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Regenerating Bioregions


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This is an outline for our plan to create a research program for bioregional design based on tools and frameworks from cultural evolutionary studies.

Published in: Science
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Regenerating Bioregions

  1. 1. Regenerating Bioregions A Cultural Evolution Model for Restoring Planetary Health
  2. 2. Claim #1: Humans have degraded landscapes all over the planet to the point that the Earth is now in overshoot-and-collapse. Claim #2: It is necessary to regenerate ecosystem functions at regional scales to restore planetary health and safeguard humanity’s future.
  3. 3. Thesis: The fundamental driver of ecological change has been social niche construction for human societies—altering the flows of energy and resources away from non-human life to grow the biomass of our species. A social niche is an inherited environment comprised of structural supports that influence life for the next generation. Example: Humans born into cities “inherit” the built environment and institutions of that place.
  4. 4. This graph powerfully demonstrates the logic. Human population goes up as we bring more energy and resources to our own species— through land management, manufacturing, fossil fuel use, and so forth.
  5. 5. Assertion: The processes of cultural evolution created the planetary crisis. Therefore the design of social systems must involve applying cultural evolution research to guide the future developments of humanity.
  6. 6. Current Work: Build a viable model for guiding the cultural evolution of bioregions. Implement and generalize the model so that it can be shared across an emerging global network of regional efforts.
  7. 7. Progress Indicators: 1. Incorporate local measurements of social wellbeing with ecological measures for ecological health. 2. Integrate at the regional scale using tools like the “donut economics” framework. 3. Track regional metrics in aggregate toward global goals using the “planetary boundaries” and related frameworks.
  8. 8. Local metrics for social wellbeing and ecological health Global goals for planetary health
  9. 9. This is a real-world experiment.
  10. 10. We are initiating with six bioregional projects—with the addition of nine more locations in 2019—and one advanced local project for demonstrating circular economics. The initial projects are in the following places: 1. Buffalo-Niagara, New York 2. Hudson Valley, New York 3. Denver/Boulder Metropolitan Area 4. Mexico City, Mexico 5. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica 6. National Project in Costa Rica 7. Rancho Margot, Costa Rica
  11. 11. Briefly, the North American projects are multi-stakeholder collaborations for regional economic development. The Costa Rican projects are diverse in scale and stages of development. Rancho Margot is included as a site where regenerative economics have been partially demonstrated—with specific goals for growing its community and economic capacities. It is a flagship for regenerative education among the global network of projects.
  12. 12. The current status is that there are “hub conveners” in each location with a web platform for knowledge-sharing across locations. We have funding for two staff personnel through the end of this year.
  13. 13. Key Cultural Evolution Processes Our work will focus on the spread of information across social systems (cultural transmission); scale- linking of projects from local to regional impacts (multi-level selection); structural patterns for emergence of local economies (cultural scaffolding); and frameworks for collaboration among diverse stakeholders (cooperation and prosociality). Additionally, we will employ the principles for managing common-pooled assets identified by Elinor Ostrom and the principles for regenerative economics outlined by John Fullerton.
  14. 14. Cultural Transmission Ideas and practices spread across communities. How (and by whom) depends on the specific cultural contexts involved.
  15. 15. Multi-Level Selection Human societies are organized at several levels —individual, family, neighborhood, etc.—with different dynamics in play at each level. Currently there are weak (or absent) selection mechanisms for bioregional collaboration.
  16. 16. Cultural Scaffolding The generative interactions between actors, artifacts, practices, and infrastructure that enable culture to build on itself. For example, think about all of the supports needed to raise a child.
  17. 17. Cooperation and Trust Interactions among members of the community enable cooperation to emerge. With the right conditions, structures, and processes it is possible to design for cooperation among groups of people.
  18. 18. Governing the Commons The efficacy of groups depends upon 8 criteria identified by political scientist, Elinor Ostrom. These criteria can be used as diagnostic tools for improving cooperation within a group—as well as among several groups.
  19. 19. Regenerative Economics A great deal is now known about how to treat economies like living systems (which they are) using the tools of complexity, ecology, and evolution.
  20. 20. Timeline and Outcomes 2019 :: Establish work plan and coordinate learning across sites. 2020 :: Incorporate holistic metrics for projects, regions, and the global network as new projects join the effort. 2021 :: Roll out a bioregional financing platform for coordinated investments among projects in each region. 2022 :: Begin tracking evolution of planetary outcomes while expanding the network to include more regions.
  21. 21. Key Partners
  22. 22. About the Author Joe Brewer runs the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution with a mission to apply insights from this integrative field of study to the challenges now confronting humanity and life on Earth. He is the capacity cultivator for the Regenerative Communities Network—a project incubated by the Capital Institute to launch a global network of site-based projects that embody regenerative practices.