Toward Regenerative Society: Plan for Rapid Transition

Daniel Pinchbeck Oct 03 2014

Today, humanity faces our greatest challenge, and our most precious opportunity.  Our activity as a species has put the Earth in jeopardy. We can directly observe that our use of resources must change.  We are threatening the ability of the biosphere to support our continuity, and the future of all complex forms of life.

We appear to have reached one of those rare, extraordinary junctures in human history when a thorough transformation of society, culture, and consciousness is necessary. Climate change is the most urgent of many impending threats. As individuals, we must understand and accept the critical nature of our time. For the sake of future generations, we can become part of a wave of awakening and of action, that grows exponentially.

Under this extreme time pressure, there is great potential to quickly develop and distribute a new social model based on an ethos of global citizenship and planetary stewardship.

For this to happen, humanity must act upon our unique capacities for self-awareness and foresight. We have an opportunity to fully activate the prefrontal cortex – the brain structure that makes us uniquely human, which developed in the last forty thousand years. We must collectively work to envision a new model for planetary civilization, then design and manifest it.

This position paper outlines elements of a regenerative culture, and a path to attaining it. It is based on ongoing research compiled by Center for Planetary Culture. Over the next months, we expect to make further iterations of it, based on your comments. We will also commission other papers in specific areas of research, such as water management, collaborative decision-making, traditional religious structures as vehicles for social transformation, and cooperative economic models. If you would like to get involved in our efforts, please contact us and collaborate to our work.

Figure 1 – Towards a Regenerative Society

REGENERATIVE SOCIETY

To build a regenerative society based on resilience and plenitude, we require a strategic and tactical plan of action to transform our social system and culture. We can facilitate this shift in values by generating new, inspiring narratives that foster the necessary paradigmatic shift. Any plan for a rapid transition to a regenerative society must address the following three key areas: technical infrastructure, social structure, and cultural superstructure.

Figure 2 – Key areas of a Regenerative Society

CURRENT STATUS

The ecological crisis is not just a symptom or a byproduct of industrial society. It reflects a deep predicament – a crisis of civilization. Due to the rapid evolution of modern culture, we have found ourselves unable to make basic changes in our daily lives and habits that are necessary to bring human activity into alignment with the Earth’s support systems. Our current state requires a global people’s movement comprising self-educated, passionate citizens working together to reinvent our society, on all levels.

We currently possess all the necessary technological solutions and sources of renewable

energy to power an ecologically and socially just society. Yet the world’s governments and business sector have shown they are unable to address our planetary emergency.  The intrinsic logic of our political-economic system requires constant growth and over-consumption.

According to estimates, energy corporations spend $900 million a year on think tanks to influence public policy. Billions more are spent on lobbying and advertising. This expenditure supports our continued dependence on fossil fuels, and the belief that we lack a viable alternative.

Accelerated climate change, species extinction, and ocean acidification endanger our collective future. While everyone on Earth will be impacted eventually, poor people in the Global South suffer first from the effects of environmental degradation. Around the world, indigenous people have been the first line of defense against the extractive industries, which threaten traditional ways of life.

The modern financial system continues to concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands. In our world today, two billion people earn under two dollars per day, while less than 1% of the population control more than 50% of global wealth. 85 individuals possess more wealth than half the human population – 3.5 billion people. This vast inequality of wealth contributes directly to social injustice and ecological decimation. For humanity to survive and prosper, we must distribute resources, knowledge, and technical solutions far more equitably. This requires a fundamental change in socio-economic paradigm – and a new worldview.

Figure 3 – Main Drivers of our Current Ecological Crisis

 

1. DE-FRAGGING THE TECHNICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

Our industrial system was built to support “conspicuous consumption” and “planned obsolescence”. It is accompanied by a debt-based economic system that requires constant growth to maintain itself. Publicly-traded corporations must maximize profit to satisfy shareholder value. This is their prime directive. To obey the logic of the stock market, they must generate waste and externalize environmental costs.

Today, many corporations advocate sustainability and corporate responsibility. They promote new initiatives to recycle and conserve resources, among other environmental practices. Unfortunately, the logic of the current economic system forces them to prioritize profit-making. Therefore, corporate initiatives toward sustainability fall woefully short of creating long-term resilience. We require a fundamental redesign of our economic system to value ecological practices and strengthen the commons.

