Planetary Health and Regeneration

Why l firmly believe we are capable of redesigning humanity’s impact on Earth from being destructive to being regenerative

Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness
Published in
12 min readSep 5, 2018


There is plenty of evidence that we have in the past acted as enriching, nurturing and regenerative influences on ecosystems we inhabited (eg Terra Preta in the Amazon).

There is even more evidence that all over the world, there are small, medium and large scale ecosystems restoration and regenerative development project to learn from and this trend is growing rapidly.

From regenerative agriculture and holistic land management projects affecting millions of acres, to large-scale reforestation and biosphere reserve projects, we are and we have been demonstrating that human beings can have a regenerative impact.

Through biological sequestration of atmospheric carbon into healthy soils, diverse analogue forests and agro-forestry systems, through locking carbon in to biomaterials grown in regenerative circular bio-economies that form the basis of our next material culture — as we wean our civilization of its addiction to fossil fuels and fossil materials, we can remove CO2 form the atmosphere — and over the coming decades begin the reversal of current global warming trends.

Paul Hawken has lead a research effort to highlight more than 100 proven way to reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations with the celebrated Project Drawdown.

If we engage in creating circular regionally focused biomaterials economies — carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness of place — we can begin to regenerate the damage we have done all over the world, while generating new jobs in vibrant regional economies. These economies and the transformative innovation that drives them will be supported by national and international networks of collaboration and P2P knowledge and technology exchange.

By spreading these community-led and place-sensitive solutions from place to place, rather than scaling them up into so-often unsustainable mega-projects, we can reach regenerative impact at a global scale through spreading of patterns of regeneration rather than scaling one-size fits all silver bullet solutions.

There are many global networks of local actors that understand the need for elegant solutions that are carefully adapted to the biocultural uniqueness of place. We are learning to think and act glocal (and ground a global vision of a regenerative and thriving future for all through local and bioregional action enabled, informed and empowered by inter-local and inter-bioregional as well as international collaboration).

Researchers around the world have realized that now is the time for linking their scientific investigations to practical and immediate action on the ground. If we are to avoid Hothouse Earth we need to act now to dampen the worst of the climate chaos. If we succeed we will make the turbulent decades ahead the least traumatic possible and this would help us to hopefully restabelize climate patterns within this century.

Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene (Source)

The concept of planetary health as an integrative platform for transdiciplinary collaboration is gaining more and more attention in recent years. When I wrote my PhD on ‘Design for Human and Planetary Health: A Holistic / Integral Approach to Complexity and Sustainability’ in 2006 at the Centre for the Study of Natural Design (University of Dundee), very few people paid attention to the importance of planetary health.

The introduction of the planetary boundaries framework by Johann Rockström, Will Steffen and colleagues took us into the kind of thinking that was needed for people to understand the complexity of planetary health. Their now emblematic graphic of the boundaries has been skillfully expanded into the socio-economic realm by Kate Raworth’s wonderful doughnut economics.

Richard Wilkinson’s and Kate Pickett’s work have long demonstrated the drastic impact of inequality on human health and how that is also linked to access to wild nature and healthy food.

When I was recently visited on Mallorca by Antony Capon the world’s first Professor for Planetary Health, I was surprised to hear that he considered my 2004–2006 research on planetary health as an early contribution to the emerging field.

Tony kindly said that his own conception of planetary health and that of the Planetary Health Alliance had been informed by the holistic approach I was working on back then. The Planetary Health Alliance spans more than 95 universities, NGOs, government entities and research institutes.

Before accepting his post at the University of Sydney to build up the Planetary Health Platform, Tony was the director of the Global Health Institute of the United Nations University based in Malaysia. He is a co-author of the Planetary Health report published by The Rockefeller Foundation & The Lancet Commission on Planetary Health.

In our meetings over three days Capon and I agreed to collaborate on a number of projects and build on the potential of linking the networks involved in regeneration with those building the field of planetary health. Both as an academic metadiscipline or integrator and as an approach to policy making and education planetary health has huge potential and mounting support. Yet much of our conversation centered on our shared interest in linking ecosystems restoration, regenerative development and planetary health in practical on the ground implementation of whole system prototypes at the community, city and bioregional scale.

At a recent meeting of the Global Landscapes Forum, Eric Solheim, the current director of UNEP supported the proposal to create a ‘UN Decade for Ecosystems Restoration’ and international support for such an initiative is building. A little known fact is that with official UN endorsement the 21st Century was declared the ‘Century of Earth Restoration’ at a conference at the Findhorn Foundation in 2002 that brought together pioneers in ecosystems restoration and ecosystems health from around the world.

