Regenerative Campuses for the 21st Century

This is the view from my house for the “town center” of Rancho Margot — a regenerative campus in Costa Rica.

The title for this essay comes from a conversation I recently had with Federico Bellone — a regenerative design practitioner who has helped bring funding to projects throughout Latin America. It is his expression of what historically may come after universities in the evolution of complex human societies.

We need the learning sites for global humanity to be regenerative. It is not enough to be in a city; attract and retain talented scholars; and recruit students who pay tuition.

The Earth is now in overshoot-and-collapse because human activities have overwhelmed the planet. We need to embody the principles of living systems as the way of organizing our communities. This includes where we go to train and prepare for employment as well as how we structure our lives afterwards.

A regenerative campus is a learning center. It is a place where human management is a partnership with the rest of nature. Biodiversity is improved by human hands. Soil and canopy carbon is increased. There are no chemical pollutants. Food is grown on site. Communities grow around and through the campus. Children come to learn and play. Adults do the same.

It just happens to be the case that I live on one of these campuses. It is called Rancho Margot and is a unique combination of eco-lodge retreat center, regenerative farm, and nascent town that is nestled into a previously deforested valley in a mountain rainforest of Costa Rica. My wife and I moved here two months ago with our two-year-old daughter. Our mission is to establish a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that promotes regenerative design and help grow the community of people who come to live here.

We are part of a wave of humanity that is waking up to the fact that the delusional illusion of separation between humans and nature most be dispelled. Our children will never know it because they will be raised in deep communion with their natural surroundings. Instead they will see themselves immersed in patterns of interdependence where humans partner with nature to filter and clean water, produce energy, grow food, and sustain life for entire ecosystems.

I invite all who want to experience what this is like to come here and see it for themselves. You can stay as a hotel guest in the bungalows. Come as a volunteer to work on the ranch and live for a time in the bunkhouse. Or take the leap and partner with us to by moving here to create your place in a real-life regenerative community.

Some of you may know that I left academia years ago because my path was too integrative and holistic, theoretical merged with applied, and oriented toward pragmatic engagement with the real world to continue study at a university. After nine years of college education, I left with training in philosophy, physics, mathematics, theater and dance, complexity, earth sciences, cognitive and behavioral sciences, and evolutionary studies. Some of this I gained in the classroom. Most of it came from my independent inquiries as an insatiable person who cares deeply for the world of which I am a part.

Universities of the future must be organized around bioregions. They must function as decentralized ecosystems of learning that map onto the social pathways of communication among parents and children, laborers and tinkerers, designers and builders, scientists and philosophers, healers and managers. In the future, if indeed humanity warrants inclusion for perpetuity, we will need to learn how to operate as ecosystems that are fully interwoven with the rest of life on Earth.

The curriculum for learning must break down old barriers. No longer will there be study without practice. Theory without experiment. Action without ethics. We need programs in regenerative living, economic development embodying living systems principles, and cultural evolution guided by collective intent. This will require a grand synthesis of knowledge.

We do not need to throw away all that has come before — merely reorganize it. Existing universities have a role in the Great Transition of Humanity as partners in immersion programs, design studios, workshops, and field research projects. All who seek to regenerate the Earth are welcome here. Similarly, existing employers have a responsibility to train their staff in the art and science of regenerative design to transform how they conduct business in the world.

What is not welcome is the belief that humans are a plague upon the planet, discredited notions of reductionism that treat money as equivalent to wealth and parasitism as heroic. Much has been learned about systemic health and how to measure it. Money and finance will have new roles in the circulation of flows that constitute life from moment to moment. Business models will involve true-cost accounting and no longer violate the laws of physics to perform their bookkeeping tricks. Entrepreneurs will be social, systemic, and evolutionary because this is the only way things are done.

If this resonates with you, come find me in the rainforest. Sit with me in the library overlooking a mountain. Walk with me on the farm where animals thrive and soils thicken. Let your children play with mine as we birth a new epoch of humanity into the world where our species performs the vital role of immune system for planetary health and restoration — a springtime of renewal after the long winter of excess.

Now is the time to create these regenerative campuses and network them across the planet. Gaia calls those of us to stir who listen to her heartbeat in the pulsations of our own blood. We are activated imaginal cells of metamorphosis called to ingest and compost the old world in order to birth the new.

Nothing less will do the job in this time we are living in. I leave you to ponder what you will do tomorrow that regenerates a little piece of this magical place we all call home. And I look forward to seeing you soon.

Onward, fellow humans.

Joe Brewer is the executive director of the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution. Get involved by signing up for our newsletter and consider making a donation to support our work.