The changes that need to be made to our technical infrastructure, on a global scale, are clear. We need to unite the world’s population behind a project for rapid transition to regenerative practices. In this paper, we will explore how to apply this logic in three areas: energy, agriculture, and urban design. Within a few decades, planetary civilization could run on 100% clean energy, grow food through organic or ecological agriculture that restores carbon to the soil, and transition to eco-city design principles, enhancing local resilience, ethical values, and decentralized power.

Some general action items would include:

• Implement distributed models for agricultural, industrial, and energy production based on resilience;• Derive power from renewable energy sources;• Remove subsidies and factor in externalities, such as CO2 pollution;• Make consumer products that are durable, with replaceable components;• Transition to “cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing, powered by renewables, where all byproducts of manufacturing feed productively into the ecosystem.

Figure 4 – Cradle to Cradle Manufacturing

 

 

Figure 5 – Changes in our Technical Infrastructure

 The following three sections outline a strategic approach to change in the technical infrastructure.

TRANSFORMING OUR ENERGY SYSTEM

A number of recent studies on renewable energy help to define and clarify the path to a global transition.

Stanford engineering professor Mark Jacobson proposed that worldwide energy production could become almost entirely renewable by 2030. According to Jacobson and his coauthors in 2009, “The obstacles are primarily political, not technical.” Jacobson has launched The Solutions Project, with a plan for every state in the United States to completely transition to renewable energy within a few decades.

Figure 6 – Study by the Stanford University

Source: Stanford University, Energy Policy, 2013.

Developed under the leadership of Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, Pathways to Deep Decarbonization offers the outline for a worldwide plan to shift to renewable energy. The plan has three basic aspects: Increasing energy efficiency and conservation, rapidly developing low-carbon sources of electricity, and fuel switching: “Switching end-use energy supplies from highly carbon-intensive fossil fuels in transportation, buildings, and industry to lower carbon fuels including low-carbon electricity, other low-carbon energy carriers synthesized from electricity generation of sustainable biomass, or lower-carbon fossil fuels.”

In The Third Industrial Revolution, economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin promotes an optimistic alternative. The revolution is based on: (1) shifting to renewable energy; (2) transforming the building stock of every continent into green micro–power plants to collect renewable energies on-site; (3) deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies; (4) using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy internet that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of renewable energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus green electricity back to the grid and share it with their continental neighbors); and (5) transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell green electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.

Figure 7 – Internet of Energy

Source: BDI Initiative, Internet of Energy, 2010.

Action Items:

TRANSFORMING OUR AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM

Relocalized organic agriculture is, in itself, a powerful adaptation strategy for climate change. A large scale transition to ecological and organic agriculture would sequester carbon already present in the atmosphere, and reduce future CO2 emissions substantially. A significant reduction of meat consumption, globally, is necessary to reduce CO2 pollution. Global training in organic agriculture and permaculture techniques, mass volunteer initiatives to create urban gardens and local farms, and promotion of vegetarian diets could help accelerate the transition to a resilient and regenerative food system.

The organic techniques that allow for the sequestration of carbon include integrated pest management using non-synthetics, crop rotation, cover crops, and increased soil microbial activity that allows agricultural fields to become carbon “sinks”. Biochar, a charcoal soil additive produced by burning biomass in an oxygen weak environment, can be infused into soil to sequester additional carbon. According to journalist Mark Herstgaard, “If biochar were added to 10 percent of global cropland… it would store 20 billion tons of CO2 equivalent—roughly equal to humanity’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.”

Permaculture and agroforestry farming practices offer the most integrated, resilient, functional, and spiritually rewarding forms of agriculture. Permaculture, a term coined by Bill Mollison and David Holgren in the late 70s, stands for “permanent agriculture.” Its success lies in proper design and integration with the landscape, from landforms to water sources. Permaculture’s “ratio of output to input is about 5 times as good as that achieved by the benchmark US farm.”

Figure 8 – Soil Carbon versus Biochar

Source: Biochar International, Climate Change and Carbon SequestrationClimate Change and Carbon Sequestration, 2014.