Such an UN initiative can only support the work of many projects around the world that are aiming to operationalize large scale ecosystems restoration and the regeneration of healthy ecosystems function and planetary health in many locations around the globe.

There are new business models and ways of financing and operationalizing ecosystems regeneration and large scale bioregional regeneration being developed and piloted by The Commonland Foundation and the Regen Network.

Carol Sanford has been an inspiration and a mentor for many in the wider field of Regenerative Development and has recently been curating a community of regenerative business leaders through the Regenerative Business Summit. She closely works with Pamela Mang, Ben Haggard and Bill Reed, and their colleagues at the Regenesis Group to who I owe a big debt of gratitude. She also inspired the wonderful work that Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua have done on regenerative enterprise.

The work of the ecologist film-maker John Dennis Liu documents inspiring large scale ecosystem restoration around the globe. The regeneration of hundreds of square kilometers of the Chinese Loess Plateau is only one example. The Ecosystems Restoration Camps Cooperative and Foundation is running a pilot project in Southern Spain and planning to start more such camps soon.

May the youth of the world join hundreds and thousands of such regional ecosystems regeneration efforts around the planet and become a force for planetary healing!

In the realm of redesigning our economic and monetary systems there has been a landslide shift. Only ten years ago questioning GDP as an economic indicator or daring to point out the structural dysfunctionality of an economic system addicted to economic growth on a finite planet was considered fringe if not subversive. Now there are international alliances working on alternatives, UN research papers questioning how the 17 SDGs cannot be delivered within the current economic system, and a French national minister resigning saying that the EU’s and France’s economic policy cannot deliver the urgent response now needed to avoid dangerous run-away climate change.

There are people joining the movement of the Re-generation rising from all corners of the Earth, all walks of life, young and old, and all disciplines and sectors — all coming together in the great work of our time:

to restore ecosystems health and regenerate planetary health for the sake of the Earth and her people!

This emerging new story of our human potential as life to create conditions conducive to life is giving people a deeper meaning for engaging with the necessary changes ahead.

The motivation for this change goes beyond utilitarian and monetary values. It is no longer only about the monetary value provided by the world´s ‘ecosystems services’ and our dependence on health ecosystems functions and the planetary life support system our specie’s future depends upon.

As we are witnessing the extinction and destruction of kin — of species that helped to shape who we are — all our senses and sensibilities over a long coevolutionary journey — we are recognizing the deep intrinsic value of all life.

We will be less ourselves when we loose these companions in life as a planetary process — they all have intrinsic value for their unique expression of life’s genius in the unique context of their ecosystems and bioregions.

We are finally growing up and taking our mature and responsible place in the community of life on Earth. The decades of climate chaos and systemic breakdown that we are now steering into will have a catalytic function in our species own maturation.

We are undergoing a species level right of passage and for that death and rebirth ritual to have unfold its transformative potential we have to embrace the uncertainty and real and present danger of extinction.

Part of this growing up process is that we are learning the wisdom of many minds, the need for multiple ways of knowing and diverse perspectives to inform wise action in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability.

We are beginning to understand how todays solutions and answers so often turn into tomorrow’s problems. This makes us value the power of questions — of collective community and bioregion focussed inquiry into how to live regeneratively in a particular place. We are learning to live the questions.

Will we make it through the eye of the needle? I believe we will. We do have the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. We need to face such bad odds to finally wake up, pull together and do the work the generations alive today are being called to do. We can redesign and cocreate a future for our species in which our role is to restore, heal, and regenerate the Earth and her people.

The Re-Generation is on the Rise!

Trim-Tabs unite!

“The shift is hitting the fan!” — Kenny Ausubel (co-founder of Bioneers)

Join the family!

Let’s go Camping! — John D. Liu

I am honoured to be on the advisory council for the Ecosystem Restoration Camps and look forward to supporting the development of the first regional regeneration hub recently established in Costa Rica (intro video).

I see a confluence of all the people and organizations that are already actively engaged in planetary health, ecosystems restoration and regenerative development and design. As these networks, organizations, communities and people are not only aware of each other but recognize the importance of working together in a concerted and strategic way, we will reach a tipping point and begin to fundamentally redesign of the human impact on Earth from being too often destructive to being by and large regenerative, restorative and healing.

This is the beginning of the Century of Earth Restoration!

… and if you did get to the end of this long linear list of amazing developments that could give us hope that we might still have a chance to navigate decades of climate chaos and come out of them with a restabilized climate and a more mature regenerative human civilization worth the name ‘civilization’, well, here is a dynamic ecosystems map Jose Alcocer sent me after reading this article and mapping the links in it:

To navigate the map click the link:

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

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Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures