From sustainability to regenerativity: when sustainable is no longer enough
Have you ever tried repeating a word over and over again until it stops making sense?
Something like this is happening with "sustainability", the fashionable concept among companies and entities, whose meaning is becoming diluted among advertising and cosmetic measures. A sustainability that, on the one hand, is becoming a catch-all word and, on the other, is being presented as a panacea when, in reality, it is nothing more than a first step towards solving our social, climatic and environmental problems.
To illustrate why, let's think of a person. Let's give him a name: Antonio. Antonio is a middle-aged man, a heavy smoker and a fan of sausages and red meat. He has a position of responsibility and carries a high level of stress. Antonio has hypertension, he has known it for years, but he continues with his habits because he doesn't know any other way. Until, one day, he has a scare. In the form of a cardiac arrest. That's when he decides to listen to the doctor and reduce his harmful habits. The problem is that, at that point, the doctor warns him that it is not enough: his heart is damaged and it is no longer enough to reduce these practices, he must eliminate them completely and, in addition, incorporate new ones, such as meditation or sport, to undo the damage. To regenerate his organism.
Our planet, like Antonio, is a living organism. And like him, it has reached a critical point that compromises its future. A point at which the reduction of harmful habits to harmless or sustainable levels is no longer enough, but requires a radical change in the way it does things, a rethinking of its most basic and deep-rooted dynamics. Our planet needs to regenerate, to undo the damage it has received in order to begin to heal itself. The good news is that the Earth has the resources and mechanisms to achieve this. The not so good news is that these changes require a great effort and, above all, sacrifices in the short and medium term.
Regenerativity is the movement that proposes this paradigm shift, a sort of evolution of the idea of sustainability that proposes not only to eliminate toxic habits, but to unlearn them, to reset ourselves and rethink our relationship with the planet, with its resources, with others and with ourselves. Ambitious? Of course. Necessary? Even more so.
Regenerative approaches are holistic and range from culture to the economy, but if there is an area that demonstrates its effectiveness in a paradigmatic way is agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture seeks, precisely, the regeneration of the topsoil, damaged after centuries and centuries of aggressive exploitation. And it does so through mechanisms that, far from sophisticated or far-fetched techniques, propose a return to the origins: to provide nature with its own tools, the same ones we once stole from it, to recover the logic and natural cycles that made the Earth an Eden before our intervention. Thus, through the promotion of biodiversity, the improvement of the water cycle and the recycling of organic and agricultural waste as compost, among other measures, regenerative agriculture seeks to return to the earth, to the soil, the importance and health lost. In short, it is to take a position of humility towards the soil's own natural self-regulating mechanisms, instead of forcing it to adapt to our times, interests and, sometimes, whims.
The interesting thing about regenerative agriculture is that, apart from contributing to a healthier diet and to the fight against climate change (the soil absorbs and stores a huge amount of carbon), it is proven that, in the long run, it is also more profitable for the farmers themselves, as the soil is constantly becoming richer, more fertile and produces better and more resistant crops. And this is where we come back to Antonio: at first, changing his eating habits, starting to meditate and doing moderate sport seems like a sacrifice of epic proportions, but as he gets used to them he discovers not only that he feels much better, but also that he has found new ways to enjoy life and to connect with himself and the world .
So is it possible to rethink and improve the way we relate to the planet as a species? It is. It is possible and it is necessary. And there are already people and institutions that have already started to work on it. Capital Institute, for example, is an organization that works on research and implementation of regenerative theories in the economy. They are not the only ones: issues such as degrowth or the so-called economy of the common good, which reverse the traditional capitalist logic of exponential growth and set limits to this from both scientific and ethical precepts, have already been raised. In the case of Regenerative Economics, Capital Insitute proposes eight basic principles, starting with a key and foundational one: humanity is an integral part of an interconnected web of life, there is no real separation between "us" and "the rest"; the damage inflicted against any part of that web affects the whole web, including ourselves .
It is easy to see the difference between such an approach and what we know today as "sustainability". According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) we need "urgent, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all facets of our society". How is it an "urgent, far-reaching and unprecedented" change to replace plastic straws with cardboard ones? Is it enough to launch campaigns to promote recycling among society or would more ambitious actions be necessary to ensure the maximum reuse of resources? Is it possible to maintain this utopia of "green growth" or should we assume once and for all that such a concept has always been an oxymoron?
There is no point in continuing to act on the consequences without questioning the causes; continuous growth and its externalities, the contradictions of hypercapitalism. It seems that the only thing we are trying to make sustainable is a system that we know is obsolete.
From regenerativity it is considered that any attempt to incorporate effective environmental measures to the traditional logics of capitalism are doomed to failure.
That is why, when personalities such as Al Gore promise "higher world GDP growth" thanks to the green economy, all the alarm bells go off, because To become obsessed with an indicator that rewards wild growth without including ecological or social criteria is, of course, a bad starting point. It is time to propose new indicators of well-being (global and holistic) that abandon the hegemony of economic growth.
The writer and great defender of regenerativity Jeremy Lens, in this sense, speaks directly in terms of civilization: "we need to change the foundations of our global civilization. We need to move from a civilization based on producing wealth to one based on maintaining the health of living systems: an ecological civilization. The historical moment demands a radical change, will we be able to embrace it or will we continue in this flight forward to continue growing at all costs? Will we choose a regenerative future that allows us to improve symbiotically with the planet, or one that is doomed to collapse? It seems obvious what the right decision is. Whether we make it or not will directly depend on the very survival of this living and interconnected organism of which, however separate we may feel, we are only a part.