Calling for new ways of doing and being that will regenerate healthy ecosystems, create community climate resilience, and rebuild an equitable and just world that prioritizes qualities of relationship. Daniel Christian Wahl advocates addressing causes rather than symptoms, and shifting our focus from competitive scarcity towards collaborative abundance as an enabler of planetary healing. This means reconnecting and embodying our intimacy with an animate Earth, requiring unprecedented cooperation and deep care for life. In other words, seeing that act of serving the health and well-being of all as the most enlightened pathway to serving ourself.
Regenerating the Earth and her people
We are living in perilous times of breakdown and breakthrough. Our survival now depends on our collective ability to come together as one humanity expressed through diverse regenerative cultures everywhere. The higher ground that can unite us in all our magnificent diversity is deep love and care for the wider family of life. To heal the Earth we have to heal humanity. To heal humanity we have to re-perceive and remember our intimate relationship with each other and life as a planetary and cosmic process.
All human design is an expression of our intentionality. Our intentions are affected by our worldview, the dominant cultural narrative, and by how conscious we are of our participatory agency in ‘bringing forth our world together’. As we are waking up to our participation in a complex and conscious universe it becomes evident that everything is an intervention and conscious participation literally matters.
To regenerate the Earth and her people all our designs will have to express our interbeing with life as a planetary process. All of us are unique expressions — emergent properties if you will — of this planetary process. At the same time we are all co-creators manifesting the future potential of the present moment through how we show up and what we activate through our attention and intention today — now!
It is time for an evolutionary leap, for our species to become healers rather than violators and have a regenerative rather than degenerative impact on the wider community of life and each other. We can learn from life and as life itself we can know how to meet human needs while stewarding ecosystems health and the life supporting processes of the biosphere.
We need to reconnect and embody our intimacy with an animate Earth — Gaia — if we hope to chart the humble path of geo-therapy rather than running headlong into the hubristic one way street of geo-engineering. The generations alive today can no longer be spectators but have to become protagonists of unprecedented cooperation. Our deep care for all life can inform our co-creative redesign of the human presence and impact on Earth.
Facing the extent of the ecological crisis
Humanity has become an existential threat to its own existence. In the last 5000 years we have cut down more than half of the world’s forests. In the last 50 years alone human activity has contributed to the loss of nearly two thirds of the world’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. We have eliminated vital diversity from our diets to the extent that three quarters of the world’s food today comes from a dozen crops and five animal species. Current practices continuing — by 2050 — there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Micro-plastics have been detected in our drinking water, our food chain and even in the rain of the most remote regions. Planetary health, ecosystems health and human health are intricately linked.
The window of opportunity to avoid cataclysmic climate change is closing fast. We need to act with urgency to avoid irreversible feedback loops in the climate system. We are already witnessing the release of methane and nitrous oxide from melting permafrost. Ocean acidification is already causing the die off of the world’s coral reefs. It might soon trigger the release of vast amounts of CO2 stored in deep ocean sediments. Rapid loss of polar sea-ice and arctic snow cover are lowering the Earth’s albedo, leading to more solar energy being absorbed and driving an arctic amplification effect and even more rapid warming.
The science based predictions look bleak! The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested in 2018 that we have 12 years left to respond before these processes take us beyond a point of no return. It might even be a lot less! Failure to act with unprecedented urgency and cooperation is now deeply irresponsible as we are in the middle of a planetary climate emergency and societal breakdown which might soon worsen into civilisational collapse and mid-term human extinction. We now have to do the impossible as the probable has become unthinkable and unconscionable!
Planetary Healing: Addressing causes rather than symptoms
We need to act with urgency in the face of biodiversity loss, climate change, unacceptable levels of global inequality, and imminent societal, economic and ecological breakdown around the world. Yet — since the window of opportunity to positively affect human and planetary health in the future is closing — we also can’t afford to make many more mistakes.
If the debate about how to respond to climate change does not go beyond the current myopia of focussing on carbon dioxide and other green house gas concentrations in the atmosphere, we will surly waste the precious time we have left to turn this unprecedented crisis into an evolutionary opportunity.
If we fight only the symptoms like climate change and cascading ecosystems collapse rather than the underlying causes of our unsustainable worldview, our blind belief in technology will create run-away exponential technologies shaping a dystopian future on a greatly impoverished planet. The upstream changes we need to catalyse are predominantly changes of our hearts and mind that will lead us to not just do differently to each other and the Earth but to be differently as humble stewards and careful healers co-creating conditions conducive to life.
Life is about cooperative abundance rather than competitive scarcity
Life’s evolution follows a pattern of diversification and subsequent integration of diversity at higher levels of complexity. Throughout evolution this integration has predominantly been achieved through new forms of cooperation and symbiosis. It is time to re-perceive life as a planetary process of cooperation in which a unified whole expressing itself on nested temporal and spatial scales of complexity evolves in intimate reciprocity as a living planet. Life is a regenerative community rooted in patterns of symbiosis and cooperation that creates shared abundance and conditions conducive to life.
Competition clearly does exist but in far smaller proportions than our myopic focus on scarcity as the driver of evolution has lead us to believe. To offer an analogy one could say that the role of competition in life’s evolution is proportional to the waves and ripples at the surface of a vast symbiotic and cooperative ocean. Evolution is coevolution! Throughout its evolution life itself has continued to create the conditions conducive for more diverse and complex life to evolve.
There have been many pronounced leaps of evolution marked by new forms of cooperative complexity. To list a few:
- the merging of two non-nucleated cells to form the first eukaryotic cells that made more complex life possible,
- such cells coming together into multi-cellular organisms,
- the cooperative differentiation of cell types and functions that enabled complex organism such as vertebrates,
- the complex patterns that create collaborative advantage in social mammals such as whales, elephants, wolves, apes or humans,
- our human systems of governance and conviviality at the scale of neighbourhood, city, bioregion, nation, and the United Nations, and
- recent discoveries about the role of the human microbiome in maintaining health and regulating gene expression reveal that our bodies are actually highly diverse and cooperative walking ecosystems with more non-human than human cells in and on them.
In the face of converging crises, our relatively young species is now poised for an unprecedented evolutionary leap. Facing the possibility of a premature extinction is pushing us into a species-level rite of passage. It is time to grow up and become mature and responsible members of the community of life.
The only appropriate response to life being in crisis on planet Earth is to aim to be of service in its healing and regeneration. In doing so we will begin to heal our disconnected and fractured selves as we re-indigenise, re-connect, and re-inhabit “our place in the family of things” (Mary Oliver).
New ways of doing
Yes, we need to rapidly engage in the more than 100 existing and proven technological and policy pathways that would help us to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Examples to look up: Project Drawdown, The Carbon Underground, Zero Carbon Britain, or The Rapid Transition Alliance
Yes, we will have to come together at the bioregional scale to regenerate healthy ecosystems functions by planting diverse and locally appropriate forests, restore grasslands, mangroves, salt-marshes and freshwater wetlands, as well as, coral reefs and seagrass meadows in the oceans. Examples to look up: Commonland, Regeneration International, Rewilding Europe, Global Forest Generation and the Global Coral Reef Alliance.
Yes, we have to nurture planetary and ecosystems health to improve human health while regenerating bioregions and creating community climate resilience as we prepare for a turbulent three or four decades ahead. During that time we will have to maintain our regenerative efforts to re-stabilize climate patterns and heal the Earth even if the lag in the climate systems will initially see conditions worsening despite our best efforts. Examples to look up: Planetary Health Alliance, C40 Cities, Regenerative Communities Network, Global Ecovillage Network, Common Earth, Resilience Brokers and Global Resilience System.
Yes, we need a more equitable and just world where qualities of relationships and experience matter more deeply than material accumulation and financial wealth. We need to create the social foundations for diverse regenerative cultures to live well within planetary boundaries. This will require a redesign of how we feed, house, move, dress, power, educate and govern ourselves along with transforming our structurally dysfunctional economic and monetary system to enable such change. Examples to look up: Designing Regenerative Cultures, Doughnut Economics, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, P2P Foundation, Biomimicry Institute and Regenesis Group.
New ways of being
Yet we need to do more than that to draw on a new kind of wisdom we will need to chart our course into an uncertain, uncontrollable and unknowable future. We need genuine transformation! For a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly there comes a point for the caterpillar to dissolve and die to its old identity to unleash the inherent potential this letting-go liberates on the path towards becoming a butterfly.
We are now witnessing a rapid shift in human awareness of our fundamental interdependence with the wider community of life. All over the world people — young and old — are stepping up to defend ecosystems against further destruction, lobbying for the rights of nature, working to re-wild, or at the very least to restore them to a more healthy state. We are waking up from centuries of sleepwalking towards catastrophe unaware of the deeply destructive influence our mistaken worldview had on our behaviour.
Life is first and foremost a planetary process and we human beings are not separate, but intimately tied to all other life on Earth. Our role is to create conditions conducive to life. For too long have we separated self from world, culture from nature, mind from matter and lived within this illusion of separation that made us behave like masters rather than stewards of life on Earth.
To heal the Earth we have to heal our way of being in and through relationship. We can start by loving what is right in front of us, being with and appreciating the every day beauty of life in the midst of a dying world and patterns that no longer serve. As Joanna Macy reminded us we now have a dual role as hospice workers to that dying world including our own outdated ways of being, and as midwife’s of a regenerative future through how we show up today!
We are not going to be able to know for a number of decades — well into the second half of this century — whether we will make it through the eye of the needle and come out the other end having co-created a regenerative human civilization worthy that name. The journey towards diverse regenerative cultures is not one of guarantee – but one of healing and service.
Uncertainty and not-knowing will keep us humble and able to learn. We have to embrace the paradox of knowing that all our actions and inactions — our way of being — matters and yet accept the limits of our knowing and release our obsession with prediction and control. Living into this paradox consciously will help us to be differently and become mature and humble healers of the planet — by being life creating conditions conducive to life.
(This was a pre-final draft Chapter Contribution to ‘Our Moment of Choice — Evolutionary Visions and Hope for the Future’, Eds. Robert Atkinson, Kurt Johnson, and Deborah Moldow, August 2020). This excerpt was first published @Medium
Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration. Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures