If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.Anita Roddrick, Author of Business as Unusual
Millions of people have already held events for the Global Climate Strike this week. I had the privilege to take a break from school work to join the hundreds of people who showed up for the rally and march in Savannah, GA. While uniting the crowd of all ages, for some of us the rally brought out more of a sense of urgency than a sense of satisfaction. This blog is going to attempt to group some of my regenerative thesis concepts into tangible action.
One big topic at climate strike was renewable energy (particularly a 100% renewable commitment from the city of Savannah), understandably because electricity and transportation fuel are biggest contributors to green house gases in US (EPA, 2017) “In 2018, renewable energy sources accounted for about 11% of total U.S. energy consumption,” (US Energy Information Administration) by 2050 we need to be 100% renewable to avoid the worst effects of Climate Change (Environment America). The Center for a Sustainable Coast even had a petition for folks to sign at the event, and Environment Georgia has their sites on 100 for all of Georgia too.
One of the speakers at the Climate Strike, who is a teacher, said that we can’t wait for the next generation to grow up and become leaders. My sense of responsibility (while always restless) needed this push to connect what I am writing and doing for positive impact for today. Even in planing a campaign about Climate Week (our response to the Strike) with my colleagues, normalization of the climate crisis can take hold. Being saturated in climate action can make you forget to constantly re-evaluate. I started asking myself, what does energy look like in a renewable society? How can my thesis promote climate justice?
Net positive renewable energy (or putting more renewable energy into the grid than you use) is becoming more common especially with the next movement of green building standards already pushing boundaries of what we thought possible with the Living building Challenge of International Living Future Institute. A living building may belong in a regenerative society, but is not one in and of itself. However, you have to start somewhere, making ideas concrete.
How could we further incorporate the concepts of regenerative (as I have so far discovered them)–cooperation, systems thinking, co-evolution with nature, and restoration–to the transition to renewable energy. Let’s briefly look at solar photovoltaics as a micro example for how to apply regenerative concepts. In the next post we will look at a couple existing tools to help shape regenerative development. For now, let’s brainstorm to help shift our thinking to one of interconnected living systems.
Applying cooperation: Solar does not have to be an individual task. Community solar and interconnected micro-grids build collective resilience in the face of storms. Additionally, when placing any new infrastructure, it is important to ensuring that is not encroaching on space or well-being of those with little political power (e.g. low income communities and/or communities of people of color).
Applying systems thinking: Installing solar can be an isolated event in our minds, but is actually a part of many inherently, interconnected systems. These systems can either benefit from, be neutral to, or be threatened by the introduction of something new. With regenerative societies the aim is to have net positive impacts. Consider the placement of the panels what human communities and animal/plant communities might be effected and how can we avoid detrimental effects. Can we put the panels on roofs, rather than bare ground? If not could the panels be oriented or built in a way that prevents damage to plants and wildlife if any are of concern? Could the manufacturing chain of the panels be more equitable—could direct trade or localization of production help? Can the panels provide shelter or homes for wildlife? Can we reduce the need for energy while we build this renewable supply?
Applying Co-evolution: Solar as a technological concept evolves over time, but currently we see solar panels as static. What if we saw them for what they are, shifting molecules, objects with life-spans, and a product of human ecology that is embedded in a planetary ecology. Therefore, one may ask, are these panels easy to maintain, repair, upgrade, and disassemble at the end of their life? Can they rotate or provide shelter (such as over what we see now as parking lots) so that as needs and climate change, their function can also?
Applying restoration: Humans have damaged our environments and continue to do so. If we stop tomorrow, that would not be enough; we need to repair the systems what we have degraded as much as we can. How can they not just prove barriers but produce extra value and benefit apart from energy? Can the panels be made of some former pollutants or waste materials, taking them from a situation where these materials caused issues to where they create human and environmental benefit? How can the benefit given expand and increase over time?
As you can see, a lot of the process to regenerative is about changing perspectives or shift to a ‘living systems’ worldview (du Plessis, 2015; Elgin & LeDrew, 1997) or an ‘ecological worldview’ (du Plessis & Hes, 2015; Gibbons et al, 2018; Mang & Reed, 2012) in order to change goals and asking better questions for more powerful solutions? Instead of ‘how much energy can we generate?’ ask ‘who can be helped by these solar panels and how can they adapt overtime?’ A little extra questioning can make the difference between serious unintended consequences and a immense community benefit.
How can you apply regenerative concepts if you’re not a solar builder, a designer, an architect, or an urban planner? Regeneration seems to center around the built environment, but anyone can change their perspective to start looking for unintended consequences of their actions and look for ways to restore relationships and the earth. Most people have heard of the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle–a common environmentalist refrain. Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home added ‘Refuse’ and ‘Rot’ to emphasize the importance of making choices rather than accepting whatever waste might be given to you and to remind people that composting (or rotting) your waste is an important part of a sustainable society (2013). When I was an intern in the Presidio (a part of the National Park in San Francisco), I started collecting other R’s such as research or redesign. One that eventually stuck came from a colleague in Habitat Restoration because none of the previous R’s inherently included the idea of active healing and reconciliation with nature: Restore.
Each day we have the opportunity to choose Restore and therefore build a Regenerative society. The more we fill our everyday with restoration, the less opportunities we have for degradation because there are only so many hours in a day. Today I can plant flowers for pollinators (and act that perpetuates health long beyond my action), today I can watch a video to learn about my local ecosystems and how to preserve it, today I can find a place to compost my food scraps so they don’t add to pollution in the air and water through landfills, and today I can support habitat preserves, pervious paving, cleaning up pollution, and green roofs by signing petitions, emailing legislators, and vote for those who have a shown they are actively pro restoration and clean energy. I can say no to dumping pollution in low income communities of color. I can asks friends and family to do join me in these efforts, with just a text. What can you do to restore today? Tomorrow? The next day? Until it all become habit and Climate Justice is everywhere.
du Plessis, C., & Brandon, P. (2015). An ecological worldview as basis for a regenerative sustainability paradigm for the built environment. Journal of Cleaner Production, 109, 53–61.
Hes, D., & du Plessis. (2015). Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability. Retrieved from https://www.routledge.com/Designing-for-Hope-Pathways-to-Regenerative-Sustainability-1st-Edition/Hes-du-Plessis/p/book/9781138800625
How much of U.S. energy consumption and electricity generation comes from renewable energy sources? – FAQ – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2019, from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=92&t=4
Johnson, B. (2013). Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Zero-Waste-Home-Ultimate-Simplifying/dp/1451697686/ref=as_li_bk_ia/?tag=thez0d-20&linkId=f2026f81b1eb2caf3300d74b29f43ca6&linkCode=kia
Mang, P., & Reed, B. (2012). Designing from place: A regenerative framework and methodology. Building Research & Information, 40(1), 23–38. https://doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2012.621341
Sundby, J., Weissman, G., & Sargent, R. (2019). Renewables on the Rise 2019. 46.US EPA, O. (2015, December 29). Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from US EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions