How we as a society can — very simply — add value to the system we live in so that the system will allow us to regenerate even further.
“Let us work to live up to our scientific name: Homo sapiens, the wise ape” ~ Jane Goodall
Regeneration as Paul Hawken describes it in his latest book ReGeneration, Ending the Climate Crisis in one Generation, is about putting life at the centre of every action and decision. This applies to every ‘man made’ and ‘nature made’ creation, ranging from fish to schools, from farms to governments and from families to oceans and forests. The important thing to highlight here is that all these creations exist and can only exist because they are embedded in complex networks and relationships. Without this interconnected aspect people, lands, oceans and cultures would perish.
This life-centered definition of regeneration is very similar to the teachings of Biomimicry — literally meaning mimicking Nature — which is innovation inspired by Nature . Biomimicry is a science that uses a set of Life’s principles — principles abstracted from Nature’s strategies — which we can use as a guidance for us to live and innovate in a way that adds value to our environment as opposed to the ‘classical’ way of business in which the value of the environment we are embedded in is only subtracted. Zooming into this particular point, it sounds logical that a one way linear subtracting model cannot be sustained perpetually. Life’s strategy for example is quite different. It has been able to live and innovate on this planet for 3.8 billions of years. It knows what works and what simply does not. In the past centuries we have shown that our ways to do business and innovate do not work because if we test them on the most central principle of biomimicry: Life creates conditions conducive to Life — or in other words — Living organisms make sure that they leave the environment in which they live in, better then they found it — they totally fail. Do businesses and governments and even schools that will in the future support these institutions pass this test? Hell No! Living organisms invest in the health of the ecosystem they live in. In return, the ecosystem will provide them viability, vitality, health and wealth in terms of resources and life forms. In contrast, we as humans — as living organisms but not really acting as ones — have only focused on the ‘success’ of our own generation and in that process we have destroyed and polluted everything we could put our hands on. Take for example ants, living organisms that focus on ensuring the ‘success’ of the next 10.000 generations. They have been doing this for the past 130.000 million years. Their Future looks promising. Ours, we are not so sure.
Jane Goodall highlights in the foreword of Paul Hawken’s book the following: our explosive development of our intellect separates us from our closest relatives — even though most animals are surely a lot more clever than we previously thought. Yet, it is bizarre that “we, the most intellectual of all species, should be destroying our only home”.
There is hope though. As Jane Goodall formulates, the key lies in restoring the disconnect between our clever brains and the love and compassion which poetically resides in the human heart. In general, restoring the disconnects is a good idea. As we discussed in the beginning: everything that exists on this planet is able to exist because of its interconnectedness with the rest. The reverse is also true; disconnect can be seen as a synonym for unsustaining.
Let’s take the food system as an unsustaining example — the various influences and processes in our global food system, basically the entire farm to fork chain, are largely interconnected and interdependent. Naturally in a system, positive and negative feedback loops are involved. Through systemic degenerative practices in agriculture such as the overuse of artificial fertilizers, nutrient runoff, soil degradation, and deforestation, we are massively polluting the planet we live on. These “damages” have cascaded consequences, and lead, for example, to biodiversity collapse, ocean dead zones, and ecosystem instability. While trying to meet rising food demands and feed a population of 10 billion by 2050 — we are digging an ever deeper hole for our planet, and for ourselves.
On the other side of the coin, when it comes to connectedness and hope, the food system also posits a great example and opportunity. If we would put a stop to the usage of exploitative inputs and restore agricultural soils by reconnecting with the way in which our food is grown, we would witness the increase of essential microbial connections, the comeback of native wildlife, and many other, cascading benefits. We would then witness regeneration at its best. Think about it: how many people know where their food really comes from? How many know what resources went into its production? Regeneration is about getting back in touch with nature, getting back to the “roots”. However, it does not stop here. As we have illustrated before, regeneration is about adding value plus doing this in a continuous way. Or in other words, it is the natural flow of evolution in which the biggest survival mechanism is making sure that the system in which one is embedded works and thrives so that the working and thriving of the single organism is also ensured. Imagine if we would have this surviving mechanism stamped on our heads… The root problem is that we have forgotten that we are Nature and that all this wisdom is already present in us. Especially if, for example through biomimicry, we reconnect with the rest of Nature surrounding us or with indigenous knowledge. If we would do so, we could say that regenerating is — simply — a ‘natural’ state we should ‘go back’ to… or better, ‘foward’? Honestly. Without pointing too much with the finger at us. Like the famous quote of Einstein stated: “The problems of today can only be solved at a higher level of thinking than that which created them.” So maybe it is about going forward and seeing what added value our history brings? If we would want to be really rigorous with the terminology of regeneration, we would be careful to use words like restoring, because it implies that we are trying to make something right, bringing it back to the state it was. But regeneration is more than that: it is about adding value all the time and just going forward instead of backwards — “ it is a natural phenomenon — as old as life itself”.
There is a clear difference between ‘doing better’ and ‘doing better things ‘. It is about a slight shift of 45 degrees, but a fundamental one. An analogical difference between sustainability and regeneration. Once your basic principles are different, everything you will build upon that, will also represent those principles. The result will be — simply — different. Maybe, the added value of our history is that once we started to go into the bifurcated road of rationalism we have been able to see how nothing can exist in isolation — even us. And somehow we might end up valuing the interconnectedness and the living support system, so, that all our buttons of human creativity might turn on — and — in favour of thriving activities that would not have existed otherwise. One day we might look back at this time and see how all these activities and different decisions had been made possible because once we became aware of what — simply — does not work. In that sense we are just as living as all the rest living beings. We are only caught in a specific moment in time — caught in our own process, brewing up, finding out our way forward.
Let’s have a look at the way systems thinking can give us insights and clues on what a 45 degrees shift of perspective might give. In the field of nutrition for example, regeneration of the human body can take place. In the words of Michael Greger (MD), “the best-kept secret in medicine is that, given the right conditions, the body heals itself”. Regenerative agriculture and plant-rich consumption patterns are examples of synergetic, nature-based system solutions that can truly restore (some) damage H. Sapiens have caused over the centuries — while at the same time initiating a synergetic change in the food system. Synergetic? With this, we like to refer to the concept of ONE health — human health, animal health, planetary health are interconnected and can all be improved at the same time with regeneration. For example in regenerative agriculture, soil health is central, because it is upon this foundation that plant health, animal health, human health and our Planet’s health depend on. The reverse is also true. Global macro-patterns of degeneration, like a massive decline in biodiversity can be observed across all scales. The poorer the biodiversity in our gut, the poorer our health. Our gut is in turn connected to trillions of non-human microbiota through its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system, which interacts with our central nervous system. That is how intimate our inner nature is connected to our outer nature. By the way, this is the result of a long-lasting co-evolutionary relationship with our environment. What is happening now? More and more evidence suggests that our western lifestyle contributes to poor gut-microbiota in terms of biodiversity, which in turn directly affects health indicators like inflammation, immunity and even mental states. A poor gut-microbiota has been even associated with diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, autism spectrum disorders and Parkinson’s Disease. “Degradation of the environment is mirrored in a degraded human microbiome, and a degraded human microbiome becomes mirrored in a degraded brain system.” Leen Gorissen adds, in her book — NI, Building the Future of Innovation on Millions of years of Natural Intelligence: “Makes me wonder whether poor land leads to poor guts, and whether poor guts lead to poor thoughts” ;). Because Nature’s default innovation leads primarily to increased richness in the land, and increased complexity and sophistication in the living. So, we might assume that degradation of the land leads to the opposite; poor lands leading to poor thoughts.
The bottom-line is, “the poorer the health of the environment, the poorer our own health”, “Our nature shapes the nature of the environment, and our environment shapes our nature”.
So — let us focus on shaping the nature of our environment in such a way that the environment will reshape our nature in terms of health, vitality, viability and wealth, instead.
As we said, there is hope. The end of an era of unsustaining practices is in sight. Or… the end might be even closer than just a sight; it feels more like we are on the verge of a precipice of change, in which logic cannot be denied any-more. More and more people around the globe feel identified with the word ‘Regeneration’. A new identification paired with a movement.
The champion survivors in Nature, like our beloved ants, not only generate positive impact, they also create conditions for regeneration. Like Dr. Tamsin explains in her book — Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet (and your company can too) — they follow a set of simple rules that include breaking up in modular teams, they self-organize and work from the bottom-up in an organic way to induce systemic changes. Like this, tipping points can be reached and suddenly trigger a change in behavior. At first their networks, made up from imprecise and constantly updating decisions, appear noisy. However, patterns tend to emerge at some point. These patterns are then adopted throughout the whole system in a synchronous way. It is thought that once 11% of the network shares the same behavior a sudden cascading system occurs in which the behavioral pattern propagates and spreads throughout the whole system.
As a sociobiologist, Dr. Tamsin also argues that, yes, it is true, we are 98% genetically identical to chimps, however our human behavior also shows highly cooperative traits present in superorganisms like social insects do for instance. That is the remaining 2% in us. When a small percentage of us agree on something, the rest tends to go along. That is our herd- like mentality, coming from our mammalian roots. Also, emotionality is another one of those chimp-like traits. Thus, Dr. Tamsin argues that the combination of ape-like and ant-like traits makes us a special superorganism of our own; more like ant-like apes to be more precise.
Let’s quickly dive into a framework that exactly illustrates how change happens from the bottom-up, when it comes to human behavior. In 2002, this was first visualized in the Multi-Level Perspective (or MLP, in short). This framework shows that human innovation happens in the small niches of our society. The world’s current, dominant systems (whether economic, political or social) are called regimes. When an innovation rolls around that presents a more attractive alternative to a current system, it can be broadly adopted as the new normal and actually replace any existing regime. This is how small, decentralized initiatives can reshape entire systems that we live in.
In concrete terms, likewise we can rethink and reshape our global energy systems, public health, and educational systems. Renewable energy, integrated health policies, schools with bio-inspired curricula, and so on.. — so that these sectors will provide us back with a thriving activity of health, vitality, viability and wealth, in terms of resources and life forms. That is how regeneration works.
The reached thresholds here and there and the tiptoeing tipping points are feelable all around the World; people are gathering and making their voices heard. In many different forms and shapes, driven by the feeling of responsibility and an urge to protect our home and ourselves. Like mushrooms, these “grassroots movements” are springing up.
Grassroots movements are self-organized efforts that encourage community members to engage in activities that support a social or political cause. Inherently, grassroots movements represent bottom-up, niche innovation.
The great thing? When more and more “seeds” of regeneration are planted, a ripple effect packed with ever-propagating benefits occurs. So much so that maybe one day, we find ourselves living in harmony with nature and our own nature, not living off of nature as a whole (us included).
A wonderfully interconnected world that now only passes by in our dreams is in sight…
By the way, the homo sapiens has been around for 300.000 years. A bit of humbleness and life-centrism would be welcome. Maybe that might even be the key to becoming a bit more wise.
- Click here for Paul Hawkens’ book “Regeneration”
- Learn more about Biomimicry on Biomimicry.org
- Click here for the Jane Goodall Institute
- Click here for Leen Gorisson’s book “NI, Building the Future of Innovation on Millions of years of Natural Intelligence”
- Click here for Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker’s book “Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet (and your company can too)”
- Learn more about Food Systems and the role of individuals (consumers) in this online course (MOOC)
- Learn more about Climate Cleanup’s intervention on Regenerative farming in Gelderland on Lifelab.oncra.org
- Join the Regeneration Movement from Climate Cleanup
- Contact us and join the young Regeneration movement in the Netherlands
Intrigued about Regeneration?