NB: the following are notes for an article I am still working on and should not be considered the final product. – Byron Joel, November 2016.


Building relationships between communities from climatically analogous bioregions.


“Ecology is the foundation of agriculture. Agriculture is the foundation of culture.”

` Byron Joel: ‘Regen Australis.’


Building relationships between communities from climatically analogous bioregions.

The ‘Sibling Regions’ concept is an eco-agricultural reinterpretation on the ‘Sister Cities/Twin Towns’ practice. However, unlike those conventional couplings in which a diplomatic relationship is forged between two settlements from different nations in order to strengthen political and economic ties, the Sibling Regions project intends to couple climatically analogous and culturally compatible places from around the world so that they may enrich one another through the exchange of appropriate and applicable ecological, agricultural and cultural techniques. The ’Sibling Regions’ concept was born as a subset of the valuable and growing discussion on Bio-regional Administration.

What is a Sister City?

“A sister city, county, or state relationship is a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two countries.”

The practice of symbolically coupling two or more distant localities is over a millennia old. In Europe, the earliest recorded example of a twinning was between Le Mans, France and Paderborn, Germany in 836, however the first modern example is from 1920 when the English town of Keighley “adopted” the WWI ravaged French town of Poix-du-Nord and donated resources for them to build a community centre. After the Second World War the concept was employed to foster diplomatic relations across previously hostile borders, such as the twinning of Coventry in the U.K with Stalingrad, Russia and later also with Dresden, Germany, all three of which had been the victims of bombing raids during the war. In 1956 U.S President Eisenhower founded Sister Cities International as a hub intended to promote world peace through international community building. In the 1980s formal ‘twinning charters’ were exchanged and today they are implemented the world over under various names such as ‘Friendship Towns’, ‘Partner Towns’, ‘Partnership Towns’, ‘Twinned Towns’ and ‘Sister Cities’.

Other motivations for twinning have been based on a shared name between sites, such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain and it’s namesake Santiago de Querétaro in Mexico. Similarity in demographic has been another reason as in the twinning between English university town Oxford with German counterpart Bonn. Today, a city may have numerous Sister Cities and the twinning of towns or cities is largely motivated by politics, economics and general good will within international relations with a strong leaning toward strengthening trade relations.

The following is an example of suggested factors to consider when choosing a Sister City taken from the website for the city of Perth, capital of Western Australia…

– Population and demographics (nationals of one Sister City residing in the other)
– Geographic location and assets (eg Port, Frontier)
– Ease of access
– Comparison of key industries
– Existing linkages (eg student exchanges)
– Relevance to local community
– History of diplomatic relations and/or cooperation in political, economic, commercial and cultural fields
– Similar economic conditions
– Trade and investment climates and opportunities
– Tourism potential
– Similar social infrastructure and issues
– Opportunity for broad based activity
– People to people interest, energy and commitment
– Across economic, social and environmental issues
– Student / teacher exchange programs
– University linkages”


As one can see from the above excerpt, while there is attention paid to comparable demographics, industry and economics there is no mention of climatic, ecological or agricultural similarities.

Why propose Sibling Regions?

The world is on the brink of significant change across a number of important fronts. Social, economic, political, environmental, energetic and more…  As we face increasing levels of social turbulence caused largely by energy decline and climate change, the types of eco-agri/cultural exchanges proposed here are increasingly valuable to the well being and success of Human settlements everywhere. While our modern context poses many challenges it also offers great opportunities. One of the positives we can now draw upon is our access to not only information such as appropriate agri/cultural practices but also species/varieties of plants and animals from around the world that have never before been combined in agricultural systems. It is for these reasons and more that we propose the Sibling Regions concept.

The world is coming to appreciate the implications of the peak oil phenomena. As the last of the low hanging fruit is consumed we are witnessing a scramble to glean the remaining petro-chemical resources, those that once upon a time weren’t considered for extraction due their poor accessibility, difficult processing requirements and relatively low yields. The tar sands, coal seem gas etc. And these resources too have a finite life span. Eventually the costs of extraction and processing will meet or overtake the financial return and it simply won’t be viable any longer. By that stage, in an ideal world, we would have established ‘green’ technologies like solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy production. These will go a long way to meeting many of our needs, however they will not provide the same quantities of energy that the hyper-rich fossil fuels once did and so, in a world that has become so addicted and dependant on an unprecedented quantity of energy, we must now prepare for an energy decline.

