Beauty & Regeneration
How I relate with the idea of regeneration
I poured quite a few hours over the last week into a post which explores how climate change messaging has centered around convincing humans to be “less.” Use less, eat less, travel less, whatever. My thesis is that this messaging has generated both productive and unproductive anxiety.
The anxiety is productive in that it is driving many of us to adapt to current circumstances and let go of things we humans have done for generations that clearly just don’t make sense anymore (e.g. driving gas guzzling vehicles).
The anxiety is unproductive in that it is forcing many of us to feel a very deep, persistent, mostly subconscious sense of guilt about being human. The messaging says we have been bad boys and girls and now we are in trouble. We must not do it again!
Anyways, I put that post on ice because I realized I kept referring to a concept that I am realizing may be new to some: regeneration. The thesis of the post was that we do not actually have to be less if we just choose to do what we’ve been doing but do it in a way that is regenerative instead of degenerative.
What regenerative is not
I want to start this by saying let us not enable regenerative to become the new “organic” or “sustainable” or “eco”. Let us not enable marketeers to convince consumers that they are doing the right thing when in fact they are supporting the same ole’ machine. Let us double click this time.
To understand what regenerative is, let us start with what it is not. Regenerative is not that:
Sprawling Almond tree farm in central California where the soil looks like the lips of a man who has been traveling through the desert for 78 days.
Small, rundown midwestern Ag town where the McDonald’s and Walmart signs glow through the dust clouds from the surrounding farms.
Plastic cup of pears from the Safeway in Phoenix that says the pears were grown in Nicaragua and packaged in Thailand.
Flight from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas to drink margaritas for a week at a hotel that was developed over a wetland that was a biodiversity hotspot critical to its local ecosystem (I did this last fall 😳).
What regenerative is
Regenerative enables a system to thrive by focusing on ensuring that the fundamental elements of that system have a chance to heal themselves. At least that’s my definition. Here are some examples:
Farming- regenerative farming focuses on soil health, the most fundamental element of that system. Excessive tilling, chemicals, and general overuse kill the fundamental elements of life (microbes) in the soil. The microbes make nutrients available to the plants. Once the microbes go, it is time to ship in tons of expensive synthetic fertilizers to deliver the missing nutrients. Until those don’t work anymore. But by eliminating those practices and integrating regenerative practices (cover crops, rotational grazing, crop rotations, etc) that nourish microbes, the soil quickly repairs itself. This enables a more resilient and productive system. Watch Kiss the Ground or Allan Savory to learn more.
Gut Health- regenerative health focuses on the gut, the most fundamental element of our health. Eating too much food or medicine produced using excessive toxic chemicals damages the fundamental elements of life (microbes) in our guts beyond repair. Like in farming, the microbes make the nutrients from food available to our system. When they are not nourished, our health diminishes. Watch this video to learn about microbiome.
Work- a fundamental element of regeneration is the ability for a system to repair itself. When we overdo it (like in farming or our guts), we go beyond the point of repair. But some disruption is healthy. For example, when you workout effectively, you tear the muscle tissue just enough that it wants to grow back stronger. If you push it too far, you tear it beyond repair resulting in any injury. The same is true with work. Energy is the fundamental element of work. The degenerative way of working is to continually push oneself over and over again until burn out. To work regeneratively is to push oneself and then to take time to rest & repair before doing it again.
There are so many more examples. In general, our systems are all tapped out because over the last 100 years we focused so much on growth that we forgot to allow our systems to rest and repair. So many amazing advancements came from that relentless effort, and now is the time to put it all back together by incorporating regenerative practices.
Beauty as the metric for regenerative
There are many, many systems that are at or past the point of repair these days. I have personally felt a ridiculous amount of anxiety about it all. At times I have felt hopeless. And in that place of hopelessness, I discovered what my heart really desired to see in the world: more beauty. As I drove past landscapes scarred by industry, my heart desired a divine paint brush with which to repaint a scene of abundant life and beauty.
Well that paint brush never came, but the toolkit of regeneration did. The pursuit of beauty became a subconscious driver that led me to lean into this idea of regeneration. As I have learned to grow food regeneratively, steward land regeneratively, and build community regeneratively, I have seen through direct experience that I can actually be a steward of beauty on this planet.
Beauty has become my metric of “progress”. It is not directly measurable, but can be understood using quantitative proxy metrics like biodiversity and food nutrient density and qualitative assessments of ecosystems and landscapes. As biodiversity increases, ecosystems become more resilient, the nutrient density of soil improves, and the food we eat and the water we drink become more nourishing.
Qualitatively, ecosystems and landscapes become more aesthetically pleasing which creates a positive feedback loop inspiring those who steward the land (humans- a keystone species) to continue to focus on regeneration. So while the focus right now is correctly on slowing climate change by decarbonizing and sequestering carbon, I hold hope that in that process we will all eventually remember the power of beauty.
I hold hope that as we transition from degenerative systems to the stewardship of regenerative systems, we will see a more beautiful world. Not a world in which we have to be “less”, but a world in which we are invited to be “more”. And I believe the fastest way to make that transition happen is by shifting the consumer demand side. The more we move towards demanding regenerative (from our food systems, employers, and communities), the faster the supply side will shift. I’m really excited to continue to unpack how to make that shift happen on this blog!