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How to turn minority insight into majority action? Defining regeneration

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By Kasper Benjamin Reimer Bjørkskov

· 7 min read

We're living in a world that's already pushed past its limits. Six out of nine “planetary boundaries" have been crossed, meaning we can't just aim to "do no harm" anymore. Doing no harm in an already harmful system doesn't solve the problem. We can only achieve a genuinely sustainable society through net positive, regenerative action deployed at a sufficient pace and scale, hand in hand with necessary radical systems change across all aspects of society. 

This idea turns a lot of our usual thinking on its head. It's not just about returning to a balanced state within the current system; it's about creating a new system that keeps us balanced for the long term (real-world sustainability). Once considered just a starting point, sustainability is now emerging as the ultimate aim of all our actions. This shift is not just a linguistic change; it's a fundamental reorientation of priorities. In this new framework, the transition phase depends on regeneration—actively repairing and renewing ecosystems and communities rather than merely sustaining them as is. 

In the face of this mounting ecological crisis, the concept of regeneration emerges not merely as a solution but as a call for profound cultural transformation. This journey demands a definition—a shared understanding—to anchor our aspirations and guide our hands as we sculpt the future. 

The imperative of definition 

Our collective quest for regeneration begins with setting a clear definition. Without clarity, regeneration risks becoming an echo chamber of good intentions, its meaning diluted to insignificance. Exploration into this realm is not about erecting unassailable truths but about sparking a collaborative quest to articulate the essence of regeneration, particularly in the context of our planet's current state. It is about cultivating an ongoing dialogue that enables a mutual language and shared understanding from which actionable transformations can emerge.

However, our effort to define regeneration comes up against an obstacle faced by all similarly foundational concepts. Too many insights falter before ever becoming useful for action. Historically, the divide between knowing and doing requires a resonating message. Intellectual rigor must be made widely accessible to turn ideas into actions. 

Because when experts stop speaking only to other experts and smart people learn to communicate beyond their peers, real change begins. This shift hinges on our ability to make complex ideas accessible and actionable for everyone. True transformation lies in this translation from minority insight to majority action. 

The dance of the formless and the formed 

Regeneration, as we understand it, occupies two realms: the boundless and the bounded. It is a concept that dances on the edge of paradox, at once elusive and concrete. In its vastness, regeneration speaks to the yet-untapped transformative potential that lies beyond the constraints of definition. Yet, this very boundlessness necessitates translation if it is to have an impact beyond those already ‘in-the-know’. 

Our mission, then, is twofold: to honor the complexity of regeneration while rendering it actionable.  

Ergo, defining regeneration is not a diminution but an invitation, extending regeneration's reach from the halls of academia to the streets, from the minds of the few to the hands of the many.  

In doing so, we demystify regeneration and imbue it with the power to move, act, and change. 

Failing to translate minority insights into majority actions allows self-proclaimed leaders to monopolize crucial definitions, leading to a skewed and inequitable application. This centralization of control stifles the democratic principles of broad participation, thereby limiting diverse, plural perspectives that are essential for a truly inclusive process. Without bridging this gap, we perpetuate the existing power imbalances and impede the potential for widespread change. 

The legacy of experimentation, the role of science 

Other cultures understand regeneration in ways that intertwine closely with their existence. Today, original people around the globe live in harmony with nature, their practices an ongoing experiment that builds on a legacy of knowledge within their culture outside the confines of Western science. This wisdom, the product of millennia, illustrates a profound collaboration with the natural world, a relationship that we should all strive to rekindle. 

The practices of original people, deeply embedded in the fabric of cultural traditions, represent a vital part of our collective endeavor towards ecological and social regeneration. They offer us invaluable insights into sustainable living through a lens of lived experience and intergenerational wisdom. This form of knowledge-rich in practical application and adaptability—is essential as we forge pathways toward a sustainable future. 

Yet, we mustn't overlook the crucial role of Western science. Today, science serves as our bridge between the past and the future, offering us the necessary insights to navigate the path of regeneration. It provides rigorous methods for understanding complex systems, expanding the scope of what can be achieved based on empirical evidence and systematic inquiry. This scientific approach complements the practices of original people by offering tools for analysis, validation, and scalability that can transform localized practices into global solutions. 

These two scientific approaches serve as our bridge to the past, offering us the tools and insights necessary to navigate the path of regeneration. It reminds us that our efforts are the latest chapter in a long saga of experimentation and discovery. 

Ignoring the legacy of modern science in favor of an oversimplified return to the “roots” is repeating the mistakes that have led us to the brink of collapse. 

Uniting minds and hands for change 

The journey toward a regenerative future is a collective endeavor that calls for the unity of minds and hands. It calls on us to leverage our intellectual insights to reforge our practical abilities. This reawakening is essential for cultural transformation, one that recognizes the limits of growth and the imperative of living within the Earth's social and ecological boundaries.  

“The important thing is not to dream of a future revolution in your slippers, but to hold a vision of a radically different world in your mind while continuing to act in the world as it is, persisting in the project of making changes that are within the scope of action.”

Material Cultures (2024) Material Reform: Building for a Post-Carbon Future. MACK. p.16

Envisioning actionable steps 

Embodying regeneration means engaging in deliberate, tangible actions that reflect our understanding and respect for the intricate web of life. It involves crafting spaces for nature, adopting practices that replenish rather than deplete, and fostering economies in service of life rather than life in service of Finance. 

To meaningfully advance towards regeneration, our approach must be grounded in principles that span the breadth of ecological concern and social equity, addressing the urgency of our global ecological crisis while carefully considering the impact of our actions both locally and globally. We must mitigate pressures on the planet, striving for a balance that ensures the flourishing of all life forms. Our efforts should promote equity and inclusivity, guaranteeing that benefits and responsibilities are fairly distributed worldwide, thus strengthening our collective resolve. The scale and pace of our actions must align with the critical need to prevent irreversible ecological collapse, underlining the immediacy with which we must act.  

Embracing these guiding principles in our quest for regeneration, we find the way for a future that harmonizes with the natural world and lays the foundation for a society that values equity, resilience, and collective well-being. This commitment to thoughtful, principled action invites us all to participate in the transformative journey toward a truly sustainable and inclusive global community. 

A call for regenerative action 

Our exploration of regeneration is more than an academic exercise; it is a roadmap for survival, a paradigm guiding us toward a future where humanity and nature coexist in mutual prosperity. By defining the term, we bridge the divide between theory and practice, and by drawing on the legacy of our collective scientific and cultural heritage, we can initiate the transformative changes necessary for a truly sustainable world. 

Let this be our collective call to action, a journey embarked upon not alone but together, with open hearts and willing hands. As we delve into the depths of regeneration, let us emerge not only with a deeper understanding but with a renewed commitment to action.  

In the dance between the formless and the formed, the key to our regenerative future lies in the harmony of minds and hands. 

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Kasper Benjamin Reimer Bjørkskov is an architect who specializes in converting complex environmental and social challenges into innovative, sustainable architectural solutions, promoting inclusive design that spurs societal change. He has actively engaged in numerous architectural projects dedicated to minimizing CO2 emissions, demonstrating the feasibility of constructing buildings and simultaneously reducing CO2 with no additional costs.

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