Once again, the economy is in the gutter. This time, it is because of a global pandemic. Once again, calls for change abound. What change, though?
Personally, I think what we need is a serious re-think about how we implement systems in general, moving away from exploitative or even sustainable design, towards regenerative design.
What went wrong?
Systems are usually set up by using up resources to create something or make something work. As a result, systems depend on the continuous availability of those resources, while simultaneously depleting them. We use the soil to create produce, fossil material for energy and the air and oceans as a waste repository.
But these are just some of the obvious examples. Forgive me for being general, but to name some more: Tourism uses locations around the world for R&R pleasure and depletes them in the process. The justice system punishes or entirely removes people from society, often leading to net losses for society at large.
Many health systems around the world are set up to maximize profits at the expense of an optimal level of public health, which leads to unnecessary deterioration of the public. In economics, profits arise from maximizing outputs at the presently possible minimum of inputs, thereby depleting capital, especially at the start of a supply chain – both human and otherwise. International relations aim for power gains, often fueled by social or environmental degradation.
Sustainable is not enough.
The list goes on, but the common denominator is always the same: These systems are both destructive and fragile. Any disruption sends them tumbling, while eventual disruption is inevitable because they deplete the very resources that they depend on to keep going.
The examples above are extreme, of course. There have already been attempts to reduce the degradation that many systems cause. A keyword here is sustainability, but in many ways, it is already too late for that. In all the examples above, simply maintaining the status quo is not enough. Our systems do not need to be sustainable; they need to be regenerative.
Regenerative systems are the key to the future.
Regenerative systems revitalize the resources that fuel them. Regenerative agriculture improves the soil during food production, while generating dividends for the larger natural world. Regenerative tourism, the model for our Tiny House, creates economic, societal, and environmental growth for the local communities at tourist destinations.
A regenerative justice system focuses on empathy and personal reconciliation, creating better outcomes for both victims and perpetrators. Details for every example would turn this post into an enormous essay, but you get the point.
What is important here is that regenerative systems are far more resilient than any alternative. They not only make sense for bleeding heart hippies like me who enjoy watching things grow without causing harm or suffering.
As not only the current pandemic shows, we are in desperate need for greater resilience as a species. But if we design the systems that make us prosper in a regenerative way, we can be sure that our prosperity is not only here to stay. It is here to grow and will eventually be accessible to everyone. We may even be able to reach the Sustainable Development Goals after all.