Exploring the possibility of an emerging (Regenerative) Collective Era
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
This essay was partly inspired by the course: Tools for the Regenerative Reinassance
I will continue updating it as I come across more relevant information/inspiring projects
You never change things by fighting the existing reality.– Buckminster Fuller
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
The (Regenerative) Collective Hypothesis
One of the major trends of the past 30 years has been the rise of technology startups.
Most of the largest companies today, now part of the everyday experience of most people around the world, did not even exist 50 years ago. Silicon Valley has become the center of global innovation, attracting billions of dollars of investments to encourage more and more tech startups, and cities all over the world are trying to emulate it.
Is this trend going to continue indefinitely?
Some claim that the “Startup Era” is already over, and it’s been replaced by the “Tech Giants Era”.
But it’s interesting to think about potential alternatives.
What else could attract our attention and investments in the coming decades?
I want to explore the possibility that Decentralized, Regenerative Collectives could become the next focus of attention and innovation in the future.
Here, I leave the term “collective” as deliberately vague and flexible, simply indicating a group of people moving towards a shared purpose while supporting and taking care of each other.
The vagueness of the term allows for diversity and experimentation across all conceivable variables; from urban collectives of professionals sharing a common passion, all the way to ecovillages, where people share almost everything. I like it because, unlike the word “community”, “collective” doesn’t carry with it the negative connotations associated with the failed communes of the 70s.
Indeed, not all communities need to involve hippies, spirituality, or any other kinds of mumbo-jumbo (even though I’d be quite into those). One of the beauties of decentralization is that each collective can play with different arrangements and strategies to find what works best for its people and specific circumstances.
However, given the increasing possibility of environmental and societal collapse, it’s safe to expect that most collectives will have a tendency to care for the health of their local bio-region, think about food production, and co-create new cultures that better promote human flourishing (thus regenerating land and culture).
Just like it happens for startups, certainly a lot of experiments will fail (and with failure there are always lessons to learn), but some will also succeed, providing inspiration and guidance for further experiments.
Clearly, the comparison with startups can only go so far.
By their nature, communities tend to be small and decentralized (the opposite of what tech startups aim to be). But I’d like to explore the possibility that we could start seeing a significant rise in the birth of “innovative” collectives and in the capital invested in them. We could also see (and already are) a growing chunk of future technological innovation focusing on facilitating the development of regenerative communities.
There are several factors and trends that could, over time, lead to this shift in focus.
Impending Ecological Collapse
There’s no way around it, continuing with “business as usual” is not a long-term option for humanity.
The Earth is a complex, adaptive, living system. For the past 10,000 years, this complex system has been in a stable state, ideal for human flourishing, also known as the Holocene.
As we continue pushing the Earth outside of its boundaries, we risk pushing the system outside of its equilibrium, creating tipping points that might be impossible to reverse.
A few examples of how these tipping point effects might work:
- Warming global temperatures cause Ice Caps to melt
- Melting ice caps reduces the Earth’s capacity to reflect the Sun’s heat
- Global temperatures rise
- More ice caps melt
- Temperatures rise more…
- Deforestation reduces the number of trees
- Less trees will trap less heat and contribute to less rainfall
- Less rainfall hampers the ability of vegetation to grow
- Less plants cause rainfall to decrease even further
If we continue transgressing Planetary Boundaries and cause Global Tipping points, we can expect to experience increasingly disastrous effects.
Some of the scariest consequences of climate change, which we already started to experience, are a rise in the occurrence of natural disasters, with potentially disruptive effects on global food systems. As these and other environmental tragedies continue manifesting on ever-larger scales, it is not unlikely to also expect unprecedented political unrest, chaos, and a breakdown of global supply chains (also due to the impossibility of sustaining fossil fuel use).
At this stage, simply reducing deforestation or cutting emissions is not going to be enough. We need to actually regenerate the Earth, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, while also increasing our individual and community resilience to the environmental shocks that will inevitably become more frequent.
We have no other choice (unless you believe that moving our civilization to another planet is feasible or desirable).
