A COMMUNITY- BASED VIRTUAL BIOREGION PROJECT
(for Voice Magazine Issue 19 (Canberra 2006)
Tim Metcalf talks with John Champagne and Roger Bunyan on the Mumbulla Virtual Bioregion
TM: How is the Mumbulla Bioregion defined?
JC: The ranges of two large trees, Angophora floribunda (Apple Box) and Eucalyptus tereticornis (Forest Red Gum) overlap from the northern slopes of the Wolumla range to the foothills of Gulaga south of Tilba Tilba. This area fits a bioregional concept that ideally includes 7-12,000 people with a shared catchment and efficient transport and communications network; that is 90% internally sustainable; and that retains sufficient export capacity to meet its remaining needs.
TM: What is the purpose of the Bega Bioregion?
JC: It will act as the ecological foundation of an administrative structure that is tied to the actual landscape. There are many such regions in Australia that could be locally defined, and then managed sustainably. Instead, an excessive amount of trade is controlled by large companies who do not consider local community or environment in their headless pursuit of profit.
TM: What do you mean by distortion of community?
RB: Consider the humble supermarket potato. It is grown way out of the bioregion, and costs fossil fuel energy to store, transport and then display. The customer uses more fossil fuel to get to the potato in their car, and then to take it home. Furthermore, they use more fuel again in traveling to and fro work to earn the money to pay for the potato. The more we work, the less time we have for community.
Under the Alternative Nation the potato is grown at home. The consumer has less income, but also less expenditure. A lot less atmospheric carbon dioxide is created. The consumer sees health benefits that extend well beyond eating their home-grown potato: less work stress, more exercise, and psychologically healthy contact with earth and community. It is not as if it is hard to grow your own potatoes.
RB: People are moving in, and the Alternative Nation welcomes them when they are interested in embracing at least some permacultural principles. Great diversity is part of the system, but decreasing consumption of non-sustainable goods, including fuels, is part of it too.
JC: Permaculture is a proven tool new arrivals have available to them to buffer them from the looming consequences of Peak Oil. Alternative Nation attracts people who want to develop a resilient, sustainable, consensus driven community.
TM: Resilience is related to local food production, and water supply, but it can also be achieved by strengthening interconnections within, and without, our community.
RB: This is where virtual community comes in. The IT infrastructure we have now established at www.communitypower.com.au is the template for its evolution. The potential for this virtual nation is enormous.
TM: What is your experience of www.brogo.org.au, the Brogo community website you have hosted for several years now?
TM: And the potential of the virtual nation?
TM: How can this Alternative, Virtual Nation compete with the massive, fear driven, corporatised and (allegedly) rationalized global economy?
RB: As the virtual bioregion gains in strength, so property-based income, with all its savings in time and energy and benefits for lifestyle and health, will become increasingly dominant. Mainstream economists would say this is not competitive, and they may be right in their simplistic fiscal world. But they are certainly wrong aesthetically: in terms of happiness, groundedness, satisfaction, and even security.
TM: By security I take you to mean locally based resilience to global change?
RB: Yes. This is not just a function of food supply, however. The entire community, reoriented towards sustainability, creates the resilience by its diversity of skills.
JC: The Bega Bioregion comes already diversified upon a solid base of ancient aboriginal feeding grounds and a naturally attractive area; now we have Steiner education, an organic bulk wholefoods co-operative, BEND, and a thriving contemporary arts community.
TM: The historical and cultural differences have caused conflict in the past; but you see them as a catalyst for the creation of a sort of permacultural state?
JC: Each of the many cultures represented in the bioregion has a story to share. The Alternative Nation will hold convergences, probably annually, of the various groups, to aim, in the beginning at least, to link groups and identify needs. The first convergence was held at the BEND land in February.
TM: Tying the administrative structure to the ecological structure of a specific bioregion, then, is a form of pre-armageddic preparedness?
JC: It is human to flap our hands about impotently when we perceive a disaster is coming. The Alternative Nation is the best preparation we can make.
RB: Ecological catastrophe will come, as it has already to some parts of the world. We still have a small window of opportunity, perhaps 5 or 10 years, to establish a resilient communal structure to cope with it.
Tim Metcalf 2006
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