Although the practical tools to reverse climate change are already available, to date the scale to which they have been implemented is not even remotely close to what needs to be accomplished within a very short time. Two vital elements are still missing: shared vision and concerted collaborative action.
How do we get areas the size of India planted in mixed-aged, mixed-species, soil-regenerative, storm- and drought resilient agroforest, grassland and wetland with well-trained and motivated, self-financed productive cooperative management? And do it all again next year? And the year after, and the year after that for the next half century?
The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth looked at this question and, with the help of a few of her friends, proposed a portfolio of answers.
In October, 2016, Patricia Scotland convened the Commonwealth’s Workshop on Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change. Over the course of the workshop, particular emphasis was placed on the issue of language and terminology.
To date, the discourse surrounding responses to climate change has been largely negative. Focusing primarily on the scale of the problem and the severity of its consequences, the language employed in the debate has often been alienating, effectively producing a general sense of apathy and disempowerment. In a reversal of this trend, the workshop emphasized a reframing of the debate from problems to potential, and the solutions that flow from potential. In doing so, the aim was to inspire a real call to action.
Of course, changing outlook from pessimistic to optimistic does not make it so. As we have said here before, we humans are nasty pieces of work. Why are there no more mastodons, Atlantic gray whales or Great Auks? How is it that although there were many hominid species roving Earth at one time, ours became the only one, and by what means? What are we doing to the whole of our co-evolved biodiversity as you read these words? What part of that sorry picture is genetically hard-wired, and what part is merely cultural?
The Commonwealth’s report observes:
The primary result of the workshop was the consensus that there are proven techniques readily available to effectively address climate change and regenerate the capacity and capabilities of communities and ecosystems. Drawing on substantial bodies of evidence, recalling numerous success stories and outlining countless potential interventions, the participants agreed that the means to effect real change through regenerative development already exist. The real challenge of the workshop, therefore, was to identify ways to put these means into practice and mobilize action.
The meeting recognized that a statement of the problem and a list of potential solutions is not enough. There has to be the means and the desire to get solutions underway.
The group decided that from a social perspective, it is necessary to develop capabilities to use effective frameworks and processes to align desire and action. As practical matter that meant that the world economic paradigm has to shift from resource extraction and exploitation to exhaustion (both material and human) to increasing biological capacity as the driver for economic and social satisfaction of needs.
Only increased photosynthesis is going to rebalance the carbon cycle at this point. But it can’t be a cookie-cutter approach. As the report put it, “Techniques that work well in one context may not be immediately transferable to another; Island nations, for example, have different regenerative needs and potential to landlocked nations.”
|Commonwealth Workshop, London, Oct 29-30, 2016|
A key finding from the workshop was that a shift in the definitions of wealth and capital is necessary to reverse climate change. That is quite a pill to swallow. But the truth is inescapable:
As things stand, behaviors that increase energy consumption, extraction, production, consumption, pollution, and degradation are generally rewarded. Such activities are promoted as the basis of wealth creation, yet this is demonstrably false. Earth’s natural resources and processes are the source from which all financial capital is derived. It’s impossible for derivatives to be more valuable than their source. A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their source is not sustainable, and it is necessary for humanity to redefine its relationship with the natural world accordingly. Education, information dissemination, and appropriate policy and economic incentive structures are critical in shifting individual behaviors and social ideals, to properly value natural wealth.
The workshop caught on to a key principle that we have been hammering away at here: this does not have to be financially painful. It can even be reasonably profitable.
Attracting finance means developing approaches that are not only effective at reducing atmospheric carbon, but also generate a realistic return on investment measured by the full range of current Capitals (natural, human, manufactured, social, and/or financial.)***
The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 has been described as an historic turning point. Now that we have agreed to turn, however, we must start going in a new direction. Regenerative development is this new direction. This involves not only limiting carbon emissions at their source but also sequestering them into standing forests, regenerated grasslands, improved soil and innovative production processes that lock carbon into materials. Through the adoption of regenerative approaches, climate change can be reversed through the recovery and regeneration of the biosphere. Redesigning humanity’s presence on Earth to shift from extractive to regenerative is essential for realizing our species’ potential for shared health and prosperity.
