As we celebrate Earth Day and examine how our activities are harming the planet, we rarely, if ever, analyze how our language might be impacting our ability to improve the world.
Case in point is the word “sustainable” – a term widely used, and misunderstood, in environmental circles.
With the amount of carbon in the atmosphere growing by the day – which causes the planet to become warmer and the ocean to acidify – why in the world would we think that “sustaining” this condition is something that we should feel good about? Shouldn’t we be striving for something that actually makes the environment better?
“We need to change our thinking. If we don’t get our minds to change, then what is possible is severely limited,” said Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder of Kiss the Ground, an advocacy and educational non-profit focused on building healthy soil and promoting regenerative agriculture.
When you analyze the terms “sustainable” and “conservation”, these words convey scarcity; meaning, we have a finite amount of resources and that we have to do whatever we can to preserve what’s left of them.
Not only is that contrary to everything we are told about the importance of living with an attitude of abundance, but we know that the conditions in our physical universe can improve and resources are not limited.
This is precisely why the word “regenerative” needs to become an immediate and vital part of the nomenclature when talking about the environment.
“If we can make things better on many levels, places that have been in torment can be changed — soil can be rebuilt faster than we ever thought possible, small water cycles can work again, the effects of drought can become almost non-existent. Humanity had a knee-jerk reaction to a degenerative expectation of nature. People are operating under the assumption that in order to serve our needs (ample food, water, etc.), nature will get worse when we are working with her. This does not have to be the case,” said Finian Makepeace.
Nothing is a more clear example of this than the regeneration project of the Loess Plateau in China over the past 15 years, as documented by soil scientist John D. Liu, Director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP). Using regenerative practices, farmers are now able to grow copious amounts of food, the once arid landscape is again filled with healthy and diverse plant life, and more water is held and absorbed by the land’s soil.
What the Chinese — and many farmers across the U.S. — have proven is that as long as we approach things in a different way, our resources are not finite. But this new way of looking at the world must first start with our choice of words.
And that is precisely why we would be well-served to ditch “sustainable” and start using “regenerative.”