Paradigm shifts

The undersigned’s website refers to a number of potential paradigm shifts, or perhaps it can be seen as a number of elements that together constitute an overall shift of paradigm? If we choose to see it as a set of related elements, ‘Economic Democracy‘, ‘Real Circular Economy‘ and ‘Community Wealth Building‘ (the latter as a model to put these goals into practice) were all introduced on the homepage. The website ‘A System Approach’ must also be mentioned.

Four other elements are summarized below. They are mutually reinforcing parts of a whole and will hopefully deepen the understanding of tools and approaches necessary for real change.

 

(1)       A world of abundance, not scarcity

The dominant economic theory (..) says we live in a world of scarcity.. The truth is we live in a world of abundance, not scarcity -an abundance of sunlight, soil, microbiota, carbon, human ingenuity, and many other resources.

Dorn Cox with Courtney White (2023: 101-102): The Great Regeneration. Ecological Agriculture, Open-Source Technology, and a Radical Vision of Hope [emphasise added]

Cox delivers here a mental paradigm shift: “We only have to change our context, our point of view, our perspective to see it. This change means changing incentives, and recognizing scarcity that is generated by the political economy versus real scarcity”. (Cox, ibid: 103, emphasize added)

Cox gives an illustration using the application of nitrogen in agriculture:

“Nitrogen is a good example of how scarcity theory works in agriculture (..) In the atmosphere, nitrogen is a highly abundant gas, comprising almost 80 percent of the air we breathe. It is also an essential nutrient for plants (..) Most plants, including nearly all com­mercial crops, cannot access nitrogen directly from the air. Instead, nature came up with an ingenious way of getting the nutrient to plants through their roots (..) in exchange for plants’ carbon-based sugars (..) – a key to regenerative agriculture.

In contrast, the absence of nitrogen-fixing plants in conventional agriculture, such as in mono-cropped fields of corn, means the nutrient must be applied as an artificial fertilizer, produced with fossil fuels. Thus, a false scarcity is created by our actions. Nitrogen is abundant, but we choose to make it scarce—to the profit of industry. At the same time we create a massive pollution problem when the fertilizer washes downstream to create dead zones.” (Cox, ibid: 102, emphasize added)

For Cox, this is framed by ‘regenerativity’ (see Regenerativity vs Sustainability) especially expressed in terms of ‘regenerative agriculture’ (see intro here), what Prof. Dag Jørund Lønning like to describe as ‘near-nature-agriculture’. As with nitrogen referenced above, Cox writes how solar energy, water, carbon, oxygen, phosphorus, biodiversity and farmland, -how all can be considered ‘elements of abundance’.

Agriculture is highlighted as potentially ‘the other half of the circular economy’ by William McDonough and Michael Braungart (among the pioneers of the circular economy and the authors of ‘Cradle to Cradle’ (2002) ). Here, regenerative agriculture fits well:

“If you start with soil health, it’s very similar to starting with material health for product. Half of Cradle to Cradle is the biological metabolism which is agriculture [relating to the biological cycle],. The biological nutrient program starts with the soil. So Cradle to Cradle is inherently on one half of the program coming from soil as an organism. Soil is at the root of it, so to speak.”

Joel Makower  (2014): The McDonough Conversations: Save the soil, save ourselves  [Emphasise and text in brackets added]

The concept of  ‘a world of abundance, not scarcity’ is recognized in McDonough and Braungart’s ideal description of both the biological and the technical cycle (the latter linked to the industrial circular economy). However, the concept presupposes another key concept, namely ‘regenerative economic growth‘, commented on below.

 

(2)      Regenerative economic growth

Cox uses the concepts of regenerativity and abundance also in a more broad sense:

Regeneration is the opposite of extraction, which we have been conditioned to expect as a price of growth and progress in human societies, and which has been the primary focus of industrial technology.    (Cox, ibid: 3, emphasize added)

‘Regenerative economic growth’ can be understood as growth without extraction. In other words, regeneration can serve as a measure and benchmark for a necessary and different economic growth; We need to turn resources from the current ‘extractive economy’ over to a regenerative economy (for differences between the two economies, see Why do we need Economic Democracy?)

A ‘regenerative economy’ can be equated with a ‘regenerative mindset’ which is about “both rebuilding and developing rather than exclusively reducing inflicted damage, where both the planet, society and the health of people are in focus“. [Nora Lade Gjørvad and Key Rosenstock (September 21, 2021): Regenerative economics — the new wave of sustainability (own translation, emphasis added)]. See more on the website ‘Sustainability vs Regenerativity. See also the reference to ‘regenerative ownership’ in section D.2 on the webpage Addressing problems of Democracy, Inequality & Climate: A Systems Approach

Within a regenerative mindset, McDonough og Braingart’s ‘concept of ‘upcycling’ definitely belong.

Upgrading of wastewater to drinking water provides one example (Willam McDonough and Michael Braungart (2013): The Upcycle. Beyond Sustainability-Designing for Abundance). Further, business models were resources/energy from goods near the end of their lifecycle is reused in the production of high value products in other, new value chains. Or, in the case of biology-based production; so-called ‘cascading business models’ were rest-nutrients are giving rise to a series of new products. This is ‘upcycling’, not ‘downcycling’ (to lower quality/utility) which is often the case with recycling.