Today, agricultural produce often travels thousands of miles to market. While local food movements have been burgeoning, community and urban gardens can be established everywhere. Vacant lots, suitable rooftops, parks, and greenways can be transformed into community gardens, food forests, and medicinal plant habitats. It has been estimated that 80% of the food needed by New York City could be grown on urban rooftops, using aquaponics. Vertical farms in urban areas could also provide low-carbon solutions.

Designing agricultural systems that are decentralized and specialized will help maintain ecological and genetic diversity. Smaller plots can be structured into larger farming co-operatives, where social support, hardware, and labor can be shared and supplemented across farms where necessary.

Figure 9 – Urban Farms

Source: GE Reports, Lettuce See the Future, 2014. 

Action Items:

TRANSFORMING OUR URBAN DESIGN

Reinventing cities for a post-growth world could lead to tremendous savings on greenhouse gas emissions, while radically improving the average quality of life. The most sensible model combines the concept of “eco-city design” with the model of “shareable cities,” where communities make collective use of tools and resources.

Inevitably, we must make a transition from a social paradigm based on incessant growth and increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to one based on qualitative aspects of being and experiencing, prioritizing community values and cultural expression. New and redesigned urban centers will no longer maximize opportunities for businesses and corporations, but facilitate the highest quality of life for all residents. Cities will become what Richard Register calls “scaffoldings for living systems,” as well as “learning machines,” designed to support residents in attaining knowledge and expertise in all fields of human endeavor.

Figure 10 – Eco-city

Source: Eco-City Builders, Progress at Tianjin Eco-city and Promise at Nanjing, 2012.

As sea levels rise over the next decades, many urban areas will need to be redesigned and relocated. New city centers will be built inland, at higher elevations. In theory, these new constructions could be builtentirely on ecological principles, with food, renewable energy, and manufacturing all accomplished on site. As part of this change, we could see a managed transition from privatized to cooperative ownership of businesses and residences, as well as participatory management based on the model of Porto Alegre in Brazil.

Action Items:

2.SOCIETY, POLITICS AND ECONOMY: THE TOOLS OF CHANGE

Rapid transition to a regenerative society requires a reboot of our political and economic system to support ecological restoration and the health of the collective. We can think of this process similar to the design and installation of a new operating system for human society. Technically, we have the ability to experiment, iterate, and reinvent our political and economic system. Currently, the inertia of our present social, political, and financial order blocks our ability to envision and enact this metamorphosis.

History reveals the evolution of media and the development of political-economic systems to be a single, unified process. Empires like Rome were only conceivable once a written code of laws could be disseminated. The modern printing press enabled mass democratic societies, as the populace needed to be able to follow current events. The nation-state government – republics based on representation – developed in the late 18th Century, when horse-and-buggies and schooner ships were the cutting-edge technologies of communication.

The problem is that today’s systems of governance are no longer well-suited to the speed and complexity of our highly interdependent world. They are highly inefficient, opaque, and secretive by design; subject to the undue influence of wealthy individuals, corporate lobbies, and special interest groups. We confront the rapid development of new technologies that have the potential to impact all life on Earth – such as synthetic biology or artificial intelligence – which fall outside of the capacity of governments to regulate. We find ourselves fighting archaic conflicts when all of our efforts must be focused on restoring the ecological support systems that allow life to continue.

Politics and economics are ultimately inseparable. Today’s governments, financial elites, military, and corporate interests are melded together in what some commentators call the military-industrial complex. The most powerful players in the private sector are the oil and gas companies. In 2012, Exxon Mobil reported nearly $45 billion in profits, the largest annual amount for any company in history.

Today’s information technologies could facilitate a rapid evolution of society, enhancing collective intelligence. A liberation of the knowledge commons could accelerate progress in many areas of inquiry, leading to a second renaissance. A global citizen’s movement of nonviolence and pacification, following the satyagraha principles defined by Gandhi, could lead to a rapid transition to a peaceful world.

The recent evolution of a fully interactive communications media that spans the world instantly should lead, we believe, to a transformation in our global political-economic system. New social tools can facilitate the rise of direct, participatory democracy on a global scale, with the people able to continuously educate themselves, debate, and decide.

We believe the global community needs a new social contract. Recent efforts to draft such a contract include the Earth Charter, “a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations.”

Figure 11 – Elements of a Post Growth System

Similarly, in 2011, Occupy Wall Street declared “principles of solidarity,” “points of unity,” that include:

• Engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy;• Exercising personal and collective responsibility;• Recognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all interactions;• Empowering one another against all forms of oppression;• Redefining how labor is valued;• The sanctity of individual privacy;• The belief that education is a human right; and• Making technologies, knowledge, and culture open to all to freely access, create, modify, and distribute.

We propose that every human being on Earth should be guaranteed a basic subsidy – secure access to food, shelter, education, and health services. Access to knowledge – humanity’s intellectual and creative commons – must be liberated, as a human right. This requires a change of economic and political paradigm, as well as an equitable distribution of resources.

We must make a rapid shift from a debt-based financial system that forces constant growth to a regenerative economy, based on cooperation, sharing of resources, peer-to-peer production, where value is linked to the health of communities and the restoration of ecosystems. In the immediate future, citizens must pressure governments to institute a carbon tax and other economic policies that penalize corporations for emissions. The current student movement to get universities to disinvest from fossil fuel companies should grow rapidly, and become a universal initiative.

An alternative economic system could be an ecosystem of tools for particular purposes, rather than a monoculture where value is controlled by a single monopoly or cartel. It would include a number of instruments for exchanging value that support different behavior patterns and beliefs. Our current economic system, based on debt, restricts experimentation and innovation and leads to concentration of wealth. The money supply is controlled by Central Banks, forcing artificial scarcity and competition.

New currencies – ranging from local to global instruments – could support equitable development and cooperative social models, as part of a regenerative social design.

Today’s financial system is overtly dysfunctional, lavishly rewarding the few at the expense of the many. The Federal Reserve creates billions of dollars each month to buy mortgage-backed securities and US Treasury bonds, rather than supporting the poor. Soon, we may reach a tipping point where innovations in currency go mainstream. The realization that money is actually a design problem could have far-reaching implications for human civilization.

For the first time, with the Internet, humanity possesses a globally interactive medium for enhancing knowledge, for building consensus, for creating new forms of value exchange, for supporting collective action on every scale. Theoretically, new social technologies could augment or supersede the current political economic system in a short period of time. Such a transition may happen rapidly and peacefully.

Existing Currency Proposals:

Figure 12 – Existing Currency Proposals

 

 

Figure 13 – Changes in our Political-Economic System 

 

3.CONSCIOUSNESS, CULTURE AND MEDIA: WHY CHANGE IS INEVITABLE

“The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes,” Oscar Wilde wrote. “Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.”

To bring about the necessary advances in technical infrastructure and political-economic system, humanity must make a great leap. According to scientific projections, if we continue our current level of CO2 emissions for the next fifteen years, we will have locked in a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. This would be catastrophic, perhaps irreparable.

We have only a brief window of opportunity to make a global transition to renewable energy while undertaking large-scale initiatives to reduce CO2, by planting new forests and urban gardens, and so on. We must undertake this transition at a time when natural resources are increasingly scarce, and economic inequality has reached new levels. Humanity has never been in this situation before, and we must admit that nobody has a solution for how change of the necessary speed and magnitude can, in reality, take place.

Rather than passive consumers governed by distant authorities, our critical situation on the Earth now requires highly motivated, inspired, self-directed agents willing to take action for the good of the collective. Communities must organize themselves to conserve energy and build new infrastructure, while stopping the eco-cidal practices of corporations, particularly the extractive industries.

To bring about these fundamental changes in our worldview, technical infrastructure, and political-economic structure, we require:

1. Community organizing / direct action

A global citizen’s movement must interrupt “business as usual.” We must spread awareness of the need for immediate change, along with the tools to manifest it. As individuals, we can choose to take part in local organizing, in acts of creative resistance and in efforts to build a new political infrastructure for our shared human future.

Models like Transition Town, Occupy, 350.org, theRules.org, the Evolver Network, and MoveOn provide templates for activism and community organization. A global network of local communities and nonprofit organizations can work together to demand policy changes and directly implement alternatives – such as local currencies, urban gardening, the shift to renewable energy sources supported by micro-grids, and the transition to electric vehicles. A mass citizen’s movement must arise to pressure corporations and compel governments to change direction.

2. New media / social technologies

We need to develop a virtual infrastructure that supports the paradigm shift. This would include:

•  Alternative media

Media shapes public opinion, collective awareness, and social practices. If we are going to meet today’s challenges, we need media that provides accurate, well-prioritized information. A conscious, solution-based media could support a rapid change of paradigm, providing tools for participatory democracy and mass volunteerism. On a global level, we need to educate and train people in the skills needed to build a regenerative society. These skills range from permaculture to consensus decision-making, from energy conservation to solar installation, from meditation to ecosystems management.

The movement must make strategic use of all forms of media to impact public awareness, proposing alternatives that people can apply in their own lives. Public artists  have a great opportunity to participate in this transition. Those with cultural influence can use social media to reach their audience directly. By using models and techniques such as Spiral Dynamics, Neuro-linguistic Programming, and social psychology, we can devise strategic campaigns to awaken and inspire the multitude. We must convey a coherent understanding of our current situation, so people can take meaningful action, collectively.

The website Great Transition Stories proposes: “It is vital that the human community come together and consciously co-create visions and stories of a sustainable and thriving relationship with the Earth and one another.” Artists and media makers have a responsibility to construct those new narratives and myths that support humanity in making this giant step forward.

• Alternative networks for collaboration and cooperation

Companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have built networks that reach a large segment of the global audience. We have reached the age of the billion-person platform. A next generation of social networks could protect user privacy while providing tools for collaborative social action and consensus-building. These networks should be built on open-source, peer-to-peer principles. It is also conceivable that companies like Facebook and Google could provide social infrastructure for rapid transition.

•  New instruments for exchanging value / alternative economic models

The global banking system is a kind of social network, overseeing virtual data-streams. A kind of planetary nervous system that supports the exchange and amassing of value, the current economic infrastructure, unfortunately, is working against the immediate needs of our planetary community. The business-as-usual, growth-at-all-cost paradigm can no longer be maintained. As it centralizes wealth and privatizes the commons, the financial system threatens our collective future. Potentially, alternative networks for exchanging value could drive different forms of behavior and social ideals.

• Platforms for collective decision-making that support decentralized, distributed democracy

Many theorists believe we need to transition from political systems of control based on hierarchy – top-down authority structures, found in the military and corporations – to “heterarchy,” or “responsible autonomy,” where all stakeholders are involved in decision-making processes. While these truly democratic systems must evolve in living practice, through local gatherings and council meetings, they can also be modeled and supported by web-based technologies. Distributed decision-making platforms could, eventually, allow for worldwide councils where information and ideas are freely shared, with the best solution arrived at via consensus-based processes. Initial efforts toward constructing such systems include Loomio and DemocracyOS.

Figure 14 – Requisites of a Regenerative Society

 

 

Figure 15 – Changes in our Consciousness and Culture

SUMMARY

We have only a short period of time available to bring about an epochal shift of human consciousness and civilization. If we continue business as usual, we will doom our children to a desperate world that may soon be uninhabitable. In the short term, as glaciers melt and sea levels rise, we will consign hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people in the Global South to miserable fates.

Beyond that, as Thom Hartmann writes, we have discovered that accelerated global warming is a “formula for extinction.” In past extinction events, “Something happens to increase global temperatures five to six degrees, which triggers a melting of the frozen carbon and methane oceanic reserves that then leads to further global warming devastating life on Earth.”

If we care about the future of human existence, as well as the continuity of life on Earth, we have a moral obligation – individually and collectively – to transform our culture rapidly, and institute a regenerative society.

Along with our ability to confront climate change and other aspects of the ecological crisis, we possess the technical capacities to liberate humanity, in the future, from unnecessary drudgery and brute labor. As we reckon with the ecological crisis we have unleashed, we will construct a post-work civilization, based on self-cultivation and collective responsibility, that is greater than anything we have known before.

While it threatens us, the ecological mega-crisis also provides a unique opportunity to bring about the evolution of global civilization. If we utilize the power of social innovation and apply our technical abilities for collective benefit, we can establish a truly free society, based on justice and righteousness, sharing and cooperation, direct democracy and world peace – a world where all take care of all.

 

Dynamic Earth by NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterCC BY 2.0