Forget 'sustainable', let's move to 'regenerative' development

Progress Namibia - Forget 'sustainable', let's move to 'regenerative' development
05 August 2018

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We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
– Aldo Leopold

A number of Weeklies ago, I talked about 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development' as language that has been hijacked and made almost redundant. Sustainable development has a purpose: to make life on this planet sustainable. Maintain the status quo. But when this term was coined in the Brundtland Report in 1987, we still had hope when it came to maintaining the status quo. Decades later, the status quo includes hundreds of millions of acres of degraded or destroyed farmland and leveled rainforest, depleted to exhausted fisheries, polluted rivers and lakes, decreasing (to the point of 'tipping into a new state') biodiversity, and a changing climate. To sustain this is not acceptable if we are to survive on our home planet.

It is the view of many that we need to start thinking of regenerative rather than just sustainable development. We urgently need to take specific (and systemic) actions to help regenerate soils, forests, and watercourses rather than just merely allowing them to be sustained in an increasingly degraded condition.

An acute state of emergency exists (for us and the species that have evolved with us) on Earth, threatening its climate and its life support systems. Regenerative development could change things up in a way that we heal (we regenerate) through our development. The focus shifts from reducing harm to improving benefit. The goal is not to just reach net zero impact, but to actually reach net positive impact.

Complexity science can teach us that as participants in a complex eco-psycho-social system that is subject to biophysical limits, our goal has to be participation, not prediction and control. The best way to participate is to pay much more attention to systemic relationships and interactions, to aim to support the resilience and health of the whole system, to foster diversity, and to facilitate positive emergence through paying attention to the quality of connections of information flows in the system. System thinking. Remember, life exists on Earth because life exists on Earth. We are all interconnected. The principles of regenerative development can be applied to everything, from agriculture to architecture. If we apply them correctly, and use the language correctly, we will find that we can aspire to a better world for all. In the end, the language does not really matter, does it. What matters, is the positive change in the right direction.

In times of change, the learners will

inherit the Earth while the knowers will
find themselves beautifully equipped
to deal with a world that no longer exists.
-Eric Hoffer