 

(3)        To manage for something vs managing against

But an important element remains: Directing economic growth towards regenerativity means shifting the focus to work for something instead of only working against. Here I will quote from Schwarts (2013):

 “In a conversation with Peter [Peter Donovan, of the Soil Carbon Coalition], one phrase that often comes up is managing toward. What he means is that in any management situation, there’s a difference between “managing for” something and “managing against.” He believes that one reason we (..) at least we modern, Western humans—continually back ourselves into a corner is that our impulse is to manage against.

 As one example, our approach to medicine is managing against disease rather than managing for health. This has helped bring us to a situation where we need increasingly bigger guns to fight off infection while a huge chunk of the population suffers from chronic disease or unnamed malaise. Managing for health, by contrast, would emphasize diet, exercise, avoiding toxins, and building immunity.

 He believes that this is why our carbon problem—the need to do something about rising stores of carbon in the air—leaves us stuck. We’re trying to manage against tossing more carbon into the atmosphere. What we can and should be doing, Peter argues, is to manage for a carbon cycle that does more work: splits more water and carbon dioxide and results in more water-holding, fertility-enhancing soil organic matter.”   

JUDITH D. SCHWARTZ (2013:20): Cows Save The Planet and Other Improbable ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth (emphasize added]

Working for something that also goes against the ‘mainstream’, will, in addition to the fronting of alternative political approaches (cf. economic democracy, real circular economy and municipal wealth building), require alternative frameworks for independent, collective action.

Such a framework is represented by the worldwide ‘Commons’ movement, defined by David Bollier as “a social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity”. See Introduction to the Commons.

‘The Commons’ is elaborated upon in the undersigned’s drafting of a course on Cooperative Social Entrepreneurship (link to course overview here). As this indicates, ‘The Commons’ can be considered a paradigm by itself, with a ‘recipe’ for a different type of co-creation, using new cooperative approaches and incorporating tools for system change. Furthermore, case studies across a wide range of economic and social sectors, show that this is more than just theory.

But first, on this webpage, we need to further indicate how CO2, climate, biodiversity and regenerative agriculture all are connected:

Extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, relates, in large part to the optimiziation of photosynthesis. This naturally requires ‘green areas’, be it forest or plant cover, as well as biodiversity both above and below ground. Relevant here is the ‘Nature Agreement’ from COP15 in December 2023, (‘Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’) which should ‘contribute to stopping the human destruction of nature, and begin to restore what has already been lost’. This links to land changes (‘climate science’s lost leg’), which in turn relates to the rationale for regenerative agriculture:

 

(4)        Climate science’s lost leg & link to regenerative agriculture

What makes the nature agreement even more relevant- from a climate perspective- is the criticism levelled by meterologist Millian M. Millan. According to Milan, we have abandoned what was previously the scientific ‘two-legged view of climate’:

  1. with a leg for atmospheric carbon and the greenhouse effect,
  2. and a leg for land disturbance and hydrologic effects (water cycles.)

This is given a thorough review by Rob Lewis (2023). He also refers how the scientist Milan turned poet, describing how soil, water and plants all work together to recycle water and regulate the climate – summed up in the rule:

“water begets water, the soil is the womb and the vegetation is the midwife”.

This can actually be considered a powerful argument for regenerative agriculture. Lewis’s article should be read in its entirety, but the rule may be explained by the quotes below. (See also the two video-animations [links at the end of this article], each of 2 minutes length, which gives a good illustration.)

[Water begets water]

What he means by water begets water is that healthy landscapes seem to grow water..

How much water a landscape can hold is therefore proportional to how much life is in the landscape and soil to hold it. This water, once held, is transpired by vegetation back into the atmosphere as vapor to make clouds and future rain. Like this, the same water is recycled over and over, up and down, across landscapes.

Though it used to be thought that virtually all inland water came from large water bodies and atmospheric circulations, it’s now realized that 40-60% of most rain comes via this recycling, increasing the farther inland you go. It’s called the small water cycle..

The more life in a landscape, the more water it can “milk” from ocean flows. It’s a self-amplifying circle: water, through life, begetting more water, begetting yet more life, gathering yet more water, and around it goes, the result being climate-cooling and moderation. 

 

[Soil is the womb]

Soil is the womb because it holds the water. But here again it is really life holding the water, the rich below-ground microbial community which makes the difference between compacted, water-repellent dirt and clumpy absorptive soil[cf. the focus of regenerative agriculture on microorganisms].

 

[Vegetation is the midwife]

Vegetation is the midwife because it delivers the water to the atmosphere as vapor, where it rises, condenses, and falls again as rain… Clever, these living landscapes: they not only send the water up, they bring it back down.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        ”

ROB LEWIS, JUL 22, 2023: Millan Millan and the Mystery of the Missing Mediterranean Storms, Part II. In which Millan Solves the Mystery by Reading the Land  [emphasize and text in brackets added]

Videos that illustrates the above explanation: