by Tom Palmer, Gaia U MSc Candidate
One fundamental flaw of standardized education is that we don’t develop our abilities to address the most common response found in the real world: “it depends”. We come to expect that there is one correct answer for everyone, and to be intelligent is to have that answer memorized and ready to regurgitate (or, why bother when you can just Google it?).
Unfortunately for those of us coming out of standardized educational systems that promote this type of thinking (or lack thereof), we have to figure out how to give ourselves a real education later on in life. “It depends” means that to find the solution, we have to understand the context in which we are operating and do some real thinking.
Understanding context starts with understanding the places that we inhabit and their stories. It requires a whole-systems approach, considering the cultural, economic, geographic, climatic, and ecological factors, among others.
Permaculture and regenerative development & design are centered around observing and aligning our work with the patterns of a specific place to co-create greater systemic health and well-being. Approaching our work in this manner, we are able to create solutions that work with localized forces and not against them, resulting in the type of energy efficiency that is critical for allowing the system as a whole to continue evolving and increasing its overall health.
Trying to superimpose a one-size-fits-all solution has detrimental effects — the patterns don’t line up, energy flows are not optimized resulting in leaks and losses, and the system fails to evolve as a whole. Sufficient surpluses are not generated to feed back into the local resource base. Over time, the overall health of the system decreases. These types of solutions are degenerative in this sense and, unfortunately, are the norm in so many sectors of human development — agriculture, housing, and education to name a few.
We accept these degenerative solutions because, on some level, we have bought into the story that we as humans are inevitably a burden on the planet. In this story, the best we can do is minimize our impact and try to leave nature alone to do its thing. But as I wrote in Transforming the Human Narrative, what if we were more than an inevitable burden? What if we had a deeper role to discover, and that we could help to transform this planet into something far better than it could ever be without us?
I do not doubt that we as a species have the potential to do just that. Whether it happens or not is up to us. There is a lot of work to be done to transform these degenerative systems — based on an extractive mindset that sees our environment as something that serves us, for which it was created — to regenerative systems based on a co-creative mindset, seeing us and our environment as interconnected, interdependent and ever co-evolving together toward greater states of health and well-being.
A key insight here is that we have largely been trained up to implement one-size-fits-all, degenerative solutions passed down to us from above in an extractive economic model. Developing channels for our re-training to create localized, context-specific solutions that seek to harmonize with the unique patterns of Place and function to improve overall systemic health with time will be critical.
There are an increasing number of individuals and communities working on this type of development. Here are a couple of links that you should find interesting:
Story of Place is an approach to creating regenerative solutions within the context of a specific community. Also, see the Regenesis Group’s main website for more on their amazing work.
This project uses the principles and design techniques developed in the biomimicry movement, which focus on using the patterns found in nature to design sustainable solutions. Check out the Biomimiciry 3.8 website for more resources.
Developing and refining further methodologies for localized pattern harmonization is an important edge for transitioning into the regenerative paradigm at scale. No matter what type of work is being done, aligning with the rhythms and patterns of Place is critical.
What are some useful strategies or resources for doing this that you know of or have experience with?