This means that investments in regenerative agriculture (permaculture, agroforestry) and decentralized green technology will inevitably have to rise as we come face-to-face with the consequences of ecological destruction. Further, it will be necessary to upgrade our collective sense-making and decision-making capacities.
In this context, regenerative collectives (especially rural ones) can be a particularly appealing investment (from a societal standpoint) as they create a number of positive externalities:
- Regenerate soils, withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere, and reducing Nitrogen and Phosphorus runoffs (one of the planetary boundaries)
- Reduce the environmental impact of its members
- Create redundancy and resilience in the food systems (many decentralized hubs of food production are more resistant to shocks than few, centralized ones)
- Increase biodiversity
- Encourage collaboration and collective well-being
Even from a financial standpoint, today it makes much more sense to invest in regenerative Agriculture projects than in traditional food production systems (see SLM Partners’ “The investment case for ecological farming“).
But the need to focus on regenerative agriculture doesn’t mean that everyone in rural collectives will have to do farm work, which brings us to the next point.
The outbreak of COVID in the past year and a half has made a few things apparent:
- We don’t need to cram ourselves into ever-larger and more polluted cities to go to work
Companies are realizing the viability of remote work and that its adoption can significantly increase their hiring pool and employee satisfaction while bringing down costs.
People are starting to move back to rural areas, where they can enjoy larger spaces, more time in nature, and engage more with the local community (interestingly, this trend had already started before COVID, but the pandemic accelerated it)
- We need community and a sense of belonging
For the majority of human history, we lived in relatively small groups of people we knew well and we could trust. Living this way satisfied our sense of belonging, fostered collaboration and discouraged harmful behaviors towards each other (the cheaters would be easily identified and punished). As we started moving to large cities, we got used to living in isolation, treating most people around us as mere service-providers. But doing so has definitely taken a toll on our mental health (even before COVID there were talks of a “Loneliness Epidemic“).
The extreme isolation that COVID forced us into, helped us to open our eyes and realize the importance of community, sparking tremendous growth in online communities (The Stoa, The Interintellect, Ness Labs, and many more), but also in the interest to start living in physical spaces with other like-minded people. The increased adoption of remote work is making the latter a lot easier.
Indeed, even people not particularly invested in environmental regeneration have started to express this sentiment, an example is Nat Eliason’s movement of Creator Towns, which has been gaining traction among online content creators. Even Balaji Srinivasan, a transhumanist, space-obsessed techno-utopian recently discussed the possibility of humans re-organizing in decentralized, self-organizing communities.
Tech and Decentralization
When hearing the term “sustainable communities”, some people may think that I’m referring to isolated groups of luddites who reject technology and want to go “back to the good ol’ days”.
But that’s not at all what I’m talking about. Technology can actually be a huge catalyst to help these kinds of communities thrive. Indeed, there are a few well-established examples of successful ecovillages that embraced technology to favor sustainable living like Damanhur in Italy, and Findhorn in the UK. Another exciting example (although at an early stage) is the Future Thinker’s Smart Village, which, among other things, is planning to incorporate an electric car-sharing program, and decentralized, renewable microgrids.2
In addition to these applications of technology, there is plenty of burgeoning innovation that can help sustainable villages thrive.
Since their inception, technologies like the blockchain and 3-D printing started a trend towards more decentralization. Today, it’s evident that such technologies have extremely high potential to be adopted by emerging decentralized collectives. Here are a few examples:
- Brooklyn Microgrid (BMG) is an energy marketplace for locally-generated, solar energy. It allows community members to generate their own electricity and sell their excess capacity to other community members.
- NYC Mesh is providing NYC community members with a community owned, decentralized internet network that doesn’t collect personal data, doesn’t discriminate content and that’s accessible to all
- Hylo is a free, open-source platform developed specifically to help groups organize more effectively around a shared purpose, and to facilitate connection with other groups
- For some years now, Open Source Ecology has been creating open source blueprints for people to cheaply create all the necessary machinery, tools and buildings to start farming sustainably while leveraging 3-D printing technology (they even teach you how to build your own 3-D Printer)
- Regen Network developed a blockchain-based platform that aligns economic incentives with Earth regeneration. Companies can buy carbon credits by paying farmers and communities for their regenerative efforts. This is an incredible and much needed technology as one of the biggest failures of our market system is not accounting for externalities (either positive or negative).
