Redefining sustainable development

Whole Systems Sustainability and Regenerative Development

Sustainable Development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In this case sustainability is seen as the ability to maintain a current level of growth while allowing for the needs of the future. In this conceptual framework the idea of ‘needs’ and of ‘future generations’ is often applied unilaterally to humans, and does not take in to account the thrivability of other species and of life on the planet. In addition, it assumes that the current level of human development can be maintained without affecting the needs of future human or other earth populations.

Whole Systems Sustainability starts from the premise that sustainability for humans is only possible within the context of the sustainability of all life on Earth. Either entire ecosystems are sustained, or entire ecosystems break down, to the detriment of all life and also human populations, who are embedded interdependently in those systems. In looking at whole systems, the importance of maintaining ecological relationships that regenerate the health of entire ecosystems is brought to the fore. To do this, the understanding of how we meet the needs of the present, as well as the basic concept of ‘need’ for human and non-human life on Earth must be brokered. Finally, the assertion that current human development and growth can continue without undermining the viability and thrivability of coming generations of both human and other than human life on Earth must be considered.

In this context, ‘development’ can be redefined and ‘enlivened’ to allow for the types of regenerative activities that lead to whole systems sustainability. Development here refers to the development of new paradigms and world views that embrace the interconnectedness of humans with the planet. It refers to the growth of ecological consciousness and nature connectedness. Development refers to regenerative growth that includes rewilding, ecosystems maintenance, and wellness connected to nature. It refers to growth of forms of capital that are not monetary: natural, social, health and network capitals that lead to true sustainability and true systemic health for individuals, society, and the biodiverse life on Earth.

Redefining and re-enlivening sustainable develpment for a world in peril- embracing whole systems sustainability and regenerative development- are key to a thrivable future for all.

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