Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Thriving, not just surviving!

Envisioning sustainable and regenerative societies and cultures

“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community — a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

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In the recent 30 year up-date of the influential book Limits to Growth, its authors explain: “Visioning means imagining, at first generally and then with increasing specificity, what you really want … not what someone has taught you to want, and not what you have learned to be willing to settle for.” They propose: “Vision, when widely shared and firmly kept in sight, does bring into being new systems” (Meadows et al., 2005, p.272).

[This article is an excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education´s online programme in Design for Sustainability.]

The most recent updated version was published on 2004 under the name Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. image

The Limits to Growth is a 1972 book about the computer modeling of unchecked economic and population growth with finite resource supplies. The most recent updated version was published on 2004 under the name Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. (image left; image right)

“Within the limits of space, time, materials, and energy, visionary human intentions can bring forth not only new information, new feedback loops, new behaviour, new knowledge, and new technology, but also new institutions, new physical structures, and new powers within human beings. … a sustainable world can never be fully realised until it is widely envisioned. … The vision must be built up by many people before it is complete and compelling.” — Donella Meadows (et al., 2005, p.273)

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Envisioning a Sustainable Society
(Reproduced from Meadows et al., 2005, pp.273–274)

  • Sustainability, efficiency, sufficiency, equity, beauty, and community as the highest social values.
  • Material sufficiency and security for all. Therefore, by individual choice as well as communal norms, low birth rates and stable populations.
  • Work that dignifies people instead of demeaning them. Some way of providing incentives for people to give their best to society and to be rewarded for doing so, while ensuring that everybody will be provided for sufficiently under any circumstances.
  • Leaders who are honest, respectful, intelligent, humble, and more interested in doing their jobs than in keeping their jobs, more interested in serving society than winning elections.
  • An economy that is a means, not an end, one that serves the welfare of the environment, rather than vice versa.
  • Efficient, renewable energy systems.
  • Efficient, close-loop material systems.
  • Technical design that reduces emissions and waste to a minimum, and social agreement not to produce emissions or waste that technology and nature can’t handle.
  • Regenerative agriculture that builds soils, uses natural mechanisms to restore nutrients and control pests, and produce abundant, uncontaminated food.
  • The preservation of ecosystems in their variety, with human cultures living in harmony with those ecosystems; therefore, high diversity of both nature and culture, and human appreciation for that diversity.
  • Flexibility, innovation (social as well as technical), and intellectual challenge. A flourishing of science, a continuous enlargement of human knowledge.
  • Greater understanding of whole systems as an essential part of each person’s education.
  • Decentralization of economic power, political influence, and scientific expertise.
  • Political structures that permit a balance between short-term and long-term considerations; some way of exerting political pressure now on behalf of our grandchildren.
  • High-level skills on the part of citizens and government in the arts of non-violent conflict resolution.
  • Media that reflect the world’s diversity and at the same time unite cultures with relevant, accurate, timely, unbiased, and intelligent information, presented in its historic and whole-systems context.
  • Reasons for living and for thinking well of ourselves that do not involve the accumulation of material things.

Throughout this course we have revisited Bill Reed’s (2006) ’regenerative design framework’ (see 90 sec. video) a number of times, to remind ourselves that we need to transcend and include sustainability and move beyond “100% less bad” to societies that don’t just sustain their resource base and life support system, but begin to regenerate systemic health by restoring ecosystems and nurturing bio-cultural diversity and resilience in support of thriving communities everywhere.

Short video of Daniel Wahl explaining the Regenerative Design Framework proposed by Bill Reed in 2006

In the last decade the conversation has started to shift from ‘being green’ (doing less damage) to ‘being sustainable’ (having neutral impact) and then on to how we can have a restorative and regenerative impact on the systems in which we participate.

The ‘regenerative’ meme has already entered architecture, design, community design, urban planning, enterprise development, and since 2015 some interesting new frameworks for the transition to a ‘regenerative society’ (Centre for Planetary Culture, 2014), for the development of a ‘regenerative capitalism’ (Fullerton, 2015), and the practice of Designing Regenerative Cultures (Wahl, 2016) have been published.

All these approaches do not lessen the need to create a more sustainable human presence on Earth, they only invite us to envision our full potential as a key-stone species in almost every ecosystem on the planet and invite us to humbly attempt to have a regenerative and salutogenic impact on the Earth for the sake of all of humanity and the wider community of life.

The graphics are taken from Towards Regenerative Society — Plan for Rapid Transition, a very through provoking and informative publication by the Centre for Planetary Culture. You can download the pdf of the report here. (enlarge image left; enlarge image right)

Personal and collective visions of a healthier future

Long-term sustainability is possible only if more and more people become fully conscious of our individual and collective creative powers and assume responsibility for their own participation in the process of sustainability, through cooperation with their local community and the wider community of life. Awareness of our fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence with all of life invites us to understand that we cannot maintain the health of individuals, communities, or societies without maintaining the health of ecosystems and the planet as a whole. Thomas Greco Jr. beautifully expressed the enormous potential this insight has for individual and community empowerment. His vision of human potential is reproduced below.

A Personal Vision for a Sustainable Future
(Reproduced from Greco, 2001, pp.14–15)

“It is what we believe, or refuse to believe, that limits us, both individually and collectively. But it is not belief alone that limits us. We must also have the courage of our convictions. We must be willing to act on our beliefs if we are ever to realize our dreams. While it may appear that our liberation is mostly constraint by external forces and the material aspects of our being, we are actually more powerful than we are willing to admit. Many of us have a sense that all is not right with the world, that maybe we can do something to make it better. My own struggle has taught me some important lessons, the most important of which is that I cannot change anything without first changing myself. Freedom is not free. It has to be earned. Freedom cannot be had without taking responsibility. When we seek to make change in the world, we must make it at every level, beginning with ourselves. Change at a personal level than enables change at the inter-personal level, then at the level of society, structural, and institutional level, and maybe even at the biological level.

For me the process has been one of opening up to a greater Spirit, of being vulnerable, of allowing even my cherished views, attitudes, and beliefs to be called into question. Taking greater guidance from within and letting go of erroneous and limiting beliefs has allowed me to better grasp my connectedness with my fellow humans, my environment, and the entire web of life. When we have taken the “beam” out of our own eye, we can see more clearly to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Then we can begin to heal our relationships. We have to find a way to transcend disputes and differences to be able to accept one another as we are and relate to one another in compassion and love. Healthy relationships in functional communities provide a stable platform from which we can examine the adequacy or inadequacy of the economic, political and social structures we have inherited from the past and then start creating structures that are more consistent with our highest values, dreams and visions. We can abandon those that are flawed, dysfunctional, and beyond repair, and we can build new ones that support greater realization of the human potential.

I believe that there is something beautiful trying to be born in the world. The new world order will not be dictated from the top down. It will not be something arranged in private by some global elite. It will emerge from the bottom up, revealed by a higher Spirit accessible to everyone. We humans, in our role as co-creators with the “higher power”, have plenty of work to do. There is work to be done at the personal level, confronting our fears and doubts and taking responsibility for resolving our dilemmas; at the community level, using inevitable conflicts as opportunities to transcend our petty selves and limited perceptions; and at the societal level, building new structures that support and nurture rather than coerce and brutalize.”

What Greco describes is a realization that more and more people are having everyday. It is in this realization that true sustainability can take root. But the process of transformation can only be sustained if we begin to act in accordance with our insights. At the international level there have been a number of attempts to formulate visions of a sustainable future.

In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the adoption of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’. In 1986, the World Health Organization published the ‘Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion’. In June 1992, after a conference in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations published a ‘Declaration on Environment and Development’. This was followed by the publication and international adoption of ‘Agenda 21’ as a blueprint for a social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

The Earth Charter is a universal expression of ethical principles to foster sustainable development. The Green Cross, co-founded by Mikhail Gorbachev facilitated the global consultation process to create this document. The Earth Charter Initiative is the global network that embraces, uses and integrates the Earth Charter principles. (image)

The most widely inclusive and comprehensive document of this kind that has been published to date was developed over almost a decade of worldwide consultation and dialogue through the support of the ‘Green Cross’, founded by Michael Gorbachov and the ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’ (UNESCO). The Earth Charter, was published in 2000, and is structured around the following basic principles: respect and care for the community of life; ecological integrity; social and economic justice; and democracy, non-violence, and peace.

“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.” — The Earth Charter.