We are living within an ecological collapse. Due to our unfortunate combination of wielding both profound energetic potency and widespread immaturity we are witnessing acute ecocidal trends. The pedal-to-the-metal sprint of post war, industrial elitism perceived the natural world as at best a resource to be squandered and often as little as an ‘externality’ to it’ own system and our collective actions have reflected such folly. Nowadays we are becoming all to aware of the extent of the ecological damage our species had caused. Waters polluted, forests logged, species lost… perhaps none of it would matter so much if these were in fact somehow ‘external’ to our needs, but to the contrary, the ecology, as already stated is the very foundation the human enterprise and furthermore holds invaluable inherent wealth(beyond any Human need) in it’s own right.

We are forgetting how to live from the land. Going the same way toward extinction and for similar reasons, are aspects of what Anthropologist Wade Davis calls the ‘Ethnosphere’. The many, varied and valuable relicts of traditional Human cultures, practical, ceremonial and otherwise they are born from the relationship between a people, themselves and their associated ecology over prodigious time periods and reflect our specie’s inherent ingenuity. For the Human animal the loss of these cultural forms can be as dangerous as that of an important food species. They are the software by which we navigate the world, they are our Art of Living and without them we are as infants wandering all but blind through the world. Thanks to the well oiled machine of the industrial global empire these cultural artefacts are increasingly threatened as they are disposed with in favour of tacky, mass-produced conveniences. As many local ecologies lose biodiversity and atrophy into desertification the exchange of applicable and appropriate species and related strategies become ever more valuable.

What then is the wisest trajectory we could take amid this multi-fronted turbulence? If these current degenerative trends continue the most abundant and resilient human settlement systems of the future will be fundamentally eco-agricultural in capital. While our specie’s access to the immense energy contained within fossil fuels has been relatively recent and brief, we have, over a mere 3 or 4 generations arrived at the misperception that somehow we have become mysteriously excused from or immune to the ecological consequences of natural law. However as we enter further into a low-energy scenario we will be quickly reminded the truth of an axiom so deeply principle to the human animal that once, everywhere(and many places today still) it was taken as utterly self evident, being that… Ecology is the foundation of agriculture and agriculture is the foundation of culture(taken from the ‘Regen Australis’ platform). Therefore it is this author’s opinion that contrary to most people’s hollywood inspired visions of the future, in a world without high-energy on tap it’s most unlikely that life will be all chrome skyscrapers, androids and flying cars… In a low-energy scenario human settlement systems rely on something far more mundane… Ecology. The elements, water, earth, fire, wind and the flora and fauna and our capacity to intelligently steward these elements into the most abundant, resilient and efficient means possible. It is no small consolation that this is one of our species deepest, innate talents. Here biology will be the basis of our lives and livelihoods and all but all technologies, techniques and strategies will be human scale, those able to be sourced, constructed and maintained by individuals, families or communities using the resources locally available to them.

Unlike most peoples throughout history who’s cultural practices evolved in concert with their environment over countless generations, we now find ourselves in the unprecedented situation of having to actively think, design and construct our(or more accurately, our descendants) way out of a potentially disastrous scenario. Fortunately we do have a few things going for us… We now have countless tools to draw from in aid of our efforts. A smorgasbord of species, techniques, technologies and general information from across the world. These coupled with intelligent application of the remaining petrochemical energies at our collective disposal means we really do have a shot at getting this right… so long as there is also the will to do so and that too seems to be growing, at least from a grassroots level. From deep within the hearts of people a resounding call back to country, community, self and life… Left to it’s own devises this phenomena alone might be enough to see us through without too much turbulence and suffering. If coupled with the kinds of infrastructure and resources that governments and large corporate entities wield we could see unimaginably beautiful systems emerge and establish. As to just how the top-down element in all this plays out is as good as anyone’s guess and an important crux to the near to mid term future of the Human experience. In terms of agriculture, this means that peoples the world over can access and implement the sum of all applicable and appropriate species and associated cultural techniques. We need only a protracted mechanism of exchange.


