WE ALL KNOW IT, THIS IS THE DECISIVE DECADE.

By juli 7, 2022 Algemeen

WE ALL KNOW IT. THIS IS THE DECISIVE DECADE.

SUSTAINABILITY 3.0: REGENERATION

Humanity has 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. Traditionally organized around an extraction-based production system, based on hierarchical, centralized control and distribution of scarce resources. This system has come with a set of beliefs about the world, scientific practices, and ideas about society – an organizing system in which exploitation and inequality became hard-wired as systemic features necessary to keep the system alive.

Humanity is transgressing various planetary boundaries and has destabilized global climate patterns and created an anthropogenic Earth System emergency. Humans are starting to be recognized as an overwhelming forcing factor modulating biosphere dynamics. In this view, the Earth system can be interpreted as entering in geological era that can be called the Anthropocene. Awareness is spreading that we are on course for civilizational collapse or might already be in the middle of it.

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 prevailing, extraction-based system is based on linear approximations of limited portions of reality. Climate anxiety, the 6th extinction, Earth System decline, inequality, resource depletion etc are at an all-time high, and political / institutional systems are moving with far too much slow incrementalism. Among the most notable areas of socioeconomic concern are the divergent recovery, economic hardship and growing inequality, along with their interaction with ideological polarization and the sense of disenfranchisement of large sections of the global population. Geoeconomic confrontations will emerge as a critical threat to the world in the medium to long term and as one of the most potentially severe risks over the next decade.

This emphasizes the magnitude of the deterioration of the conditions that sustain human and nonhuman life. They expound on the urgency of rethinking the relations of production, consumption, and coexistence contained in destructive capitalism, but also in the need of going beyond a non-relational way of thinking and approaching “others.”

We are in a race against time. We need urgent future orientated collective intelligence, innovation and speed to scale.

CONTEMPORARY SUSTAINABILITY is an improvement upon conventional sustainability, yet it is still primarily anthropocentrically focused and an outgrowth of a mechanistic worldview. While it better incorporates ecological concepts such as complex adaptive systems, it still tends to work with fragmented parts of systems rather than whole complex systems—working transdisciplinarily and integrating disciplines have proven to be challenging. Contemporary sustainability mostly focuses on symptoms rather than causes of unsustainability—in other words, shallow leverage points in systems, such as technological, policy, and economic changes—and supports the continued existence of unsustainable systems and thought patterns (e.g., continued economic growth, managing environmental resources for human consumption, efficiency). In practice and even in academia, contemporary sustainability still gets caught in traps of greenwashing, efficiency, relying on technological improvements, and unintentionally fostering greater unsustainability.

An inability to move beyond a foundation in a mechanistic worldview and reductionistic paradigm perpetuates problematic issues of fragmentation and trade off’s, a focus on shallow and weak leverage points, and a reliance on technological fixes and efficiency, which render the sustainability field unable to shift societal trajectories to ones that support not only sustainability but loftier aims, such as the flourishing of all life.

Homogenization, simplification, intensification, strong connections, as well as suppression of variance, increase the likelihood of regime shifts, or critical transitions with thresholds and tipping points. Tipping points, generally arise when chronic (typically anthropogenic but sometimes natural) changes push ecosystems to thresholds that cause process and function collapse even in a permanent way. These shifts may interact and cascade, thereby causing change at very large scales with severe implications for the wellbeing of human societies. Comparison of the present extent of biosphere conversion with past global-scale regime shifts suggests that global scale biosphere regime shift is more than plausible.

Technological convergencies such as information technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive science, nano technology and synthetic biology will drastically change economies, human relations, social organization, culture and civilization, creating new unknown futures.

Recognizing the hyper-connectivity and complexity of this Anthropocene era makes clear that human and ecological systems / 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 Anthropocene implies real risks of destabilizing the Earth system, undermining all attempts for equitable human development on our planet. 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 sustainable human futures.

REGENERATION

The future of sustainability lies in regeneration; restoring ecosystems, rebalancing our climate, and building economies that thrive, while allowing people and the planet to thrive, too. Regenerating and repairing the planet while creating equitable and sustainable livelihoods is the largest transformation that our civilization might ever go through. It requires system changes touching every level of society – political, economic, financial, cultural, legal. It upends mindsets, assumptions, norms and institutions. It requires innovation at every level of our systems, from microbial to global. And it all needs to happen at an unprecedented speed and scale.

