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Regenerative economies for regenerative cultures

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By Daniel Christian Wahl

· 3 min read

Our current economic and monetary systems are structurally dysfunctional and at best serve a few (for a while) while more and more people share less and less. Under no circumstances will they deliver a healthy, meaningful and happy life for all. On a crowded planet with failing ecosystems, we have to learn that out-competing others while destroying the planetary life-support systems is not an evolutionary success strategy. Win-lose games in the long run turn into lose-lose games. Yet there is another way! We can transform our global economy to play a subsidiary and collaborative function as we embark on strengthening resilient regional and local economies as the foundations of thriving, diverse, regenerative cultures.

What to do

We need to urgently break out of the vicious circle of bad economic design decisions — they reinforce a perspective of scarcity, separation and competition that drives ecological and social degradation. Human beings designed this system and human beings can redesign it to serve people and the planet. Nothing about our current economic system — apart from the biophysical reality that you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet — is inevitable or unchangeable. Neo-liberal economics is a dangerous ideology that seems to produce mass delusion and collective suicidal tendencies oblivious to the biophysical reality and socio-ecological context.

Re-creating the economic system

Unlike biology and ecology, economics is not a science. We created our current economic system and we can redesign it, based on ecological insights, biophysical limits, and social values. A thriving economy will serve our common purpose: promoting the health and wellbeing of humanity and the community of life. To redesign economics from the ground up challenges us to design new monetary systems, trade policies and financial institutions, as well as scale-linked local living economies and regionally focused circular biomaterials economies. The role of the global economy should be subsidiary supporting global collaboration and resource- and information-sharing.

The regenerative processes that enable living systems to thrive must also characterise the economic systems designed to create conditions conducive to life. Local and global collaboration in the co-creation of regenerative enterprises and diverse bioregional economies that serve the thriving of regenerative communities and cultures can potentially unlock a very different future for humanity.

Need for regeneration

Healthy ecosystem functions form the basis for all agricultural productivity and all bio-productivity. This ‘primary production’ is the basis of all value creation. Without this biological basis we cannot maintain communities and societies — let alone civilisations. Regenerating and maintaining the biospheric health of the planetary ‘household’ that all life depends upon is a precondition for human thriving.

“Ecosystems form the basis of all wealth creation. […] Ecosystems provide societies with soil fertility, food, water, shelter, goods and services, medicines, stability, pleasure, knowledge and leisure. […] Today 60 per cent of the services provided by ecosystems are threatened. Economic activities aimed at achieving short-term wealth are destroying ecosystems worldwide and thus economies’ primary asset. Restoring damaged ecosystems is essential if we are to secure the livelihoods of future generations.”

- Willem Ferwerda 2012: 13

This article was also published on the author's blog. 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

Daniel Christian Wahl is one of the catalysts of the rising reGeneration and the author of Designing Regenerative Cultures. He works as a consultant, educator and activist with NGOs, businesses, governments and global change agents. With degrees in biology and holistic science, and a PhD in Design for Human and Planetary Health, his work has influenced the emerging fields of regenerative design and salutogenic design. Winner of the 2021 RSA Bicentenary Medal for applying design in service to society.

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