So what exactly is a climatic analogue?

Wherever one looks upon the planet there will be other locations around the globe that, to varying degrees resemble it’s climatic condition. These are known as ‘climatic analogues’. Many regions of the world have more than one strong climatic analogue. Climatic analogues may also include similar conditions that existed in another region but during a different time period. There are many parameters that inform the climate of a region. Elevation, proximity to the ocean, ocean currents… all these elements and more combine to determine the seasonal precipitation and temperature flux, that when combined with soil types, so determine the forms of biology that may survive and thrive there. Most people are familiar with the broader climatic descriptions… Desert, tropics, temperate, mediterranean, tundra etc. However we suggest the use of a particular classification system which goes into considerably deeper detail.

In around 1900 German geographer Wladimir Köppen and German climatologist Rudolf Geiger collaborated to devise what has since become the world’s premier climate classification system. The Koppen-Geiger Climate Classification System categorises climate types in three parts based upon their 1: Main climate, 2: Precipitation and 3: Temperature.

Lets take, for example the town of Margaret River in south Western Australia. How could we best locate an appropriate Sibling Region? Firstly, we can recognise it’s major climate type as described in the Köppen-Geiger classification system. In this case much of south Western Australia is classified as between a C.S.A and C.S.B system with Margaret River positioned toward to C.S.B end.

CSA describes…

Main Climate: Warm Temperate, Precipitation: Summer Dry and Temperature: Hot Summer and is associated with areas including the Swan Coastal Plain northwards to the Batavia Coast and inland to varying degrees. This area is the most densely populated in the state and houses Perth, Fremantle, Bunbury etc.

While CSB describes…

Main Climate: Warm Temperate, Precipitation: Summer Dry and Temperature: Warm Summer and is associated with areas including the Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturalist, the Great Southern and extends (albeit broken) along the southern coast to the beginnings of the Great Australian Bite. This area is home to towns such as Margaret River, Nannup, Manjimup, Pemberton and Albany.

These climate types are commonly referred to as Mediterranean Climate Regions(MCRs).

Where else in the world are MCRs located?

Coastal California, central Chile, parts of South and Western Australia, the Western Cape of South Africa and of course the Mediterranean Basin itself. These are the few and relatively isolated areas across the globe which fit the description of a Mediterranean Climate Region. Sometimes referred to as dry-summer subtropical or ‘CSA/CSB’ in the Köppen-Geiger climate classification system, these regions have long, hot, dry summers; mild, wet winters and are found predominantly on the west coasts of continents approximately between 31 and 40 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. Covering a mere approximate 5% of the world’s land mass, the Mediterranean climate regions of the world represent a far larger portion of our popular global culture. The Mediterranean Basin itself, from which the systems take their name, bore incalculable influence upon world politics and history; it’s shores shared and fought over at various times by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Ottomans and more. These powerful, far travelling peoples opened trade routes across the ‘old world’, discovering what were to them previously unknown plant species, spreading them as they travelled on and of course returning with them home to the Mediterranean Basin and from there to the ‘new world’. South Western Australia is a great example because modern contemporary Australian culture is acutely maladjusted to the ecological realities of the continent….

The Sibling Regions project may also be used in concert with newly emerging meteorological tools to help project and prepare regions for the growing realities of climate change. Using the CCAFS Climate Analogue Tool members of any given Bio-region can more accurately prepare for the effects of climate change upon their agricultural production.

Wherever they have travelled, humans have brought with them the plants and animals they have come to appreciate and indeed survive upon. In fact has been stated that due to our relatively fragile and defenceless physical bodies we humans are by necessity a symbiotic organism, forming close ties with numerous other species in relationships of (hopefully)mutually beneficial exchange. Cows, sheep, goats, dogs, cats… not to mention the countless varieties of plants that have been improved and domesticated through selection processes that span over prodigious time.

In some cases even though a certain species has been brought to a place from considerable distance, it has been so well adapted to and adopted by it’s new locality for so long it is ostensibly ‘indigenous’ to it’s new(er) home. Take the apple, Malus spp. Native to the temperate woodlands of Kazhkstan and the Near East it was first introduced to western Europe by the Romans some 2000 years ago. It has since undergone countless generations of selection and improvement to where the U.K alone lays claim to approximately XXX traditional varieties of apple. In fact one could be excused for thinking the apple originated in England or France.

