Proliferating wicked problems

By augustus 25, 2022 Algemeen

We have pushed our species (and many others) to the brink of extinction by misguided actions informed by a limited point of view. This epistemological blind-spot created by an exclusively quantities-focused science informed a technologically driven civilization measuring success through inadequate economic indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while externalizing the qualitative damage to human communities, ecosystems and the biosphere from the balance sheets. There is an international consensus that our generation is facing a convergence of multiple crises and that the same mindset that has created this convergence is incapable of solving it. Paradigms evolve and shift when the prevailing frameworks are unable to explain and address new anomalies in development processes. The wicked problems – those that are complex, intractable, open-ended, unpredictable – seem to be proliferating.

It means the rediscovery and reappraisal of the view of man and the world that has invariably formed the undercurrent of societal development for millennia.

Given current trajectories, transformation of human societies in some form is inevitable. The Anthropocene implies real risks of destabilizing the Earth system, undermining all attempts for equitable human development on our planet. The Earth System planetary boundaries in which humanity should aim to operate safely, include global biogeochemical cycles (nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon and water), the major physical circulation systems of the planet (the climate, stratosphere and ocean systems), marine and terrestrial biodiversity and anthropogenic forcing (aerosol loading and chemical pollution). At the same time, in the Anthropocene we are witnessing rising and globalized inequities that have far-reaching consequences for almost every aspect of our lives, and our ability to achieve other goals, including prosperous ecological and human futures. The sustainability concept fails to offer guidance on how to arbitrate between the conflicting drivers of economic growth, planetary boundaries and social justice.

It is, however, not clear whether global transformations can be navigated to avoid catastrophic Earth System change and ensure more desirable trajectories of human and non-human life on our planet.

Addressing rising inequalities and inequities and maintaining a dynamic Earth System are two defining and challenges of our age.  Recognizing the hyper-connectivity and complexity of the Anthropocene interdependent makes clear that human and Earth systems, which have always been entwined and co-evolving despite their disciplinary disconnection in the past two centuries are now even more so, often in new, teleconnected and uncertain ways. The Earth system is complex and this complex character must be appreciated when taking decisions that may influence earth and society’s evolution.

A change of perspective, the Earth system, viewed as an interdependent, co-evolving social–ecological system, as well as a new set of ways of thinking about our recent and current epoch. It takes us away from reductionist linear cause–effect analysis of equity and sustainability, to underline the fully intertwined character of human and ecological systems, and the co-evolving fates of sustainability and equity. This holistic worldview, rather than being fixed, fosters the ability to integrate and transcend paradigms.

The understanding of living systems suggests that all life progresses through developmental change processes in which self-organization and emergence lead to increasing complexity, diversity, capacity to support more life, and the potential to change to provide future options across scales—in other words, increasing health, wellbeing, and thrivability.

Humans, as powerful agents in living systems, can recognize our interbeing with all life and align our worldviews, thinking, and actions with living systems principles to catalyze thrivability across scales. Regenerative design, the next wave of sustainability, aims for just that—thriving living systems from the scale of individuals to the entire earth system.

Faced with multiple converging crises it is time to rethink, reimagine and redesign the human presence on Earth. To transform our current degenerative and exploitative impact into a regenerative impact on communities, ecosystems, regional economies and the biosphere as a living and constantly transforming whole.

The regenerative concept argues how, in an unpredictable world, one can enable the places where we live and work to thrive, going well beyond merely sustaining a precarious balance. In a world in which the only constant is change, developing the capacities of living systems to evolve in a process of supporting the inherent self-organizing, life-enhancing, health-inducing capacities of whole living systems is a must.

Regeneration sees humans and the rest of life as one autopoietic system in which developmental change processes manifest the unique essence and potential of each place or community. Regenerative design’s aspirational aim is to manifest thriving and flourishing living systems (i.e., complex adaptive systems) in the fully integrated individual-to-global system.

The regenerative concept implies locally adaptable, resource conserving policies, activities and products, carefully tailored to the biocultural uniqueness of each location.  This includes and transcends conventional and contemporary sustainability, adopting a holistic worldview. Regeneration sees humans and the rest of life as one autopoietic system in which developmental change processes manifest the unique essence and potential of each place or community. Regenerative design’s aspirational aim is to manifest thriving and flourishing living systems (i.e., complex adaptive systems) in the fully integrated individual-to-global system.

Regenerative design is grounded in a deep understanding of the integral and interdependent nature of living systems, providing viable management solutions for economies in order to not exceed the environmental, social and economic carrying capacity of ecosystems. This requires finding ways to continually, consciously regenerate our natural environment -Earth System-, ourselves and our thinking. It requires us to continually see ourselves and our place as humans in new ways, with new potential within an unending process of movement and unfoldment. Regenerative design is a deep understanding of the integral and interdependent nature of living systems social, economic, physical and biotic and abiotic, which informs societies to prosper and evolve within ecosystems processes. The capacity for evolution inherent in all living systems has been central to life’s ability to sustain itself for billions of years.  ‘Design for evolution’ is a key principle of regenerative development which means that we can design and develop the intrinsic and extrinsic conditions that enable living systems to become agents of their ongoing evolution as partners in a larger co-evolution. In this context, dialogue with the rest of the natural world is intentionally established.

Fundamentally, there is a need for more awareness of regenerative paradigms, principles, and practices, supported by educational and training programs for practitioners, scientists, students, business and community members. More theoretical development, in conjunction with case studies, design experiments, and adaptive design, is necessary to continue improving methodologies and technologies. We need to learn when, why, and how to integrate holistic methods and different ways of knowing and bridge disciplines, science, and practice.

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