The ratification in September 2015 of the United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) marks a watershed moment in human history. 193 nations unanimously decided that another world, a better world, is not only possible but a necessary and important goal for all of us. For the first time and over a period of many years, representatives of all of humanity have worked on creating a vision of a better world and a healthier future for all.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) image
May East, CEO of Gaia Education image

May East, Gaia Education’s CEO, has been part of the global expert group that helped to create the SDG framework within the United Nations process. Gaia Education is one of the organizations that have been asked by the United Nations to help in the education and capacity building necessary so humanity can collaborate locally, regionally and globally in the implementation of this vision for our common future.

SDG Community Implementation Flashcards by Gaia Education

[More recently Gaia Education has developed a new daylong Training of Multipliers — called Achieving the Global Goals — aimed at locally relevant SDG Implementation. For this course I have written the content for a set of ‘SDG Community Implementation Flashcards’ that enable participants of the multiplier training to easily replicate the training in their own communities and constituencies.]

As a participant of this course you are now part of a global community of change agents working, in what ever way you choose, towards making this world a better place for all of humanity and the all the other species with whom we share this beautiful planet and the mystery of being part of a living universe unfolding.

[…]

The challenge ahead is to creatively reintegrate humanity into the health-sustaining processes of nature as we are moving from the Era of Empire into the Planetary Era. You may remember from the first module of the Economics Dimension Robert Gilman — the founder of the Context Institute and pioneer of the ecovillage movement — has recently created a series of videos describing the wider context for this transition we are in the middle of. If you have not yet found time to watch any of the videos, do take a closer look at the Foundation Stone Project. The material also provides very useful way of reviewing many of the lessons you learned in the Worldview and other dimensions of this course.

Robert Gilman’s three main cultural ears in human history. From the Renaissance until now we have lived through the last few hundred years of the the Era of Empires and started to lay the foundations for the Planetary Era. (image)

[…]

Nothing is more positively infectious and actively involving than an invitation to take part in shaping a collective vision for the future of our community, our business, our bioregion, our country and of humanity’s common future. Visioning processes can liberate us from the tyranny of statistical trends and allow us to become true visionaries again that dare to describe how and why a better world is truly possible. We have looked at elements of an effective vision building process, the main steps of creating a shared vision with diverse stakeholders, and a set of criteria for good visioning.

Systemic change enables personal change, yet personal change drives systems change. Changes in worldview and the ability to shift perspectives is the root of personal change image

The Gaia Education course in Design for Sustainability is not the end but the beginning of a process of becoming involved in a global groundswell of people who choose to care and who choose to become active participants in the transition towards thriving communities, vibrant local and regional economies and healthy bioregions engaged in regenerative design and empowered by global collaboration.

We ended this module with a number of informative visions of a conserver, sustainable and regenerative society and highlighted the core transformations that will be part of moving form the industrial age where human impact has been degenerative and destructive to life into an ecological age where human impacts will sustain life and regenerate damaged ecosystem and plaera started some time during thnetary health. The long transition out of the era of empires and into the planetary era is almost over, as we are beginning to create locally and globally responsible and bio-culturally diverse regenerative cultures everywhere.

The mind map on the right by the The Social Change Agency offers a useful summary of the attitude of being a systems thinker — an important role we have to be comfortable in as agents of social and systemic change. image

The process of envisioning and then collectively and collaboratively manifesting a better future for our communities and for all of humanity and the wider community of life is not a process that will ever stop. Nor will any worldview or perspective, however enlightened it might be, will ever be final. We are part of a vast transforming process of Universe unfolding around us, in us and through us. Dynamics of change and transformation are at the core of life’s evolutionary journey into novelty. Our remarkable human gift is that we are life and that we are the universe becoming conscious of its own evolution, and in doing so we can consciously and responsibly choose a healthier future for all of life.

How will you choose to share your own unique gifts with the world?

How will you play your part in this global symphony of transformative innovation?

How will you serve your self, your community and the planet?

How will you contribute to the emergence of diverse regenerative cultures everywhere?

How will you make a difference in the place and the community you live in?

How will you turn your life into a gift from life to the rest of life?

Note: This is an excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability. In 2012 I was asked to rewrite this dimension as part of a collaboration between Gaia Education and the Open University of Catalunya (UOC) and in 2016 I revised it again into this current version. The next opportunity to join the course is with the start of the Worldview Dimension on May 21st, 2018. You might also enjoy my book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’.

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Daniel Christian Wahl

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