Humanity has already taken the Earth beyond safe operating boundaries. We are in planetary collapse and now must do all that we can to safeguard our collective future as a species while ensuring the survival of as much of the biosphere as we possibly can.
This will require that we walk the path of regeneration. Only by supporting the living systems capable of regulating the entire planet will we secure a future for ourselves in these dangerous and turbulent times.
The world’s first bioregional-scale regenerative hubs were launched in July of this year. A gathering of experts from more than 20 organizations gathered at the eco-tourism retreat center of Rancho Margot in the high mountain rainforests of northern Costa Rica. Their purpose was both simple in focus and profoundly ambitious in scope — to create the organizing platform for regional development that brings the best hope for replication to other areas for regenerating the life-support functions of Planet Earth.
I had the great honor and privilege to be at this meeting. It felt like the spirit of Gaia had stirred in the hearts of these men and women, awakening us to the profound truth that we are of the Earth and the only way we continue to exist is by earning the right to serve as the consciousness of our dynamic home planet by transforming all human communities into superorganisms that serve the homeostatic needs of the Living Earth.
If this sounds hokey to you, then perhaps you are not yet fully awake.
We are all of us living in a globalized world of parasitic extraction and excessive consumption. Measure humanity’s footprint and you will see that it exceeds what the Earth is able to regenerate on its own. The cold, hard calculus of this has only two outcomes. The human system goes away. Or the Earth system fails. One brings with it credible prospects of our own demise. The other offers a glimmer of hope for something truly worth aspiring for.
We must make this choice together. Walk the path of regeneration that restores planetary health or walk the path of ruin and have the Earth destabilize us into oblivion. This has been the core tension of the modern environmental movement for decades, yet always absent has been a viable pathway to make the transformations which physics and biology have thrust upon us. This absence is no more — for we gathered at Rancho Margot to launch the first territory-focused, regenerative and healing, and fully collaborative attempt to bring human and ecological health into alignment.
What is a Regenerative Hub?
“A system of technologies and strategies, based on an understanding of the inner workings of ecosystems, that generates designs to regenerate rather than deplete underlying life support systems and resources within socio-ecological wholes.”
We take this as our starting point — to develop the cultural processes through which regenerative designs emerge for food production, land-use management, increasing biodiversity, and growing the wellbeing of people in human communities all at the same time. The question of how to begin could not be answered in the past because it requires answers to the related questions of where and what (with further implications for by whom and for what purpose).
A regenerative hub only exists in a place. It must treat its systems appropriately by honoring what regenerative culture designer, Daniel Christian Wahl, calls the biocultural uniqueness of place. In other words, the regenerative hub is a nexus and gathering place from which regenerative designs emerge for increasing the wellbeing of people and the larger ecosystems they are embedded within.
Three of these regenerative hubs were created in Costa Rica, each one arising from decades of prior developments around the formation of bioreserves, ecological restoration efforts, the successful cultivation of lucrative eco-tourism industries, and a host of vetted practices in agroecology and agroforestry over the last 25 years. The idea we are working from is that nowhere on Earth is better positioned than this small Central American country to create a working prototype of regenerative design at the scale of entire bioregions.
Our partners include the Capital Institute and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (among many others) who are each conveners of regenerative economic principles and projects all over the planet. As this prototyping process makes headway in Costa Rica, we envision and are already seeing active engagement around the formation of dozens (if not hundreds) of other hubs that all learn from each other as part of a growing network that must ultimately span the entire Earth.
A 50 Year Path to Planetary Health
Imagine if this effort is successful. Three generations from now, the children being born into the world find themselves surrounded by higher biodiversity than we experience today. Runaway global warming has been avoided. Ocean acidity is beginning to acclimate to a new zone of stability. The Earth is on the mend. And we humans have an inspiring spiritual story to convey from our elders to the burgeoning youth that the role of our peoples is to preserve the bio-cultural uniqueness of place while stewarding health for people and planet.
How might we get from here to there? I offer this 11-step reflection process:
(1) An essential fact is that the Earth is now in overshoot-and-collapse, having crossed at least 4 of the 9 planetary boundaries defined by the Stockholm Resilience Center for a “safe operating space for humanity” — this means our survival DEPENDS ON regeneration of the biosphere.
(2) Thus it is essential that as many local/regional “hubs” as possible be set up for regeneration of ecosystem functions that address the most critical planetary boundaries… namely geochemical cycles of nitrogen/phosphorous, land-use practices, and climate change.
(3) All of this requires systemic changes in human societies, or in a phrase “applied cultural evolution” that is as systematic and rigorous as possible because we only have one chance to get things right.
(4) Our timeframe is roughly:
2018–2030 :: Create global network of bioregions w/ economies built on regenerative principles
2030–2050 :: Out-compete wealth hoarding systems so regeneration becomes dominant global model
2050–2070 :: Bring ALL planetary boundaries in safe range
(5) At the heart of this is education because all cultural change involves social learning and cultural transmission of ideas/skills/practices. Thus this is ALL in one form or another “applied” cultural evolution.
(6) So we are focusing on creating a School for Applied Cultural Evolution that weaves across existing networks of ecovillages, holistic learning centers, universities, cities, and towns.
(7) Why cultural evolution? Because it (alongside complexity science, which is intimately related) provides a foundational pillar for knowledge synthesis and translation into practice of all biological, social, and ecological sciences — as well as the arts and humanities.
(8) Why bioregions? Because they are defined as the functionally integrated areas where human social systems merge with ecosystems — and they are the “scale linkages” between local and global systemic patterns.
(9) Why now? Because this is our only “moon shot” chance before we cascade beyond too many tipping points (reality check: it might already be too late). Permafrost is melting and other indicators suggest we are entering a phase of runaway global warming.
(10) Who will fund this? Probably not any usual players, because they are beneficiaries of the sociopathic and cancerous wealth-hoarding systems. Thus we will need to employ regenerative economics to scale up the systems locally to regionally, networked across regions to global.
(11) Are we seriously doing this? Yes, even if no funding becomes available. It is our sacred role as sentient beings to clean up our mess and be part of the dynamic Earth as healers and wisdom holders.
This School is but one part of the effort where I happen to be taking a lead role. Many other elements are in play that warrant additional mention. The Capital Institute has created an online platform to support collaboration among the regenerative hubs and projects. Universidad para la Cooperación Internacional is the lead organizer in Costa Rica and will host the school as part of its larger programmatic efforts around regenerative design and implementation.
Rancho Margot has begun construction of a village school that will host local children and also provide immersive learning experiences for adult practitioners. We will host our first workshop there in late January 2019 on the topic of “Managing Planetary Collapse” as part of the regenerative hub network.
Many others could be mentioned but doing so would create an overwhelming tsunami of details that I feel might detract from the readability of this document. Let me suffice it to say that something this ambitious could not be done without a great deal of trust and collaboration. Teamwork is our strategy and participation is our process.
We are now taking steps to integrate the educational efforts of the many partners involved and weaving on-the-ground projects into frameworks of whole-system monitoring. Nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake and we take this call to action very seriously.