Regenerative vs sustainable is a question of survival. Sustainability is not enough. To survive, humanity needs to learn to live regeneratively. But to live regeneratively we need a quick lesson in our degenerative history.
To understand the difference between ‘sustainability’ and regeneration, we first have to understand how we got to the reality we live in. One where social, environmental and climate injustices have brought us all life on earth to the brink of extinction.
A SHORT HISTORY OF HIERARCHY
Currently, we live in a society built on a bedrock of supremacy which supports a system of hierarchy. The root of the word ‘hierarchy’ is ‘ruler’. And its definition doesn’t stray far from the self-appointed superiority root suggests, defined as “a system used to rank persons or things”.
The first recorded use of the word ‘hierarchy’ was in the 1610s. This is the same decade colonisation of the ‘Americas’ ramped up as European colonisers competed for ‘control’ of Indigenous lands. In fact, just before the turn of this decade, the ‘arrival’ of the first permanent occupation town, ‘Jamestown’ (1607, Powhatan territory) was settled.
At the same time, Jamestown’s namesake – King James VI / I – commissioned the first Latin-to-English translation of the Christian Bible, expanding the church’s power and influence. Up until the publication of the ‘King James Bible’ (1611), only those with the privilege to learn Latin and literacy could read the contents of its pages.
This expanded doctrine led to the ‘witch trials‘ in England the following year (1612), which quickly spread across Europe and later to the ‘Americas’. These persecutions accounted for the torture and murder of over 200,000 people, 80-85 percent of whom were female community leaders and medicine healers.
To conclude the decade of supremacism, the first African Slaves were brought to ‘America’ (1619) to ‘serve’ the ‘Jamestown‘ colony. Commencing the cross-Atlantic slave trade’s relationship with the land soon to become known as ‘America’.
SOWING SEEDS OF SUPREMACY
In this 10 year period – with the help of the church and its monarchies – supremacism gained force. Enhancing the psychology of ‘otherness’ which had been born in Europe a few hundred years before.
Supremacism served and still serves as justification for imperialist (capitalist) policy and law. Which oppress and capitalise on folx based on age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, language, social class, ideology, nation or culture. It is this same mindset that severs our relationships with non-human beings and the earth herself.
OUR DEGENERATIVE SYSTEM RACIAL CAPITALISM
This hierarchy of supremacism and its psychology of ‘otherness’ can also be called ‘Racial Capitalism‘. And the society it created – the one we all dwell in now – is responsible for the creation of inequity, global warming and climate breakdown.
Racial Capitalism is a degenerative system, meaning it takes without giving anything back in return. It is a system of destruction, which encourages resource hoarding and abuse by promoting false senses of scarcity and superiority.
Degeneration is responsible for the laws and policies that normalise the acts of ecocide (causing global heating, biodiversity loss, and climate breakdown). These are the same laws and policies which proliferate the ‘isms’ and phobias which prevent the needs and rights of folx that Racial Capitalism marginalises from being met.
THE PROBLEM WITH ‘SUSTAINABILITY‘
Sustainable systems take and give back only what we want to take again. When raised in the society of degenerative racial capitalism, sustainability is the obvious response, to do ‘less’ harm. But ‘sustainability’ allows Racial Capitalism to continue to thrive and human rights abuses to proliferate, it just does so in disguise.
While sustainability might leave behind less pollution, use less agrochemicals and fossil fuels, and commit less human rights abuses, it doesn’t halt them. In terms of ‘isms’, sustainability might create “departments dedicated to diversity and inclusion [but these departments] are meant to protect the institutions they serve and nothing more” (@decoloniseantiracism).
When it comes to our relationship with the earth (and eachother) this paraphrased quote from Irene Holombo explains the issue with sustainability perfectly:
“If someone asked you to describe your relationship, and your response was ‘sustainable’ it would indicate your relationship is in trouble. If you responded instead ‘it’s regenerative, we help each other thrive’ that would indicate an incredibly healthy relationship”.– Irene Holombo
A relationship of regeneration is one we must (re)create with the earth and its beings … taking a step beyond sustainability. Because we want to sustain regenerative relationships rather than sustain degenerative relationships (which is what we’re doing now).
THE REGENERATIVE WAY
Regeneration is the model of reciprocity which gives back more than it takes. A mindset of creation in which production, policy, or relationship leaves the planet and its inhabitants BETTER off.
Regeneration at its root, restores. Creating a society which lives in symbiosis with the natural world, and each other. Unlike hierarchy △, regeneration is circular, functioning in the shape of the natural world.
This way of thinking and doing is based on Indigenous Ecological Knowledge. For the regenerative movement to function in a truly regenerative way, it requires power to be devolved from corporations and central government and into communities.
WHAT DO REGENERATIVE SYSTEMS LOOK LIKE?
In terms of food, regeneration coalesces wild food, rewilding and regenerative farming. Through its principles (IEK) it provides food sovereignty and food justice while contributing to increased biodiversity, enriched soil, improved watersheds, and mitigation of global warming.
When it comes to fashion, movements like Fibershed or Oshandi Collective help remind us what regenerative fashion systems look like. (Re)creating local regenerative textile economies which return power and creativity to communities through employee/community-owned enterprises which run alongside regenerative food systems.
In terms of culling ‘isms’ and enhancing human rights – as well as the rights of non-human beings – regeneration requires us to ask ourselves whether our actions and words ‘give back more than they take’. And for them to do so, they require us to do the work to contribute to dismantling degenerative systems without and within, which uphold ‘isms’, marginalisation and oppression.
Through education and collaboration, we can destroy the destructive degenerative system we live within, and like the natural world, become righteously round again.
WHERE TO LEARN ABOUT REGENERATION?
To truly understand regeneration, we have to look to BIPOC leaders, to elders (rather than olders) and also really deeply truly learn about the earth’s systems and soil. For me, those teachings came from a number of books (you can find my regenerative reading list on my blog) and courses. The most impactful for me was Kiss The Ground‘s ‘Soil Advocacy Training‘.
But there are hundreds of courses and books beyond the ones I’ve read or done which I encourage you to explore.
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** Though I received these teachings from Kiss The Ground via their ‘Soil Advocacy Training‘, this way of thinking, and any concepts I’m presenting, directly stem from Indigenous knowledge. I give thanks for their wisdom and undying dedication to protecting and restoring our planet, despite nearly constant persecution for generations.