“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.

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 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:

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.

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:

(Singer cartoon in Beijing magazine)

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.”

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:”

  • 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.

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.

Emergency Planetary Technician and Climate Science Wonk — using naturopathic remedies to recover the Holocene without geoengineering or ponzinomics.