Scale-linking human systems back into the pattern of health

The coming decades will witness a fundamental transformation of the human presence and impact on Earth. We are at a bi-furcation point in our species evolutionary trajectory. It we continue on the path we are on we will create an increasingly technologically dependent species that aims to solve the problems of its own making by doing more of the same, thereby only exacerbating them until we hit the bio-physical limits of rising energy and materials demand.

The industrial growth society’s collapse is only part of the final expression of the era of empires — of power over rather than power with — that has been in collapse for the past few generations after its 5000 year dominance. Equally we have already been in the transition towards the planetary era for over a century.

Paradoxically we can only fully manifest this planetary era in time to avoid Biospheric collapse if we come home to place and region again. We need to fit our now globalised human patterns of meeting our needs into the life-sustaining, abundace-generating, scale-linking complexity of life as a planetary process. To do this we have to pay attention to scale and reinhabit every bioregions as we transform our impact from one of exploitation and degeneration towards becoming healing and regenerative custodians and nurturers of the ecosystems we not only inhabit but can become living expressions of.

Humanity’s collective impact has been in ecological overshoot since 1970 and this has been eroding planetary health at an accelerating rate. Without deep systemic transformation we will fall victim to a mass-extinction we set in motion through a degenerative and exploitative system that drives cascading ecosystems collapse and is detrimental to planetary health. Yet there is another possible future within grasp!

“As Homo sapiens’s entry in any intergalactic design competition, industrial civilization would be tossed out at the qualifying round. It doesn’t fit. It won’t last. The scale is wrong. And even its apologists admit that it is not very pretty. The design failures of industrially/technologically driven societies are manifest in the loss of diversity of all kinds, destabilization of the earth’s biogeochemical cycles, pollution, soil erosion, ugliness, poverty, injustice, social decay, and economic instability.”— David W. Orr, 2002

Our species’ detour into the seductive power of science and technology has given use the capacity to disrupt and transform processes on Earth at a scale of the entire planet. Our actions have disrupted the relatively stable dynamic climate fluctuations of the Holocene which lasted for nearly 12000 years. This is why it has become fashionable to speak about this new geological epoch we have entered as the Anthropocence. The shorter we make this era the higher our chances for survival. We are out of fit with how life generates planetary health. The scale of the industrial growth society is all wrong and disrupts the planetary life support system.

The challenge is to fundamentally redesign the human presence and impact on Earth within the lifetime of the generations alive today — from being exploitative and degenerative to being regenerative and healing. The second pathway into the future at this bi-furcation point is to refit our species to the scale-linking cycles through which life creates conditions conducive to life.

Through a glocal (global-local) process of re-inhabitation at the bioregional scale we can learn to nurture and reintegrate into the regenerative community of life as a planetary process — place by place, ecosystem by ecosystems. We can re-learn the art of appropriate participation and being a healing influence on the systems we depend on and emerge from. We can design for human and planetary health!

The Planetary Health Commission concluded their two year study into the link between human, ecosystems and planetary health in 2015 by suggesting:

“A growing body of evidence shows that the health of humanity is intrinsically linked to the health of the environment, but by its actions humanity now threatens to destabilise the Earth’s key life-support systems.”— Planetary Health Commission

Bill Reed mentioned in a conversation I had with him in early 2020 “you can’t save the planet you can only save places” to emphasise the importance of place-sourced potential and local capacity building. Similarly the path to planetary health will be through restoring ecosystems health in every ecosystem around the the planet. This requires a landscape scale approach.

The importance of the bioregional regeneration for planetary health

Bioregional regeneration is about refitting human patterns to the bio-geo-physical patterns through which life creates conditions conducive to life. The global scale of the current industrial growth society — enabled by and addicted to a fossil fuel driven extractive and destructive material culture — is simply at odds with the improvement of human, ecosystems and planetary health.

Life as a planetary process generates positive health. Health from this ‘salutogenic’ understanding is life’s capacity to develop, transform and evolve in response to changing context and conditions. Over 3.8 billion years life has generated a planetary increase in diversity, abundance and bio-productivity through a process of diversification and subsequent integration of diversity at higher levels of complexity. This integration is always achieved through the evolution of novel forms of cooperation and the weaving of syntropic relationships.

The abstracting, generalising, norming, reductive, mechanistic, extractive and exploitatory foundations of the industrial growth society are at odds with and erode the much more sophisticated and intricate living pattern of fractal place that generates diversity, redundancy at different scales and hence resilience, creating shared abundance through diverse regenerative communities at local and regional scale.

Bioregional regeneration is about coming home to place

This home coming is about re-fitting human cultures to the unique bio-cultural conditions of place. This can be achieved though nurturing place-sourced capacity to express this uniqueness by engaging a growing number of people in an open and inclusive process of co-creating responses to the needs of people in their local bioregion in ways that generate systemic health.

This decentralising process can strengthen regionally cyclical regenerative economies, building social cohesion and collaborative capacity, and restoring the health of regional ecosystems.

Bioregional regeneration is abut re-inhabitation: co-creating human cultures that are patterned by the places they inhabit.

Bioregional regeneration is also about re-indigenisation. A journey that starts with the understanding that place does not belong to us, we belong to and are expressions of the places we inhabit.

Regeneration is about expressing our individual potential through the unique contribution we make towards enabling and unveiling the unique potential that our communities and places have to serve their own needs by nurturing dynamic health and evolutionary capacity within a nested bioregional and planetary context.

“The term [bioregion] refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness — to a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place.”— Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann

In Designing Regenerative Cultures I explored a bioregionally focused process of people in place exploring together how they can heal and regenerate their communities and ecosystems while meeting their needs predominantly regionally within vibrant bioregional economies enabled by global collaboration and solidarity.

“The bioregion is emerging as the most logical locus and scale for a sustainable, regenerative community to take root and to take place.”— Robert L. Thayer, Jr.

Bioregional Regeneration Projects around the world:

In my opinion the Regenerative Communities Network should have been called ‘Bioregional Regeneration Network’. It was incubated by the Capital Institute as a means to support learning between bioregionally focussed attempts to create diverse regenerative economies in service of place. Here is a list of its current members:

  • “Sinal do Vale, Brazil — Restoration of greenbelt around Rio de Janeiro anchored by a regenerative learning center.
  • Costa Rica Regenerativa — National regenerative initiative anchored by Universidad para la Cooperación Internacional working to create a regenerative roadmap for Costa Rica in a process co-convened with Common Earth.
  • Agua y Paz Biosphere Reserve, Costa Rica — Regenerative agriculture, holistic grazing, and ecotourism focus — engagement with territorial (regional) council process, research and education collaborations.
  • Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica — Regenerative agriculture and ecotourism focus — systems mapping, regenerative project mentoring and design, connection to capital sources.
  • Colombia Regenerativa — Regenerative education and engagement with indigenous-led regenerative economy initiatives, connections to several bioregions.
  • Mexico City, Mexico — Regenerative finance for biodiversity and local communities focus — systems mapping, regenerative investment models.
  • Himalayan Mountains, Nepal — Annapurna Pluriversity is working to create a new model of applied education connecting people to the regeneration of ecosystems and communities across the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.
  • South Devon, UK — Bioregional Learning Centre is convening the bioregion around climate resilience learning journeys and strategy.
  • Buffalo-Niagara, New York, US — Regenerative manufacturing focus — community workshops, advanced material science research collaborations, inclusive workforce development, place making.
  • Denver-Boulder, Colorado, US — Regenerative real estate development and regenerative enterprise focus — community workshops, research collaborations, regenerative investment model.
  • Hudson Valley, New York, US — Regenerative agriculture focus — storytelling, systems mapping, training initiatives, investment support. Hudson River Flows is a related initiative.
  • Connecticut River Valley, Massachusetts, US — Applying a decolonization approach to collaboration amongst equity-oriented organizations to seed a regenerative economy & culture in the bioregion.
  • San Francisco Bay Area, California, US — A community of care and practice building systems and tools for a regenerative future.
  • Gulf of Maine, US-Canada — Bioregional urbanism across the density transect from the megacity of Boston to rural and indigenous Downeast Maine.
  • Salmon Nation, US-Canada — Salmon Nation aims to inspire, enable and invest in regenerative development.
  • The RCN has received requests for 75+ members across 6 continents and is currently adding many additional members with broad geographical reach” (Source: The Capital Institute)

For the last 10 years I have been working on the long-term plan of establishing the island of Mallorca as a living lab for bioregional regeneration.

Such transformative processes require the subtle nurturing of a field that is established over time by creating an alliance of “friends in the work” (Regenesis Group) that share a common practice of how to work regeneratively within the nested wholeness of local, regional and global.

The learning journey continues and after a decade of listening, weaving and catalysing — and importantly of building relationships to people and place — I sense that 2021 will mark a step change as we embark to create the Bioregional Regeneration Centre on Mallorca.

Glocal & Cosmopolitan Bioregionalism

In working bioregionally we have to avoid the framing of creating ‘life-boats’ to weather the coming storms in. This is not about cutting ourselves off from the world or banding together for survival, this is about manifesting the potential of a planetary era. As we enter the Century of Earth Regeneration we are moving into the planetary era of humanity manifests its magnificent diversity not as a reason to quarrel and go to war but as a celebration of life’s own diversity and capacity to evolve.

We can take bioregional pathways in global cooperation and solidarity and co-create diverse regenerative cultures everywhere — bioregion by bioregion. The path towards planetary health and the healing of humanity in the very process of humanity manifesting its potential to heal the Earth is a bioregional path. We can choose this path into a regenerative future together as one species who is coming home into the family of life!

I am delighted to have so many friends in this work globally and will not be able to name them all: Stuart Cowan, John Fullerton, Eduard Mueller, Joe Brewer and his work in Barichara, Colombia.

Three Ways to Regenerate Bioregions

You might want to take a close look at John Thackara ’s excellent paper on ‘Bioregioning: Pathways to Urban Rural Reconnection’ and his ‘Bioregions: Notes on a Design Agenda’, Joe Brewer’s ‘Reflections on the Pedagogy of Bioregional Regeneration’ and James Quilligan and teams informative study into the “Agricultural Sustainability for Bioregionalism in the San Francisco Bay Watershed” (as an example of the kind of assessment now needed everywhere) and Inga Račinska and colleagues EU-funded report on ‘Life and Land Stewardship’. Let’s not forget The Planet Drum Foundation and the Cascadia Department of Bioregion along with the work of Brandon Letsinger.

Also take a look at the websites of Bioregional and the long-term pioneering work of Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone (Bioregional), and The Bioregional Learning Centre UK co-initiated by Isabel Carlisle, and the Sussex focused ‘Really Regenerative Centre’ that jenny andersson co-initated.

I love this piece by bridgetmck … and the bioregionally focussed Regeneration Co-lab started by David Hodgson.

I could continue! … and the story continues! The Regeneration is rising bioregionally in global solidarity!

More Reading:

Re-regionalisation as a pathway to diverse regenerative economies

Re-regionalization: Bioregional development as a regenerative pathway

Bioregions and Regeneration | Honoring the Places Where We Live

Museums as bioregional learning centres in a glocal world (a precedence)

Islands as case studies for bioregional regeneration

Salutogenic Cities & Bioregional Regeneration (Part I of II)

Why sustainability is no longer enough, yet still very important on the road to regeneration

Organizing Bioregionally

Cosmopolitan Bioregionalism

Local, Bioregional and Global Outreach

Mapping your water supply

Bioregionalism — Living with a Sense of Place at the Appropriate Scale for Self-reliance

Regional development as the third wave of eco-social innovation

The resurgence of a culture of makers: re-localizing production

Regionally focussed Circular Biomaterials Economies: An Idea whose time has come!

Regenerative Economies for Regenerative Cultures

Regenerative Cities in their Bioregional Context

A Reading List on Bioregional Design

The Size of a Bioregion

More Listening:

Organizing in Nested Systems: Re-regionalisation, Landscape and Global Solidarity — with Daniel…
Teaser photo credit: Bioregions of Europe (Source)