Radical Cooperation

Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

One of the reasons to get out of bed is that we really haven’t tried everything. Having done miserably at communication, having done miserably at policy, having done miserably at market responses to climate change gives us a ton of hope, because we could do so much better.

Susanne Moser

In an interview by Laurie Mazur in the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, Susanne Moser (Climate Change Expert) discusses her ‘functional denial‘ for living and acting on the knowledge of Climate Change while still being able to get up in the morning. She continues by pointing to opportunities where we can do much better at adapting to and preventing the effects of Climate Change. She says, “We keep talking about the three Fs: fight, flight, or freeze, but there is a fourth one, and that’s the one that actually helped us survive…The forming of bonds.”

This idea of cooperation as a key to humans success in the world is not new. In Biomimicry one of the ‘Life’s Principles’ or the ways of nature that make species successful is to ‘cultivate cooperative relationships’ (Baumeister et al., 2014). Cooperation or mutually beneficial and healing relationships has also surfaced as a key theme (and possibly, sub principal of Regenerative practice), in my thesis research.

The value of cooperation seems to be engrained in us since childhood, as least for those of us who were always taught to share our food and ‘play nice.’ However, getting into cooperative relationships as a professional often feels like pulling teeth. Everyone in college hates group projects, yet a core competency that is widely accepted as necessary for sustainability careers is ‘interpersonal competence’ (Wiek et al, 2011).

Additionally, resilience in the face of Climate Change appears to be inseparable from cooperation. “Focusing on resilience means zeroing in on noneconomic foundations of human prosperity: social capital, mutual trust, strong community, loving and respectful relationships, local knowledge, community self-reliance, and limited inequality,” (The Worldwatch Institute, 2017). Doesn’t that sound easy? Of course no, it sounds like a lot of hard work, but who ever told you that creating the conditions for human thriving would be easy? Specifically as it relates to the higher education audience of my thesis, The Worldwatch Institute calls out resiliency planning as a way for universities to lay “the ground work for human flourishing in a post-growth world,” that is necessary for adapting to Climate Change (2017). Economic growth is what propels global inequality and Climate Change, and in order to live in the, as economist Kate Rawworth puts it, ‘safe and just space for humanity’, we cannot have indefinite growth (2017) . In short, a deep cooperation is needed to promote human thriving in a Climate Change world and beyond. What makes cooperation so difficult?

Perhaps one key to cooperation is self development. Letting go of personal success and building outward focused coalitions is a path being explored by The Wellbeing Project who works on self-development in prominent changemakers (Milligan & Schwab, 2018). They have found that if changemakers start with some inner self-awareness and value work, they are more successfully about to keep their ego in check and see the role their organization can take in facilitating systemic changes (Milligan & Schwab, 2018). This inner paradigm shift seems to enable the radical cooperation needed to enable regenerative projects as that requires a systems perspective (more on that in another post).

What does this radical cooperation look like? Cooperation may not be easy, but it can be a beautiful and meaningful journey of healing. In one regenerative project, a spa called Playa Viva, in Juluchuca, Guerrero, Mexico, one of the most important aspects of the design was the ‘mutually beneficial co-evolving relationships’ that the business formed with the local landscape and the community (Gibbons et al, 2018). They helped restore a local, degraded lagoon, began teaching workshops on permaculture, assisted with boosting the local threatened turtle population, and supported a more sustainable version of a local trade: salt drying (Gibbons et al, 2018). In order to create a lasting impact on the community and the environment, the spa organizers had to be attuned with the local environment and the local peoples’ needs. They continue to maintain those important relationships which is how their presence remains regenerative. I wonder if it is simply a coincidence that Playa Viva is a spa, presumably where some self-reflection and personal growth can be fostered.

Produce grown by permaculture methods at Playa Viva

In light of Playa Viva’s example, another key to cooperation may be not only be knowing yourself, but knowing the place where you are (both socially and environmentally). Many Regenerative writers and practitioners discuss a sense of ‘place,’ the social structure, and the ecological ‘flows’ of energy, water etc that are unique to that place (Lyle, 1994; Mang & Reed, 2012; Ryn and Cowan, 1996). This ‘place literacy’ enables a project to contribute positively to the whole system and appreciate the value of what already exists (Mang & Reed, 2012). Once you can appreciate a space, its complexity, and the people in the space, the role you can play in creating a foundation for adaptation will become more clear. 

With that, I think I need to do some personal value workshopping and studying on my project site before my next group project meeting.

Works Cited

Baumeister, D., Tocke, R., Dwyer, J., Ritter, S., & Benyus, J. (2014). Biomimicry Resource handbook: A seed Bank of Best Practices. Missoula, Montana: First Public Printing.

Gibbons, L. V., Cloutier, S. A., Coseo, P. J., & Barakat, A. (2018). Regenerative Development as an Integrative Paradigm and Methodology for Landscape Sustainability. Sustainability10(6), 1910. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10061910

Lyle, J. T. (1994). Regenerative design for sustainable development. John Wiley & Sons Australia, Limited.

Milligan, K., & Schwab, N. (2018, March 30). The Inner Path to Become a Systems Entrepreneur. Retrieved September 16, 2019, from Propagate, Discover Regeneration website: https://www.propagate.org/brands/2018/3/30/the-inner-path-to-become-a-systems-entrepreneur

Rawworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to think like a 21st Century Economist. Chelsea Green.

Ryn, S. V. der, & Cowan, S. (1996). Ecological design. Island Press.

The Worldwatch Institute. (2017). EarthEd (State of the World). Island Press.

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., Redman, C., & Mills, S. (2011). Moving Forward on Competence in Sustainability Research and Problem Solving. Environment53(2), 3–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/00139157.2011.554496

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