doesn’t. Bioregionalism intrinsically affirms that characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, or personal political affiliation are irrelevant when defining our common sense of civic belonging. Thereby, when Cascadia is embraced as a bioregional idea, it cannot be limited or preferential to any person or group(s) of people based solely on auxiliary human characteristics. I would argue that any ideology which pushes for Cascadia and the Cascadian identity to be exclusive based on these traits is inherently “un-Cascadian”.

Bioregionalism, in its essence, is an inclusive idea. Anyone from any background can come to Cascadia and “be Cascadian” should they choose to embrace the region and share in the ways which allow society to thrive here. The individual whose ancestors have lived here since time immemorial and the individual with ancestral roots half a world away can both be as equally “Cascadian” as each other. The native-born and the immigrant can both “belong.”

This does not mean everyone who identifies as Cascadian sheds all individuality to think the same things and behave in the same ways. Rejecting the form of identity politics I’m talking about results in any individual, from any ethnic or cultural background, being fully accepted as their true authentic self and being acknowledged as fully equal member of the same civic or national community. Furthermore, the vast array of differences in individuals’ race, ethnicity, cultural background, family history, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and so forth are not cause for any to claim differentiation in civic or national identity.

Using myself as an example: I, as a white male with western European ancestry who identifies as Cascadian, must fully accept the immigrant born in South America, and the black woman whose ancestors were brought to this continent as slaves, and the First Nation member whose ancestors have been buried here for 50 generations, and the gender non-conforming person, and the devout Muslim who worships five times per day, and the white man whose political beliefs are very different from my own, and all other Cascadians as being as legitimately Cascadian as myself. We are all Cascadians because we call this region home.

There’s one clarification I want to make to avoid confusion around this “hot button” term: not all forms of identity politics are inherently bad. For example, when individuals of a specific marginalized community are treated unjustly and unequally, because of a given auxiliary characteristic (i.e. skin color), by society, or when society tolerates their mistreatment by other individuals-at-large, then forming a political alliance based on such a trait to empower members of this community and arguing for their equal treatment can be a positive form of identity politics. There’s a difference between using identity politics to empower those oppressed and using identity politics to define and exclude communities; my argument is solely against the latter.

The goal of all those in the Cascadian movement should be to reject exclusionary identity politics and affirm Cascadia is open to all. If we are to succeed in affirming bioregionalism and establishing Cascadian unity, to quote a paragraph in my book, Towards Cascadia:

“[The Cascadia movement] will not be based in ideology or focused on the exclusion of others. It will be based on affirming the reality of our regional ethos and including everyone in this region. Radical acceptance of different viewpoints will be needed in order for this movement to grow and succeed…Even if someone does not realize it yet, anyone living in this region has the potential to embody the Cascadian ethos and identify as Cascadian, through and through. A movement that tries to promote only a ‘certain type’ of Cascadian or exclude those who ‘aren’t Cascadian enough’ will maintain division in this region and play favor to the status quo.” –Page 173

Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today:

The Lesson From Brexit: Change Nationalism

UK flag and EU flag

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.

What Are The Borders of Cascadia?

Snake River Valley

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.

Map of Cascadia, Cascadia Map

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:

American Schism: How Bioregionalism is at the Heart of Political Discord

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.

bioregional map of north america, bioregion map of north america
Bioregional Map of Upper North America

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.

bioregional ethos example, bioregional identities, how bioregionalism works

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:

Bioregionalism: Place Shapes Identity

If you’re anything like I was when I first heard of the term “bioregionalism,” you’re probably processing the idea in a state of simultaneous fascination and confusion. The term evokes visions of a sustainable and thriving society, yet you’re not exactly sure what it really means. You know it has a prominent place in the Cascadia movement and that it has something to with the environment. But that all sounds good and positive, right? So, huzzah! I guess.

Yes, bioregionalism is inextricably linked with “the environment.” The term refers to large regions of a continent that are environmentally distinguished and differentiated from others, each made up of smaller, interdependent ecosystems and ecoregions. This environmental and eco-centric definition is indeed fascinating. But it’s only half the story, so to speak. There’s an entirely different aspect of bioregionalism that has to do with bioregions’ tangible effects on humanity and human society. And, for me, it’s this anthropocentric application that demonstrates why bioregionalism is vital to Cascadia and the cultural movement supporting it.

So, what exactly is it?

In this sense, bioregionalism can be understood in a few different ways. You can understand it as a philosophy that proposes certain truths about how human societies are shaped or meant to function. You can understand it as a phenomenon in which the environment influences human society in a given area. You can understand it as a system of environmental, cultural, political, and economic components working with and against each other in a bioregional area. However you choose to conceptualize this term, bioregionalism asserts the following as true: place shapes identity.

