Regenerative needs to be the new sustainable

When we hear the word “regenerative” for cities, the economy, or agriculture, it’s different from “sustainable” but too often said as if it were just the new, cooler version. As this piece at Matters Journal shows, it’s much more than a new word; regenerative needs to be the new sustainable because “we are already over or close to breaching many of the nine planetary boundaries being anxiously monitored by scientists around the globe. It means that doing no harm is no longer going to cut it.”

From 1987 to 2020 our aspirations were focused on sustainability where we sought to do less harm to the planet, and embraced the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle. Our new ambition is regeneration where we learn from the earth’s living systems and focus on rethinking, restoring and replenishing.

We can’t just do things a bit differently and “go easy” on nature, it needs to be front and centre, part of how we do everything, and we need to regenerate ecosystems, not just “hurt them less.”

They describe regenerative thinking as “putting life and connection at the centre of all decisions, governance and actions” and “prioritising life and connection over capital”. […] Focusing on more than preserving the planet for future generations, regenerative thinking weaves justice, climate, economic equality and human dignity into its core logic and places an increased emphasis on systemic thinking, democratic decision making, and place-based solutions inspired by Indigenous wisdom and dialogue.

CO2 emissions are now part of politics, and a growing (albeit too slowly) number of policies address this massive transition the global economy has to make. But the climate crisis is already here, as are massive extinctions and ecosystem collapses.

Focusing on more than just emission reductions, regenerative agriculture aims to increase biodiversity, improve soil quality and drastically improve water usage and management. By using methods like no-till farming, organic annual cropping, agroecology, agroforestry, usage of compost and biochar and animal cropping, farmers are able to have a dramatic net-positive impact on the planet.

New ways of farming, some urban, some more natural, and some completely new, need to be put into place to support our population and the planet’s regeneration.

In New Haven, Green Wave uses polyculture farming to grow a mix of seaweeds and shellfish. The process uses zero inputs, sequesters carbon, and rebuilds reef ecosystems, making it arguably the most sustainable form of food production on the planet.

Our focus here is on the part cities play, how they can be reinvented and made more local in all aspects, but it’s always within the larger setting of the territory surrounding cities, and the planet. At all those scales, regeneration needs to be part of our thinking.

Image: James Ranch, Durango, Colorado. Sugar snap peas culture.