Cascadia is a term that is many things to many people.
Firstly, it is a bioregion that defines the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada, incorporating British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, parts of Idaho, southern Alaska and northern California, and in many ways is geographically, culturally, economically and environmentally distinct from surrounding regions. It is a place in the world with unique flora and fauna, topography, geology and is comprised of a interconnected ecosystems and watersheds.
As a social movement, it encourages people to reengage with their local communities, develop local and personal resilience (community gardens, disaster preparedness, etc.), and create alternate lines of regional communication, politics, and interdependence that better represent the social, cultural and political boundaries that define our region.
Cascadia is also a slowly emerging independence movement. It has been listed #7 on Time Magazines top 10 most likely to succeed (at seceding) independence movements, along with Tibet, Scotland and Catalonia, as well as listed as Vice Magazines personal favorite independence movement, along with being featured in a wide range of publications, such as the NYtimes, CNN, Forbes, Portland Monthly, the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Oregonian and many others. While some advocate for a political party, it’s much more common to hear for a push for an eventual referendum, to be approved by a democratic majority in each state, as well as surrounding counties. Support for such an idea is not currently a majority, probably sitting at around 25% in the United States, and ranging in Western Canadian provinces between 35% in British Columbia, to 42% in Alberta. A much more common definition of Cascadia instead seeks simply to help further local autonomy, empower individuals and communities to better represent their own needs, as well as push or environmental and economic responsibility, and increased dynamic, transparent and open governance.
The term Cascadia was adopted in 1970 by Seattle University professor David McCloskey, as a way to better describe our growing regional identity. McCloskey describes Cascadia as “a land of falling waters.” He notes the blending of the natural integrity and the sociocultural unity that gives Cascadia its character. Definitions of the region’s boundaries vary, but usually include the area between the Cascade Range and the Pacific Ocean, and some part of the Coast Mountains. Other definitions follow the boundaries of existing subnational entities, and usually include the territory of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, while others also include parts of California, Idaho, Alaska and Yukon.
In general, the area in and around the Cascadia region is more commonly referred to as the Pacific Northwest. The area’s biomes and ecoregions are distinct from surrounding areas. The resource-rich Salish Sea (or Georgia Basin) is shared between British Columbia and Washington, and the Pacific temperate rain forests, comprising the world’s largest temperate rain forest zone, stretch along the coast from Alaska to California. As this vast area has common economic concerns in the primary sector of industry, it is a matter of debate whether the arid rain shadowed areas further east should be included.
Long united by similar indigenous cultures, Cascadia was once briefly a single political unit: the Oregon Territory – shared by several nations.
The region has since been divided into different political jurisdictions, but Cascadia still retains a sense of self identity. In his book Nine Nations of North America, author Joel Garreau claimed that the Pacific Rim region he called Ecotopia had a different culture from that of what he called The Empty Quarter to the east, and was necessarily different economically as well as ecologically. It must be noted that the concept of “Ecotopia,” which is specific in its boundaries, does not identically match that of “Cascadia,” which varies in its definition.
Cascadia is reinforced by emerging trends from non-profits, academics, business leaders as well as government planners to help strengthen the Pacific Northwest through increased cooperation between elected official and representatives within the Cascadia bioregion, as regional economies continue to realign and become more important in a 21st global economic environment. This trend includes the establishment of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PWNER) in 1991, the Cascadia Mayors Council in 1996, the establishment of a cross-border state ID card in 2006, Pacific Coast Collaboration agreement signed in 2008, and most recently, the Cascadia Infrastructure Exchange project, a trillion dollar collaboration project between the Pacific Coast states and provinces.
Efforts such as the Pacific Northwest Economic Region were the first of their kind, notable as a regional US-Canadian forum in which all legislative members and governors are voting members, along with a consortium of the regions most powerful non-profit, public and private sector companies. PNWER is recognized by the both the United States and Canada as the ‘model’ for regional and bi-national cooperation that provides public and private sectors a cross-border forum that legal scholar Andrew Petter, a former BC cabinet minister and president of Simon Fraser University described as one of North America’s most sophisticated examples of ‘regionalist paradiplomacy’. PNWER remains the only statuatory, non-partisan, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.
The Pacific Coast Collaboration Agreement was similarly impressive. Signed on June 30th, 2008 by the governors of California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, it was the first of its kind to bring together Pacific leaders as a common front to work co-operatively on a range of dynamic challenges facing the Cascadia bioregion. The agreement established a formal basis for cooperative action, a forum for leadership and information and sharing on issues faced by the Pacific Northwest with the overall goal of innovation, sustainability, and maintaining a high standard of living for all residents of the Northwest. It’s primary goals are “regional economy, regional transportation, clean energy, energy conservation and innovation”. Their website also notes the incredible potential possible from a united Cascadia bioregion, noting: “With a combined population of 52 million and a GDP of $2.5 trillion, Alaska, British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington are poised to emerge as a mega-region and global economic powerhouse driven by innovation, energy, geographic location and sustainable resource management, attracting new jobs and investment while enhancing an already unparalleled quality of life.”
Most recently, officials from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California have come together to form the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX), which brings together governors, treasurers and key development agencies help meet critical infrastructure needs over the next 30 years to fund infrastructure needs estimated at more than $1 trillion. The shared goal: Make vital public works and energy projects more feasible in order to improve economic competitiveness and to maintain the region’s unparalleled quality of life. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler unveiled the nonprofit entity, along with representatives from Washington, British Columbia.
The Northwest is home to more than 20 million people, along with diminished but still impressive numbers of salmon, eagles, grizzly bears, killer whales, and wolves. It boasts an economy that generates more than $750 billion worth ($1.5 trillion if San Francisco is included – or roughly the GDP output of Canada or India) of goods and services each year, which would place Cascadia in the top 20 economies of the world. It’s largest city Seattle has an economy slightly smaller than Thailand, but larger than Colombia and Venezuela. The region also has one of the fastest growing clean energy sectors in the world, and already exports electricity based from renewable resources to surrounding states and provinces.
Cascadia is unique in the benefits it would gain through autonomy, it’s advancement of regional sustainability through bio-regional principles, and was ranked as one of the top ten most likely independence movements in the world by Time magazine in 2008.