This is as simple as I can define what bioregionalism is and what it means. It’s straight-forward, self-evident, and incredibly profound: place shapes identity.

Ok…how does it work?

The theory is that a bioregion’s environmental components (geography, climate, plant life, animal life, etc.) directly influence ways for human communities to act and interact with each other which are, in turn, optimal for those communities to thrive in their environment. As such, those ways to thrive in their totality—be they economic, cultural, spiritual, or political—will be distinctive in some capacity as being a product of their bioregional environment. This creates a distinct ethos for the society, or societies, that inhabit a given bioregion. Therefore, there will be some level of fundamental coherence in ethos between communities within a given bioregion and, simultaneously, some level of fundamental differentiation between the essential and natural identities of societies in different bioregional environments.

That’s a fancy way of saying a society in one distinguishable place will be different from a society in another distinguishable place in some elemental fashion, and it will be due to the environmental components of those places themselves. Place shapes identity.

So why is this so important, then?

When I worked this concept out in my head, I had an “aha!” moment. I have lived my entire life in the United States of America and I’ve always known that different regions of the country had different and unique characteristics, which help define the communities of people that live in them. We have the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and so forth. Those terms are much more than just geographic distinctions: they each carry connotations of their corresponding society’s defining characteristics. There are certain ways to truly thrive in the Northeast that are irreconcilably different than thriving in the South. It’s always been that way, even before European colonists set foot on North American soil.

Have you ever wondered why these fundamental differences exist? I have. For me, bioregionalism provided that explanation. This fundamental differentiation between different regions is based in bioregional environment. The characteristics and manifestations of what we would consider distinct components of a given regional society were able to be solidified as such because their corresponding environment allowed them to thrive. Place shapes identity.

This is the reason there are distinguishable connotations, both tangible and intangible, to an identity such as “Pacific Northwest.” We have a certain way of doing things and experiencing the world around us which is shaped by our bioregional environment, distinctly different from other bioregional environments in some form or another.

Place shapes identity. I get it!

Bioregionalism is why Cascadia matters; there would be no such thing as Cascadia or any characteristic uniquely “Cascadian” if Cascadia, as a whole and singular bioregion, didn’t exist. The Cascadian bioregion shapes the Cascadian ethos and the Cascadian ethos influences our ways of life, our values, our culture, our economy, our politics, all helping define our society. Place shapes identity.

Bioregionalism can have deep and remarkable implications for how we understand society. How should our communities operate? How should we differentiate and define civic belonging? How can we transcend the existing or traditional definitions of nationhood? How do we best exemplify our bioregional ethos? How does this all compare with our political statuses quo? These are all questions that bioregionalism plays into and are all important for understanding Cascadia as more than just an environmentally-distinct region of North America.

I don’t have all the answers to these questions. I do explore them in my book, Towards Cascadia, and encourage anyone interested to read it; this blog post is only the tip of the iceberg. What I do know, however, is that, when it comes to truly understanding Cascadia or being Cascadian, it doesn’t matter where you were born, what color your skin is, what ancestral bloodline you come from, what ethnicity you identify as, what religion you believe in, who you love, or how much money you have. Human beings have the remarkable capability to adapt to their environment and become a true inhabitant of the place and community they call “home.” You, I, or anyone else can be Cascadian in this place and bioregionalism is why this statement is true.

Place shapes identity. How amazing is that!?

Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today:

Why Should I Care About Bioregionalism?

Cascadia Nature Flag

The Cascadian identity is a concept which is growing in both number and force. Many people, including many of you reading this, who live in and love the Pacific Northwest region of our North American continent are looking to such symbols as the Doug Flag and saying to themselves, “That’s me. That’s who I am. I’m Cascadian.”

This identity of unabashed uniqueness and innovation is a uniting force which has the potential to drive an entire region of millions to a new era of self-realization. Our shared values and shared ways of life as Cascadians—fundamentally differentiated from the rest of our two countries to at least a noticeable extent—are bringing people together in a new kind of national community.

Yet, even among those who already identify primarily as Cascadian in this sphere of influence, there’s a sense of confusion surrounding the importance of bioregionalism. This idea is the keystone of our young and vibrant movement, but its vagueness compels many to question its importance. To put it another way, there are many who are already on board with the Cascadia movement (and many more to come), love the idea of regional solidarity, but just aren’t that interested in environmental issues and don’t understand the vital importance of bioregionalism. If you’re reading this, you may be one of those people.

Often, when talking about bioregionalism in the context of the Cascadia movement, it’s put into niche environmental science terms. Bioregionalism becomes a discussion about plant species, ecosystems, and the taxonomy of ecological classification. This is all important to understand, but it’s only one side of bioregionalism as an idea.