Can both native and exotic species be used together? In the post industrialised world we have seen a vast rise in human migration made easier by revolutions in travel technology and necessary by war. And predictably, in these more modern cases too, amongst the luggage of migrants there has been the seeds and cuttings of the favoured plants of their home lands. However since this last diaspora international bio-security measures have become progressively more rigid mainly in attempts to protect the monolithic, monocultural modern food production systems so innately prone to pest issue. Quarantine and bio-security are of immeasurable importance and should be treated as such with any potential Sibling Region project. However, in our modern context most human supporting ecologies have been so abused as to no longer resemble their “natural” state. Their biodiversity count has plummeted and it is fairly common for them to have more than one keystone species been made recently extinct.

Can we establish eco-agricultural systems which regenerate robust ecological function while simultaneously providing for all of Humanity’s needs?

Yes. Undoubtedly. The work has been proven in the field. But we will find it very challenging indeed if we insist that only those species which are endemic to any given region be used.

Bio-regional Congruency(Identity? ‘Cop-op’?)

“It is literally and etymologically a ‘life-place’, in Robert Thayer’s words, whose unique geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological qualities – its metabolism – can be the basis for meaning and identity.” – John Thackara

  • autonomous, decentralised administration is by definition more localised and thus…
    • More reflective of local ecological subtleties
    • More effective and efficient
    • fosters a strong, ‘terra-centric’ regional identity
    • renders the people more resilient to imperial despotism
  • Core values of BRA
    • Stewardship(vs extraction model)
    • ‘Growth’ as Triple-bottom-line(8cap?) Regeneration(vs conventional ‘economic growth’, exclusively profit driven)

Fostering Bio-regional awareness

  • Recognition and description of the bio-region(‘whole under management’). Thorough studies into the region’s…
    • Ecology: Climate(season, precipitation etc), geography(soils), biomes, flora/fauna etc
    • Natural History
    • Cultural History: peoples, pre-industrial agri/culture & industry of the region
    • Contemporary agriculture & industry
    • Contemporary demo/psycho/ethno-graphics of the region’s human population
    • Climatic analogues

Watersheds, woodsheds, firesides, food systems AND Local Culture(as extension of ecology)

Historically, in times and places where regions have not been ‘unified’ under the sword of imperial expansion what we know as bioregional identity naturally forms as an inevitable result of peoples response to the nuances of their local ecology

*Make note of Europe as example of regional identity


Steps in Bio-regional Admin

  • Define ‘Bio-region’
  • Identify your bio-region
  • Where in the world are you?
  • Describe your physical location.
  • Who are you? Who are the people populating that area? Even if it feels like an obvious thing to you, go back over it. How long have these peoples been in the region? Where did they come from before hand? It may be that the current inhabitants of the region have a very long, uninterupted, ethnically and culturally homogenous history in the region that has been very stable in its forms for a very long time. It may be that the region has a very complex cultural history, a mixed heritage with all sorts of unusual and subtle nuances.. describe these things.
  • Describe the ecology
  • What defines your bioregion?
  • Get thorough on the ecology, the topography, the geology and soil types, hydrology and precipitation, seasonal cycles, the plant and animal communities. How much of it is wilderness? How much of it is developed? What are the main industries?How much of it is cultivated to agriculture?
  • Describe the agriculture.
  • What is the current agriculture of the region like?
  • What were the traditional agricultural forms/crops in the last low energy scenario?
  • What was it like a pre-war?
  • What was it like pre-industry? Be thorough.
  • Are the common crops native or introduced?
  • Climatic Analogues. Once you’ve defined your bioregion, the ecology and culture, then you look at other places around the world that share similar climatic conditions, similar meteorology and then make a study of their cultural forms, including utilised species, as in depth as is practical and from there one can glean what potential other systems may be appropriated.
  • Once data has been accumulated we start the design process which leeds to the most important stage of all… the implementation of physical systems.


© Byron Joel, Oak Tree Designs, 2016

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