Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What on Earth is "Regeneration"?

Language matters.

To this end, I’d like to clarify what I mean when I refer to “regeneration” or “restoration” (e.g. an “ecologically regenerative” food system).

These aren’t terms that have, as of yet, become as widely recognized (or watered down) as “sustainability”. 

So what do I mean? 

Toby Hemmingway has broken it down quite well in his “Rules for Resource Use”: 

Rules for Resource Use:
Ranked from regenerative to degenerative, different resources can:
  1. Increase with use
  2. Be lost when not used
  3. Be unaffected by use
  4. Be lost by use
  5. Pollute or degrade systems with use

I advocate the viral spread of social, economic and ecological systems and institutions that steer all spheres all of human activity toward the first category, in the shortest amount of time possible; this is “regeneration”. 

To merely promote “sustainability” (category 3) is not enough; why should we even strive for something that will not directly rebuild erroded topsoil, restore polluted watersheds, heal the damage done by deforestation, reverse the effects of climate change (to the extent that we can, over long time scales), break down the piles of nuclear waste back into benign constituents (something I dearly hope we figure out how to do), bioremediate toxic land, and begin the long road back from our unprecedented period of biodiversity loss (a mass extinction on par in its scale with that of the dinosaurs)? 

Is that really a world we wish to “sustain”? I think we can do better. Throughout this blog, I will highlight as many real-world examples of "regenerative" practices in action as possible.

I wouldn't want to leave you discouraged, so here's an entertaining, one minute video about The Plant in Chicago that is sure to boost your spirits. It also happens to incorporate various elements of regenerative design in action — integrating mutually beneficial relationships, bringing economic revitalization to an underserved community, creating a space for small business incubation/collaboration, the recycling/reuse of all "waste", the use of an existing/underutilized building vs. building "green" from scratch, and lots more. Learn more about it here!

Alongside my “no” to sustainability, there is a great leaping “YES!” to regeneration... and now, I hope, you have a clearer understanding of why.

Further fun:

(1) Go outside :-)
(2) Learn more about regenerative design here:  

*Image courtesy of M. Powell.

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