“A system that places monetary value on products and services but places little value on their source is not sustainable.”

Although  the practical tools to reverse climate change are already available, to  date the scale to which they have been implemented is not even remotely  close to what needs to be accomplished within a very short time. Two  vital elements are still missing: shared vision and concerted  collaborative action. How do we get areas the size of India planted in  mixed-aged, mixed-species, soil-regenerative, storm- and drought  resilient agroforest, grassland and wetland with well-trained and  motivated, self-financed productive cooperative management? And do it  all again next year? And the year after, and the year after that for the  next half century? 

The Secretary General of the British Commonwealth  looked at this question and, with the help of a few of her friends,  proposed a portfolio of answers. 

In October, 2016, Patricia Scotland  convened the Commonwealth’s Workshop on Regenerative Development to  Reverse Climate Change. Over the course of the workshop, particular  emphasis was placed on the issue of language and terminology.

To  date, the discourse surrounding responses to climate change has been  largely negative. Focusing primarily on the scale of the problem and the  severity of its consequences, the language employed in the debate has  often been alienating, effectively producing a general sense of apathy  and disempowerment. In a reversal of this trend, the workshop emphasized  a reframing of the debate from problems to potential, and the solutions  that flow from potential. In doing so, the aim was to inspire a real  call to action.

Of  course, changing outlook from pessimistic to optimistic does not make  it so. As we have said here before, we humans are nasty pieces of work.  Why are there no more mastodons, Atlantic gray whales or Great Auks? How  is it that although there were many hominid species roving Earth at one  time, ours became the only one, and by what means? What are we doing to  the whole of our co-evolved biodiversity as you read these words? What  part of that sorry picture is genetically hard-wired, and what part is  merely cultural? 

The Commonwealth’s report observes:

The  primary result of the workshop was the consensus that there are proven  techniques readily available to effectively address climate change and  regenerate the capacity and capabilities of communities and ecosystems.  Drawing on substantial bodies of evidence, recalling numerous success  stories and outlining countless potential interventions, the  participants agreed that the means to effect real change through  regenerative development already exist. The real challenge of the  workshop, therefore, was to identify ways to put these means into  practice and mobilize action.

The  meeting recognized that a statement of the problem and a list of  potential solutions is not enough. There has to be the means and the  desire to get solutions underway. 

The group decided that from a social  perspective, it is necessary to develop capabilities to use effective  frameworks and processes to align desire and action. As practical matter  that meant that the world economic paradigm has to shift from resource  extraction and exploitation to exhaustion (both material and human) to  increasing biological capacity as the driver for economic and social  satisfaction of needs. 

Only increased photosynthesis is going to  rebalance the carbon cycle at this point. But it can’t be a  cookie-cutter approach. As the report put it, “Techniques that work well  in one context may not be immediately transferable to another; Island  nations, for example, have different regenerative needs and potential to  landlocked nations.”

A  key finding from the workshop was that a shift in the definitions of  wealth and capital is necessary to reverse climate change. That is quite  a pill to swallow. But the truth is inescapable:

As  things stand, behaviors that increase energy consumption, extraction,  production, consumption, pollution, and degradation are generally  rewarded. Such activities are promoted as the basis of wealth creation,  yet this is demonstrably false. Earth’s natural resources and processes  are the source from which all financial capital is derived. It’s  impossible for derivatives to be more valuable than their source. A  system that places monetary value on products and services but places  little value on their source is not sustainable, and it is necessary for  humanity to redefine its relationship with the natural world  accordingly. Education, information dissemination, and appropriate  policy and economic incentive structures are critical in shifting  individual behaviors and social ideals, to properly value natural  wealth.

The  workshop caught on to a key principle that we have been hammering away  at here: this does not have to be financially painful. It can even be  reasonably profitable.

Attracting  finance means developing approaches that are not only effective at  reducing atmospheric carbon, but also generate a realistic return on  investment measured by the full range of current Capitals (natural,  human, manufactured, social, and/or financial.)
The  Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 has been described as an historic  turning point. Now that we have agreed to turn, however, we must start  going in a new direction. Regenerative development is this new  direction. This involves not only limiting carbon emissions at their  source but also sequestering them into standing forests, regenerated  grasslands, improved soil and innovative production processes that lock  carbon into materials. Through the adoption of regenerative approaches,  climate change can be reversed through the recovery and regeneration of  the biosphere. Redesigning humanity’s presence on Earth to shift from  extractive to regenerative is essential for realizing our species’  potential for shared health and prosperity.

What  the workshop participants recommended were some very concrete,  easy-to-implement approaches that are unlikely to draw fire from  entrenched positions. Community-led initiatives — ecovillages,  transition towns, civic drives — are key. They will build local capacity  for people to work together to help themselves and to realize the  unseen regenerative potential within the unique conditions of their  local cultures and ecosystems.

But  communities do not exist outside of their national context. In this the  Secretariat was very helpful. Overseeing 52 countries of common  language and culture and almost a third of the world’s population (over  60% of which are under 30 years old), the Commonwealth is ready and  willing to lead the way by offering to assist the transitional policies  of member governments. The way forward that it envisions is by  exponentially growing a network of trainers, or “knowledge multipliers,”  that can train other trainers around the world but more importantly,  inspire. 

Finally, the realpolitik of Brexit, Trump and the crash of  Ponzinomic petrodollars means that financing has to be more creative  than merely looking to government grants, which ultimately rely on tax  revenues. Again echoing what we have said here, the workshop concluded:

From  the project side, all initiatives must be designed to attract  investment and achieve productive returns. At the same time, funding  mechanisms and a clear case for investment need to be developed to  enable investors to direct their funds to this necessary work.

By  analyzing the role of the different forms of capital (material, human,  social, manufactured and financial), it is easy see how a capitalist  system would develop an unsustainable bias towards placing manufactured  capital on a pedestal. By conceptualizing manufactured goods as an  endpoint, solely from a consumerist perspective, the creation of  “wealth” can be simplistically reduced to profit from efficient  exploitation without regard to externalities, such as planetary or  social health. This has the undesirable effect of limiting the  regenerative potential of human activity. By reconceptualizing to  circular economics and biomimetic thinking, manufactured capital comes  to depend on regenerative practices. 

Social and ecological capital are  captured by linking financial gain to the Sustainable Development Goals  (SGDs). Only by striving to meet the 17 development goals can a regional  development agenda, or a national economy, be considered to be balanced  in all forms of capital appreciation. 

At the close of the workshop  plans were sketched for the establishment of a “Commonwealth Online  Incubator for Regeneration & Restoration.”

This  online platform would focus on the practical and immediate  implementation of regenerative projects, while simultaneously acting as  an awareness-raising medium and repository of information. The incubator  will invite applications for projects, selecting and supporting the  most promising on a yearly basis. Each year, new projects will be  brought to fruition while the previous are monitored and evaluated,  creating a continuous cycle of action and learning. Furnished with  relevant information, the platform will map and detail the results of  incubated projects, disseminating demonstrably effective approaches  among communities and decision-makers.

In January, 2017, the Commonwealth drafted a Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change Collaborative Manifesto. Among the things it called for were “ecosystems of solutions:”

Our  people-centred approach aims to help local communities across the  Commonwealth to help themselves, enabling them to create elegant  ecosystems of solutions carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness  of place. In doing so, we will:
  • reverse climate change
  • increase biomass and bio-productivity
  • increase and protect bio-cultural diversity
  • accumulate organic matter as a real store of wealth and health
  • increase community resilience
  • build food, energy, and water sovereignty at the community level
  • leverage the power of collaborative abundance
  • and address environmental degradation and the causes for hunger, poverty, ill health, migration, and war.
Our  hope is to become a welcome species, functionally indistinguishable  from the organisms and ecosystems we admire. We look forward to fitting  in, at last and for good, on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.

How do we ecoforest areas the size of India or Australia, year in — year out?

The  Commonwealth’s 52 nations include ecosystems that speak for the  diversity of all the planet’s climates, covering 40 percent of the  world’s land mass, over 20 percent of her forests,  and the largest area of coastlines, fronting all the world’s oceans. It  also includes 31 of the 39 most vulnerable nations to climate change.  Is that big enough?

This  post is part of an ongoing series we’re calling The Power Zone  Manifesto. We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and  24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page.

Originally published at peaksurfer.blogspot.com on March 13, 2017.