Beyond Sustainable: Think Regeneratively

So, you hear us use the word “regeneration” A LOT! That’s because it’s the foundation of everything we, and a growing worldwide movement of people, believe to be what’s needed to solve humanity’s biggest problems: famine, water scarcity, topsoil loss, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, water pollution, climate change, and the societal issues caused by these issues. Regeneration sounds like a great idea if it can tackle all those things. However, in a discussion we recently had amongst the team, we realized that before we start acting regeneratively, we need to start THINKING regeneratively. And for most of us, thinking regeneratively requires a pretty big change in perspective.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about what we are calling a new view; a regenerative way of seeing the world. From this place, our HOPE is that your eyes will be opened to the potential for renewal, restoration, and new opportunities that exists ALL AROUND YOU. And that over time, through this new broadened lens on the world, you will be as inspired as we are to share this regenerative message with anyone who will listen (and maybe even to those who are slightly reluctant to listen).

Friendly warning: If you come on this journey with us, you will venture outside of the mainstream, and you will start to see brand new solutions to problems that seem unsolvable. This may result in increased levels of optimism and a sense of responsibility to actually change the planet for the better.

All our actions, small and large, are based on our current views. Our theory of change is that if enough people get a new perspective, their actions can change, and thus the outcome for humanity can change.

In order to start this journey to a new perspective, it is important that we face the current truths of our actions and thinking.

Degenerative = Deteriorating

Our thesis is that most humans are living in a degenerative relationship with the rest of nature’s living systems. From soil, to water, to our food systems, we have become used to a way of interacting with the natural world that assumes we will harm it, exploit it, and deplete it in order to meet our needs. This view comes from 10,000 plus years of witnessing how most of our farming and agriculture (using land or any space to create food, fiber, or fuel for human consumption), results in less natural supply or ecosystem carrying capacity over time. This developed expectation has lead a majority of farming in the world to continue to be based on the extractive model. Which sounds something like this, “Take whatever you can, however you can from the natural environment, and once it is depleted, let it recover on its own.”

Humans have tried many versions of letting nature recover, but in general the Western system of agriculture depends on leaving fields “fallow” in order to give them time to regenerate between times of production. The very concept of “fallow” as a solution to our agricultural production shows that we are trapped in a context of expecting that producing food, fiber and fuel will result in depletion.

Sustainable = Maintaining

Our thesis continues with the belief that Conservation and Sustainability were born as a reaction to a degenerative system. As populations increased and degeneration of land was proven to be a result of poor agricultural practices (from tilling, to overgrazing, to clear cutting), humans began the conservation/sustainability movement. Essentially recognizing that we pushed ecosystems to such an extent that the soil eroded and water supplies dried up and they could no longer regenerate themselves rapidly. It was a wake up call. A movement for curbing the harm and destruction that is caused by large scale industrial agriculture and production. Sustainable is an aim to “do less harm” or as the dictionary defines it, “able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed.”

There is nothing wrong with sustainability, but it is important to remember that thinking about sustainability is a reaction to the degenerative context. When we think of sustainable from this perspective we can see that we are putting a “Band-Aid” on a human relationship with nature that is still degenerative. Many people think of sustainability as a system that tries to replace what is taken out, the recycling symbol (three arrows following each other) is often used to define this system. Again, there is nothing wrong with sustainable as an ultimate whole earth outcome. But, before we use it as a guiding concept, we need to consider where we are and the damage we have already done to our planet.

Think about it; what does “sustainable” actually mean in an already degraded environment?

Regenerative = Renewal, restoration, increasing bio-diversity and resilience

Human’s understanding of our interaction with the natural world through food and agriculture has gone through many evolutions as new ideas (scientific, philosophical, religious, etc) and tools have come into existence. Though there are still hunter gatherer societies today and agricultural based practices that are based on working with the natural law of regeneration, most of our current and past manipulation of nature for our agriculture production has been geared towards fighting against nature, and thereby destroying biodiversity.

The Regenerative Model is the natural model. Nature utilizes everything, there is no waste. Things that degenerate the living system are either shut down or worked around, or something evolves to fit the niche created when the system is adversely affected. There are abrupt large changes in Nature and sometimes these radical shifts cause a portion of an existing ecosystem to collapse. In these cases, life will right itself and a new regime may come in. When a change is significant enough, there may be no going back. The ecosystem will continue to evolve and the most successful ecosystems have high levels biodiversity, which makes them more resilient to unforeseen events.

Humans can be Regenerative: We can work with nature and be keystone species that utilize nature’s methods to more quickly regenerate land and help damaged ecosystems recover. Acting regeneratively in agriculture requires thoughtful observation, whole systems thinking and using techniques that enhance ecosystem functions and restore biodiversity. Proper understanding of natural cycles, water flows, wind patterns, fire frequency, micro and macro climate, insolation, soil type, native species, and site design are just some of the elements to consider in a regenerative agricultural system.

The Regenerative model is much different than the degenerative or sustainable model. It’s the natural model. All things in the natural world are reused and regenerate — meaning their substance is actually utilized by other life forms to make even more life! Regenerative means an upward spiral of biodiversity and abundance in the ecosystem. The regenerative model is based on biomimicry and using the “technology” of natural systems to allow for the regeneration of land while it is simultaneously providing us with the resources we need.

We need to go beyond sustainable. We need to start thinking and acting regeneratively.

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