What the workshop participants recommended were some very concrete, easy-to-implement approaches that are unlikely to draw fire from entrenched positions. Community-led initiatives — ecovillages, transition towns, civic drives — are key. They will build local capacity for people to work together to help themselves and to realize the unseen regenerative potential within the unique conditions of their local cultures and ecosystems.
But communities do not exist outside of their national context. In this the Secretariat was very helpful. Overseeing 52 countries of common language and culture and almost a third of the world’s population (over 60% of which are under 30 years old), the Commonwealth is ready and willing to lead the way by offering to assist the transitional policies of member governments. The way forward that it envisions is by exponentially growing a network of trainers, or “knowledge multipliers,” that can train other trainers around the world but more importantly, inspire.
Finally, the realpolitik of Brexit, Trump and the crash of Ponzinomic petrodollars means that financing has to be more creative than merely looking to government grants, which ultimately rely on tax revenues. Again echoing what we have said here, the workshop concluded:
From the project side, all initiatives must be designed to attract investment and achieve productive returns. At the same time, funding mechanisms and a clear case for investment need to be developed to enable investors to direct their funds to this necessary work.
Singer cartoon in Beijing magazine
By analyzing the role of the different forms of capital (material, human, social, manufactured and financial), it is easy see how a capitalist system would develop an unsustainable bias towards placing manufactured capital on a pedestal. By conceptualizing manufactured goods as an endpoint, solely from a consumerist perspective, the creation of “wealth” can be simplistically reduced to profit from efficient exploitation without regard to externalities, such as planetary or social health. This has the undesirable effect of limiting the regenerative potential of human activity. By reconceptualizing to circular economics and biomimetic thinking, manufactured capital comes to depend on regenerative practices.
Social and ecological capital are captured by linking financial gain to the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Only by striving to meet the 17 development goals can a regional development agenda, or a national economy, be considered to be balanced in all forms of capital appreciation.
At the close of the workshop plans were sketched for the establishment of a “Commonwealth Online Incubator for Regeneration & Restoration.”
This online platform would focus on the practical and immediate implementation of regenerative projects, while simultaneously acting as an awareness-raising medium and repository of information. The incubator will invite applications for projects, selecting and supporting the most promising on a yearly basis. Each year, new projects will be brought to fruition while the previous are monitored and evaluated, creating a continuous cycle of action and learning. Furnished with relevant information, the platform will map and detail the results of incubated projects, disseminating demonstrably effective approaches among communities and decision-makers.
In January, 2017, the Commonwealth drafted a Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change Collaborative Manifesto. Among the things it called for were “ecosystems of solutions:”
Our people-centred approach aims to help local communities across the Commonwealth to help themselves, enabling them to create elegant ecosystems of solutions carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness of place. In doing so, we will:
- reverse climate change
- increase biomass and bio-productivity
- increase and protect bio-cultural diversity
- accumulate organic matter as a real store of wealth and health
- increase community resilience
- build food, energy, and water sovereignty at the community level
- leverage the power of collaborative abundance
- and address environmental degradation and the causes for hunger, poverty, ill health, migration, and war.
Our hope is to become a welcome species, functionally indistinguishable from the organisms and ecosystems we admire. We look forward to fitting in, at last and for good, on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.
How do we ecoforest areas the size of India or Australia, year in – year out?
The Commonwealth’s 52 nations include ecosystems that speak for the diversity of all the planet’s climates, covering 40 percent of the world’s land mass, over 20 percent of her forests, and the largest area of coastlines, fronting all the world’s oceans. It also includes 31 of the 39 most vulnerable nations to climate change. Is that big enough?