Alexandre Laprise @ stock.adobe.com
A regenerative economy regenerates capital assets, or the Earth's resources, rather than depletes or exhausts them. It seeks to find balance within the Earth's biocapacity, working on the principle of regenerating assets, and in particular, the Earth as both our home and our principal provider of goods and services. It is considered an alternative to a degenerative, exploitative, industrial economy, one which uses up, depletes, and exhausts resources and assets such as water, soil, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Today, more than 80% of the global population lives in countries that are running ecological deficits —in other words, using more resources than can be regenerated by their ecosystems. The regenerative economy thus depends on regenerative agriculture: techniques that can decrease carbon emissions by increasing the soil’s carbon content by sequestering carbon that would otherwise be polluting.
The Regenerative Economy Relies on Regenerative Agriculture
There are five pillars to regenerative agriculture: minimizing soil disturbance, maximizing crop diversity, keeping the soil covered, maintaining plant roots alive throughout the year, and integrating livestock. The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only “does no harm” to the land but actually improves it, using techniques that regenerate and revitalize both the soil and the environment. Accordingly, regenerative agriculture harnesses the power of photosynthesizing plants to actually capture carbon dioxide and sink it into the nutrient-rich soil. Carbon dioxide, therefore, becomes a proactive part of the crops’ life-cycle, rather than trapping heat in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, remineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater, and reduces the damaging runoff of pesticides and fertilizers.
Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high quality, nutrient-dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading the land. By leading farms to become more productive while incentivizing healthy communities and economies, regenerative agriculture evolves into a dynamic and holistic approach to sustainability. It incorporates permaculture and organic farming practices, along with conservation tillage, polyculture, cover crops, perennial crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters, and pasture cropping. These farming methods increase food production and farmers’ income, as well as at a wider scale contribute to improved ecosystem health, soil fertility, biodiversity, and can even mitigate climate change.
Towards a Circular Economy
The regenerative economy goes beyond agriculture. To enable a circular economy, it also relies on a holistic range of regenerative processes such as recycling and the production, transmission, and distribution of renewable energy. The Biobased Economy, Renewable Energy Grids, and Dynamic Redistributive Tax are all concepts that can contribute to a Regenerative Economy. Also, some specific approaches are focusing on closing the loop of production, consumption, and waste, for example, Remanufacturing with disassembly robots, 3D Printed Architecture using site-won materials and recovering valuable materials using material microsurgery or Machine Vision Waste Sorting.
Ultimately the Regenerative Economy seeks to recirculate money, information and resources. It seeks to balance efficiency and resilience; collaboration and competition; and the diverse needs of all actors, from individuals to small, medium, and large organizations, to governments.
By focusing on the ground up, quite literally starting with the improvement in growing conditions of soil, we increase food security while minimizing risks and crop failures. From there the benefits start to flow and can circulate throughout the Earth's systems to create healthy human-networks and ecosystems: higher carbon content enables the ground to make more water and nutrients available to support crop and plant growth. Soil carbon plays a role in maintaining the biotic habitats that make land management systems sustainable, resilient, and able to resist degradation.
The success of the regenerative economy relies on recognizing the value or worth in other networks, waste byproducts, or ecosystem services than what we conventionally consider 'capital' and measure in dollar values. More emphasis needs to be on building capacity using renewable resources. This requires adequate investment in human, social, physical, economic, and environmental capital, not to mention a revolution in our economic mindsets: a willingness to let go of GDP and growth as a measure of a successful economy. This necessarily requires collaboration between science, technology, law, and politics.
Ultimately, collaborating on a global scale (Global Land Use Optimization) to shift the economic focus from growth to regeneration could significantly help efforts to both reduce inequality and poverty and combat the climate crisis.