Regenerating the planet while creating equitable and sustainable livelihoods is the largest transformation that our civilization might ever go through. It requires system changes touching every level of society – political, economic, financial, cultural, legal. It upends mindsets, assumptions, norms and institutions. It requires innovation at every level of our systems, from microbial to global. And it all needs to happen at an unprecedented speed and scale.

Regeneration represents a worldview and paradigm shift for sustainability. Regeneration describes a state change in 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 and co-evolving fates of Earth Systems, humanity and equity. This includes and transcends contemporary sustainability, adopting a holistic worldview. A holistic worldview, rather than being fixed, fosters the ability to integrate and transcend paradigms, which is the deepest leverage point in systems and, thus, absolutely necessary for sustainability. 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. Regenerations aspirational aim is to manifest thriving and flourishing living systems (i.e., complex adaptive systems) in the fully integrated individual-to-global system.

Regeneration focuses on transforming the worldviews, paradigms, and thinking underlying the manifested reality and, thus, (un)sustainability. The inhabitants of a place or community, as well as the stakeholders who cocreate it, ultimately determine whether it is (un)sustainable or (not)thriving. Places are not static but are constantly changing. Developing capacities in the human and more-than-human components of communities to change in ways that continually manifest higher levels of health and wellbeing (i.e., manifested potential) and thus regenerate, rather than degenerate, is necessary for thrivability. These capacities include adaptation, self-organization, and evolution, as well as making decisions about infrastructure, land use, governance, food systems, cultural practices, and lifestyles that support whole-system health. We must explicitly consider that the interactions take place in multiple and hierarchical levels. This is a general feature of complex systems, components are organized hierarchically in such a way that elements at different levels interact to form an architecture that characterizes the system. In this way, complexity asserts that a phenomenon occurring at one scale cannot be understood without considering cross-scale interactions.

Regeneration has at least three systemic dimensions. First, it involves a shift in human and institutional behavior away from degrading the life-support foundation of the Earth System and societal development. Second, it requires management and governance of human actions as intertwined and embedded within the biosphere and the broader Earth system. Third, it involves enhancing the capacity to live and develop with change, in the face of complexity and true uncertainty, that is, anti-fragility strategies to persist, transform and evolve.

Such a dynamic system perspective also makes clear a shift away from the notion of sustainability as an equilibrium state or an environmental/social end point to an acknowledgement of variability and system dynamics. In this dynamic system perspective, regeneration is not achieved through interventions which aim to decrease variance in order to achieve system stability and predictability.  The interaction dynamics provide a useful lens on the central practical challenge of our time: how to reorient human–nature relations so as to enable a shift to more desirable trajectories.

The concept of dynamic regeneration suggests the management of the whole system, its elements and their relationships with one another, within a specified range of variability – a multi-dimensional envelope of acceptable variation. This specified or desired range is bounded by multiple social, ecological and social–ecological thresholds beyond which the system would risk undesirable and often irreversible change.  Regenerative systems are antifragile, which is a property that enhances the system’s functional capacity to reply to -external- perturbations;  a system is antifragile if it benefits from environmental variability, works better after being disturbed. Then, antifragility is beyond robustness or resilience. While the robust/resilient systems tolerate stress and remain the same, antifragile structures not only withstand stress but also gain from it, learn or adapt.

This demands decision-relevant insights under deep uncertainty, enhance the insights and relevance of exploratory modeling for inferring consequential actions and outcomes for deeply uncertain societal transitions or transformations and enhancing our ability to model major dynamic transitions, their dependencies and interactions across multiple scales, sectors, and systems.

Decision Support Modelling acts as a ‘facilitator’ of the process of change, intervening at specific structures, places or times to initiate a change in the system. Approaches such as eco-acupuncture and Swarm Intelligence (collective intelligence as a more flexible way of thinking about how to plan, design for and respond to challenges, based on the behavior of swarms in nature), aim to design interventions in an existing systems to transform to become more  anti-fragile; ‘fluid’ and capable of responding to different paces of change that might occur in the future: fast, slow, or sudden.

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