There’s an entirely different side to bioregionalism which directly links to the cultural aspect of the Cascadian identity—the aspect which many identify with even if they don’t really get bioregionalism. I’d like to explore that side of bioregionalism and demonstrate its importance. Without it, Cascadia is nothing more than an arbitrary fad built upon a foundation of subjective criteria.

The Origins of Nationhood

To understand this adequately, we need to recognize the underlying assumptions people make regarding the cause of shared values and shared ways of life on a societal level. It is commonplace in human communities around the world to link patterns of outward action in society (shared ways of life) and patterns of cultural ideals (shared values) with patterns in human characteristics, such as skin color, ethnicity, or religious affiliation. This is the underlying premise to the common understanding of nationhood.

To put this plainly, we often link something like a society’s common ethnic makeup directly with its common cultural traits, stereotypically or otherwise. The problem is when we make this connection, either consciously or subconsciously, we’re saying a society’s common cultural traits are due directly with auxiliary human characteristics, as if there’s something genetically inherent in a given ethnic or racial background which forces an individual of that background to behave a certain way. Likewise, we’re saying there’s an inherent connection in action and belief between an individual of a given background living in a country like the United States or Canada and individuals living in the ancestral homeland of that background.

I’d like to claim unequivocally that this commonplace understanding is factually incorrect and wrong. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know many people of many different human-centric backgrounds (ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic standing, political ideology, etc.) that fit in seamlessly with the common ways of life and common values of where I live and have lived previously. I’m fairly certain that observation holds true for many of you reading this. That’s not to say everyone thinks the same way or believes the same thing, but that we all find commonplace in our society’s shared cultural traits.

If the understanding of nationhood as I described previously were factually correct, then this reality of a coherent society made up of a diverse array of human characteristics would not be realistically possible. Under that premise, people of given backgrounds behave a certain way, each in a distinct manner, because their labels force them to. The chances for widespread cohesion and commonplace among a diverse group of persons is, consequently, highly improbable.

It is, therefore, I call “BS” on this common misconception. With it, Cascadia as an identity shared by many people of all different types of human-centric backgrounds—as it does in reality—doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, it has no sense of inherency and is completely subjective. This just isn’t the case.

Shared Identity Through Place

The Cascadian identity many of us already subscribe to comes from a sense of shared cultural values and shared ways of life, just as many other national identities do. Yet, these shared traits do not come from any human-centric characteristic or identifier. Where do they come from? The answer is our bioregion itself.

Bioregionalism, in its most basic sense, states that a society’s collective identity and overarching sense of values and character—its ethos—is directly influenced and shaped, at least in part, by the environment that society inhabits. When Peter Berg helped define the term in the 1970’s, he wrote of an inherent “terrain of consciousness” present in any bioregion. He was referring to this phenomenon of the ecological and environmental characteristics of a place influencing the practices and beliefs of human communities.

In other words, our Pacific Northwest values and ways of life shared by most throughout our bioregion regardless of human-centric characteristics (intrinsic and non-intrinsic alike) exist because they’ve been forged through generations of living in this place. They thrive and are right for an environment of mountainous terrain, temperate climate, evergreen forests, gray skies, and the seemingly ever-present precipitation during certain parts of the year. Hence, the Cascadian identity comes from our shared bioregion at its most foundational point.

This is why Cascadia as a shared identity is inherent to the region itself. This region has experienced a couple centuries of relative rapid change in outward demographics and cultural identifiers—specific cultural traits commonly identified as being of the Pacific Northwest—through the course of human events to their present conditions. Despite this, Cascadia’s ethos of (among other things) innovation, unbound curiosity, communal strength, non-conformism, and reverence towards nature has held true for thousands of years. It’s done so because its bioregional makeup has maintained through all this time.


Our shared identity and sense of unity comes from our shared natural resources, rivers, and climate. Our bioregion of Cascadia, sculpted from countless centuries of ecological evolution and geological change, designed and outlined by the force of nature itself, is one whole coherent foundation for human communities to build themselves off of. We may share similar traits and values with others on this continent within our two countries which exist in the present, and we most certainly are not opposite of or unfamiliar with such traits and values. But, if bioregionalism as I have described it is true, as I believe it to be, there exists a fundamental disconnect, or a point(s) of differentiation, between the ethos (plural) of our societies on this continent defined by our bioregions.

This is why the Cascadian identity exists and why it has the potential to thrive throughout the entire region. If you identify as Cascadian, this is why you feel connected with other parts of region even if you haven’t physically been before. This is why you should care about bioregionalism even if environmental issues aren’t your thing. Cascadia as an idea only exists because its unique bioregion exists—the two are inherently intertwined and cannot be separated from one another. And so long as our bioregional makeup is sustained, so will its corresponding ethos which drives the actions and interconnectivity of human communities inhabiting it.

Interested in learning more about Cascadia? You can buy your copy of Towards Cascadia today: