Daniel Christian Wahl: Beyond Sustainable Living

DANIEL CHRISTIAN WAHL: Really that was the intention to sort of create a big picture map of all the wonderful work that is already going on
in the world and basically what I’m doing is I’m creating a bit of a
synthesis and weaving it all together because even within people working
within sustainability or regenerative development people get sort of their
hobby horses the the area where they think this is the most important thing
that needs changing we need to change our monetary system we need to change
the way we make decisions so the social aspect or the ecological aspect or the
economic aspect and really we need to change everything we really need to it’s
it’s a profound transformation of the human presence on earth and and all of
it is important and it doesn’t mean that each one of us has to be involved in
change initiatives in all areas but we need to value only we’ll only see that
there’s already already a massive movement of change happening on the
planet once we start to value all the different dimensions of this
transformation and and see how many we actually already are that are working on
it LBW: Yeah and I and I think that your book in particular and and what you’re doing
is is good because it you’re like you just said you’re highlighting all of
these different things that are currently happening I mean these these
movements are already they’re already there and I think that they’re kind of
invisible I mean as someone and I’m calling from
I’m calling from Idaho you know I and you know the United States so your
message and your and the things that you’re highlighting seem almost like a
foreign alien concept not just to me but to the people that I’m surrounded with
it doesn’t quite hasn’t quite sunk in at least in my community and and I would
say more broadly within the United States it hasn’t really sunk in that
there is this massive crisis that is emerging on our planet that has been
emerging that is currently unfolding regarding the unraveling of the
biosphere the unraveling of the life systems that exist that we that have
been holding us like you know we wouldn’t be able to exist without them
and yet we have become so disconnected from those
systems from our awareness of that that you know as it unravels and as it begins
to fall apart we’re not even going to be aware of it until I mean maybe this is a
bit pessimistic and I apologize but you know we might not even be aware of how
far we have really descended into this hellhole until it’s a little too late so
I think that I mean if I have to do or you have to do whatever you can to try
to highlight you know there is alternatives available there are ways
that we can live that are you know I think oftentimes what I hear from people
that are becoming aware of how destructive our systems are our economic
and social systems are on this planet they immediately look to other human
beings and say human beings are are a curse and we’re a cancer on this planet
and we need to we’re the planet we better off without us
and I think I used to have that opinion as well and then I became aware of your
work and others work that really highlighted the fact that you know it’s
not us it’s our culture it’s the it’s the the kind of operating systems in
which we’re operating under and and of course what you highlight is like there
are regenerative cultures that have existed and can exist so I guess if I
could ask you my first question is often times when people talk about
environmental issues they discuss it like they say sustainability right like
we need to become more sustainable we need to figure out how to recycle better
we need to figure out how to have and you know provide energy for people
that’s more sustainable but what your the title of your book is ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ so if you wouldn’t mind if you could explain the difference
between the two the difference between a sustainable culture and a regenerative
culture DANIEL CHRISTIAN WAHL: It depends on how deep somebody’s understanding of the term
sustainability is I don’t really want to create another dualism or another kind
of now the next trend is that everything has to be regenerative rather than
sustainable there are many really good people around the world
that have worked in the field of ecological design or sustainable design
doing things that I would call a regenerative in in approach but to make
a distinction and you can think of it and this is not really my framework it’s
a framework that a friend of mine called Bill Reed developed and publicized and
a lot of other people were involved like Carol Sanford and and the people on the
Regenesis Group and basically it it paints a spectrum that starts with
business as usual and business as usual is one foot out of jail you’re staying
within legal compliance of how much can I pollute how much energy can I use how
much impact can I have on the environment without breaking the law and
you do that and that’s what most companies are doing and then some
companies say well we’ve kind of understood that there is a crisis an
environmental crisis that that more and more consumers are getting aware of and
we want to not be seen as people that don’t care about this so we’ll be a
little bit better so they then become green companies and and pollute a little
less and celebrated and communicated and often spend more time communicating it
than actually making big changes and that’s what a lot of people refer to as
green washing but often it’s actually a step in the right direction it’s trying
to do a little less bad and then eventually you get to sustainable which
in one interpretation is saying we’re not adding adding any more damage to the
system we like we’ve created a business that doesn’t have a negative impact and
that’s fantastic and very few companies are actually at that point yet that they
really could say of themselves our company does have no negative impact on
the planet whatsoever but really what regenerative is is proposing is to go
beyond this neutral point and to really understand that since we’ve done so much
damage to the environment and social systems and and local economies for so
long now that we actually need to regenerate all these these aspects of
the global system that we’re a part of and so going in the same spectrum as
you continue you go from sustainable and what Bill
McDonell calls a hundred percent less bad or neutral to restorative
restored freedom in a mindset that is this kind of engineering mindset of the
the scientific and industrial revolution of we are the masters of nature and we
can just design ecosystem which and you can do big climate engineering projects
to balance global warming and all that and that still has the caveat that some
of those solutions might look like that and new trees to the planet not all good
but if they’re not done with humility and respect of the system that we’re
part of understanding that as culture we are actually part of nature then they
often make mistakes and they tend to be grandiose reforestation projects
that sometimes end up ten years later most of the trees are dead and and so
unless we really go upstream of all these problems that we’re finding like
the environmental crisis is one expression of a whole confluence of
different crises the economic crises and and cultural crises that really find
their upstream source in a crisis of the story that we tell about who we are why
we’re here and what life is worth living for
and and this is what why a lot of people are depressed these days and you get all
these these drugs to help people with with their depression and because people
are stuck in a system where they work for money but they don’t get very much
meaning out of what they’re working for they’re just doing it to feed their
family and that’s important and people need to feed their families but the
minute you create companies that really say we are doing something that is
regenerating the planet that is that is giving back is creating healthier
ecosystems better that is strengthening local economies and local communities
then people at the end of the day don’t feel that they’ve just traded eight
hours or so of their lifetime to have a few dollars to take home but they
actually like I’ve done something today that was meaningful and I’m not saying
that there are a lot of people firemen teachers nurses
so many people out there who do that every day but overall so many people are
stuck in systems where they can I go okay I sold a few more insurances I did
this that and the other and they don’t really see or I made more money for the people
my investors and and doesn’t doesn’t really fully nourish their soul so yeah
regenerative is this is this deeper understanding of sustainability that
understands that we are as biological beings we are part of nature first and
that culture is an epiphenomenon of the human species and that cultures can
either be degenerative they can draw down their resource base they can
destroy ecosystems they can live off planetary interest basically our
planetary capital and and erode that capital or they can be if you shift
towards regenerative cultures and they try to regrow everything they use they
try to leave the planet past all social cohesion in communities and regenerate
(—) by looking ways that are very carefully adapted to this is really the
(—) uniqueness of place to understand that any solution we develop
isn’t a solution that we can use one size fits all around the whole globe and
just spread we need to carefully work with the ecological and social and
cultural conditions of a place and make our solutions an expression that comes
from that place only then when we get people really buy into it and be part of
it and and it has to be work with the people in place listening not just to
the human stories but also to the story of place the the other species and what
the land wants to happen

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