Transformative Change: conversations with Fritjof Capra
The Systems View of Life as a scientific basis of regeneration
On Monday, January 29th, 2018, Gaia Education and Fritjof Capra’s ‘Capra Course’ collaborated in offering a free webinar on ‘Transformative Change, Sustainability and Regeneration’ as part of our recently launched ‘Glocalisers Webinar Series’. I am delighted to have been able to weave this partnership. So much of my own learning — that has informed the content of Gaia Education’s online course in ‘Design for Sustainability’ (GEDS) — has been influenced by Fritjof’s work (see also ‘In gratitude to Fritjof Capra’).
There is a natural synergy between the courses offered by Gaia Education and the Capra Course. Participants in either of these courses would find these offers to be mutually reinforcing and helpful in deepening their own learning and praxis as glocal agents of transformative change.
Fritjof’s most recent book, co-authored with Pier Luigi Luisi, called ‘The Systems View of Life — A unifying vision’, is a comprehensive synthesis of leading edge scientific insights that support what Charles Eisenstein, myself and others have called the shift from a cultural narrative or story of separation to a story of interbeing. ‘The Systems View of Life’ and many of Fritjof’s other books are frequently referred to in the Gaia Education online curriculum.
The Capra Course, which I had the pleasure to join in 2016, offers an opportunity to interact with an international community of change makers in exploring this systemic understanding of life as a planetary process in depth. A series of videoed lectures by Fritjof Capra, supported by additional reading material and a very active online forum to which Fritjof contributes actively help participants to take a deep dive into the systems view of life. What’s more the course also offers participants an opportunity to reflect on the significance and role of their own work and that of their communities of practice in the transition towards diverse regenerative cultures everywhere.
Based on my own experience, I can only highly recommend the course. Particularly for people who have chosen to engage with Gaia Education’s professional pathway of combining the ‘Ecovillage Design Education’ (EDE) course, the ‘Design for Sustainability’ online course, and the ‘Training of Trainers’ (ToT) in order to become a Gaia Education certified trainer, the Capra Course will add an important layer of deeper understanding of the emerging science of interbeing and its implication for our work as glocal change agents.
At the same time, for those who enjoyed the Capra Course and who are keen to take this new synthesis of a living systems understanding of life as a transformative process into their daily practice, the courses offered by Gaia Education with their design focus on community and bioregional implementation provide a welcome next step in actively taking part in the Great Turning.
We did cover a lot of ground in the webinar at the end of January, made possible through the support of Simon Robinson, who helped Fritjof launch the Capra Course. Simon hosted and contributed to our conversation. He is the co-author of ‘Holonomics: Business where people and planet matter’ and ‘Customer Experience with Soul: A New Era in Design’ — both worthy candidates for your reading list.
Our conversation started by exploring the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) of the United Nations. We all agreed that they have a high potential for bridging between different stakeholders who are still not engaging sufficiently with each other. I briefly described how Gaia Education’s ‘SDG Community Implementation Flashcards’ and the related ‘Training of Multipliers’ were created to facilitate such multi-stakeholder conversation with a particular focus on local relevance and local implementation of the SDGs. The aim of both is to create processes by which the ‘Global Goals’ can be achieved through local action — one community at a time.
Our conversation also highlighted that there is still an underlying incongruence within the SDGs, in particular with regard to how SDG number 8 — Decent Work & Economic Growth — is worded and understood by many. The current economic system is structurally dysfunctional and needs to be transformed. ‘Gross Domestic Product’ (GDP) is an inadequate measure of economic progress, and the notion of ‘development’ in biology and economics are very different and at odds with each other. In a regenerative culture the latter will have to serve the former, rather than the other way around. We need to create economic systems and indicators that reflect the ecological insight that ‘life creates conditions conducive to life.’
The conversation moved fluidly into the link between the 17 SDGs and the need to reverse climate change through regenerative agriculture and many of the strategies listed in Paul Hawken’s inventory of proven techniques compiled by ‘Project Drawdown’.
Courses like the Capra Course and those offered by Gaia Education are training up a new global network of systemic thinkers and whole system design practitioners that not only understand the deeper connections and potential synergies between the different sustainable development goals, but also have the design and leadership skills to weave the integration of different implementation strategies by intentionally designing win-win-win solutions that are adapted to place.
We also explored the importance of taking care with ‘scaling-up’ solutions as more often than not solutions that work at a local or regional scale become unsustainable when they are scaled up or transferred to other locations without sensitivity to what I call in my own work “the biocultural uniqueness of place”.
We need to educate ourselves and educate each other to learn the basic principles of ecology and systemic thinking and then we need to filter this through the local conditions and the local culture to create something that is lasting, sustainable and effective.
— Fritjof Capra
We also highlighted that truly regenerative cultures need to pay more attention to the deeper questions that can guide longterm survival and thriving in a constantly changing world, rather than being too solutions focussed — yesterday’s solutions often turn into today’s problems. Fritjof linked this process of continuous transformation and ‘self-making’ with the work of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela on ‘autopoiesis’ and took some time to reflect on his recent meeting with Maturana in Chile.
Nature is sustainable because it is regenerative. That is the key lesson.
— Fritjof Capra
Talking about the important work of Maturana and Varela led us to explore the ‘Santiago Theory of Cognition’ as a scientific basis of overcoming the Cartesian split between mind/body, self/world, and nature/culture. Life is an interconnected and interdependent planetary process that throughout evolution followed a core principle — as Janine Benyus has put it: “life creates conditions conducive to life”. Evolution is a process of diversification and subsequent integration of diversity at higher levels of complexity through predominantly collaborative processes (more here).
We ended up with highlighting the all important role of education and capacity building in the transition. They enable people to respond to the converging planetary crises with wise actions informed by transformative innovation. Fritjof stressed that we need a new kind of leadership and need to agree on a shared ‘moral compass’ to enable us to respond to the planetary urgency and the conceptual emergency wisely, appropriately and in time.
The need for an ethical basis or shared moral compass was also part of a previous conversation between Fritjof, Simon and me, which we had in July 2017. In it we explored three main themes ‘The Earth Charter’ as a shared ethical basis for global collaboration, the relationship between the ‘systems view of life and regeneration’, and how to use ‘meaningful disturbances’ in order to work more effectively with the business sector as an important agent of transformational change.
Fritjof, Simon and I thoroughly enjoyed these conversations and are planning to have another one in July 2018. We hope that by offering them live for everyone to witness or view later we will inspire more people to join the growing ranks of glocal — global-local — agents of change. There is a clear urgency to respond to the converging crises with transformative innovation rather than incremental change. This needs concerted collaborative action guided by a deeper wisdom that can be informed by the systems view of life.
There is a sign of hope in the rising demand for courses like the Capra Course and the range of courses offered by Gaia Education. The ranks of those who are prepared to be the change they want to see in the world are growing every day. The transition towards diverse regenerative cultures everywhere starts today — every day afresh. It starts with transforming how we behave as individuals and how we collaborate to drive positive change in our communities and bioregions.
To sustain and deepen this Great Turning the role of education is crucial. This is what has motivated Fritjof for nearly half a century in his work as a writer and educator with the Centre for Ecoliteracy and the Capra Course, and this is what motivates Simon in his work with business through Holonomics Education, as well as, my own work on ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’. I am committed to continuing my work with Gaia Education and a growing global network of initiatives that are midwifing regenerative cultures around the world.
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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