The Regenerative Development Manifesto
The world is complex. We need to stop dumbing it down.
The first step to solving a problem is to isolate it. But complex phenomena—and the very real challenges of our living world—cannot be isolated from their contexts.
Regenerative development asks us to break our habit of over-simplifying the world. The series of global crises that we now face cannot be managed with a widget. We cannot simply upgrade, swap out, or switch over. The current state of our world requires us to work hard to fully understand the complexity of living systems and to design elegant approaches that honor and appreciate that complexity.
This will require us to grow ourselves as human beings—beyond what we ever thought we were capable of.
We can’t get where we need to go by making compromises.
The catastrophic destruction of the world’s living systems is the natural result of a humanity that lives from the belief that we must always choose lesser evils. This belief tells us that to feed our population we must degrade our soil; that to heat our homes we must destroy our atmosphere; that to support our urban centers we must deplete our aquifers.
Regenerative development asks us to reject these premises and envision instead a world of human activity in which compromising the health of one system for the convenience of another has become a powerful and pervasive taboo.
Albert Einstein taught us that we cannot solve a problem using the same way of thinking that created it. This is true whether we are thinking about our climate, water supplies, energy needs, or food security. While human innovations can forestall disaster and mitigate damage, the only genius that can truly reconcile these problems is the genius that was discarded in the process of creating them.
We can tap into that genius, truly and only, by committing to the regeneration of the natural systems that support life on our planet.
Nature doesn’t need our protection. She needs our collaboration.
We are all susceptible to clichés. When we hear terms like “ecological resilience,” we think of pristine ecosystems—a rainforest or an estuary. Thus when we try to think about a role for humans, we limit our aspirations to the conservation and protection of those fewer and fewer untouched places that remain.
But what if nature needs humans—not simply to protect it from ourselves but to play a creative, hands-on role?
The awe-inspiring, “untouched” wilderness that John Muir discovered was not wilderness at all. It was a carefully tended garden that had for hundreds of years been managed and cared for by the indigenous people who depended on it for their survival. As a garden, it had greater ecological health and resilience than comparable forests that had evolved independently of humans.
Regenerative development asks us to imagine cities, towns, and villages that possess greater natural beauty, ecological health, and productive capacity than even the world’s most pristine forests.
Realizing this vision is the responsibility—and the destiny—of the human race.
The only appropriate response is a local response.
A living, thriving planet operates not through a system of international pipelines but through a global network of local phenomena. For this reason the work of regenerating the world’s natural systems can only succeed in particular places, using approaches that are created in response to the unique processes of life in those places.
There are no out-of-the-box solutions. There can only be a fierce, determined commitment to envision a potential beyond what currently exists for the places we care about and to work hard to manifest that potential.
Everyone has a role.
We believe that everyone has a role in this work—not just foresters and farmers. But we cannot live out our role unless we commit to change not just what we do, but who we are and how we think.
Landowners must commit themselves to deeply understanding their land—how it works and what its potential is as a catalyst for the ecological, economic, and social health of its surrounding area. This is true whether the land is home to a farm or a school, a private ranch or an apartment complex.
Community leaders must stop looking for solutions to import and start charting their own course into the future. There is no sustainable future for communities that have nothing unique to contribute to the world, and what a community has to offer has everything to do with its natural capital. It is time for communities to begin re-investing in the ecological systems that make them special while re-aligning all local endeavors with the ongoing stewardship of those systems.
And, finally, sustainability practitioners must commit themselves to discovering—and telling their clients—the hard truth: There is no human resilience without ecological resilience, no sustainability without a living planet, and no planetary change without novel local approaches.
We are headed into the future, the vision of which is inspired by the deep knowledge that we, humanity, came onto this earth with the potential to evolve. Now is the time for us to grow as a species, not just ever-larger and ever-more-consuming, but ever more intelligent, more creative, and more conscious.
We are headed into the future. Are you coming with us?