- Holochain is an alternative to blockchain with a much lower energy requirement to run and thus, a massively higher potential for scalability. One of the exciting use cases of Holochain is the creation of decentralized, open source apps that can foster collaboration without transacting with a centralized system. In addition, while traditional Proof of Work and Proof of Stake blockchains create a “Rich Get Richer” dynamic, by design, Holochain avoids this tendency.
- Loomio and Cobudget are softwares specifically created to help decentralized groups make better decisions. As I’ll explain in the next section, the history of failed communes, teaches us that tools that help us to organize in efficient ways can be instrumental in helping the long-term thriving of regenerative collectives.
These are just a few examples, but given the urgency of the environmental situation and the need for decentralized, bottom-up regenerative action, it seems apparent that increasing investments will be allocated to favoring the emergence of sustainable villages.
Another factor that I see as important in this context is the rise of several different “social” innovations that can be critical to help communities organize and thrive in the long run.
Historically, many of the communities born in the 60s and 70s failed due to interpersonal conflicts between members; problems in decision-making, power dynamics, resource management etc… To make things worse, the impending ecological collapse can create overwhelming feelings of grief and increased polarization, all of which make us less capable of acting skillfully in community.
This is why it is really important that the emerging regenerative collectives of tomorrow focus as much on the Earth as they do on their people, culture and relationships. Today, we’re witnessing the spread of a number of innovative practices/frameworks that can improve the way we relate to each other in a group, the way we make decisions, communicate, support each other, and more.
A really interesting development in this area is the emergence of social contemplative practices such as Circling, Social Metta and Collective Presencing, which expand the concept of meditation from a single-player endeavor to a group one, and teach us new ways of relating to each other. I see The Monastic Academy and Buddhist Geeks as pioneers in this area.
In addition, there were major innovations in the field of Organization Design, placing a strong emphasis on decentralized organizations and ways of operating. Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations and Samantha Slade’s Going Horizontal are two important frameworks to help decentralized organizations (and communities) organize themselves in more flexible ways.
The exciting thing is that different groups can experiment using a diverse range of practices and share their learnings with the network of other emerging communities. Enspiral, a member-owned congregation of decentralized companies and social entrepreneurs, is already doing this as the organizational level (they even open-sourced their AMAZING handbook for others to learn from), but it is not far-fetched to imagine a developing network of regenerative communities engaged in a similar kind of sharing. Actually, the Global Ecovillage Network is an already established network of ecovillages that is in some ways doing so. There is also the Game B movement, trying to do a similar thing, encouraging the emergence of so-called Proto-B communities, but it is still at an early stage.
Beyond Community: Adopting a Bioregional Focus
In the past sections, I outlined some of the major trends that I see as being conducive to the birth and development of regenerative collectives around the world.
However, I find it important to stress that to be truly transformative, these collectives can’t just isolate themselves from the world and simply connect with other regenerative groups. Earth regeneration happens at the bioregional scale, and for this reason, it is fundamental that regenerative communities get involved and form key partnerships with other local actors in their bioregions.
Failing to do so at an early stage can lead to incomprehension and tensions between a community and the wider population around it, leading to lose-lose situations.
Instead, fostering collaboration and understanding within the bioregion from the early days can be a critical component of success, both from a community and environmental perspective.
Interactions with stakeholders outside of the community can also be viewed as part of what some people in the Game B space would call “Parasitizing Game A“. Indeed, the more communities support stakeholders in their surroundings, the more likely they are to become an indispensable actor in their bioregion (prevent attacks), build a “reputable brand”, and encourage more people to join or start similar communities.
It All Starts Here
The main purpose of this essay was to contemplate the trends that might cause a community-centric future to emerge, and to share interesting resources and inspiring projects. I am infinitely thankful to Stephen Reid and Phoebe Tickell for creating the course Tools for the Regenerative Reinassance, which made me aware of many of these great projects and tools.
But if you’re as excited as I am by this possibility and you’re wondering about what’s next, there are surely steps that each of us can take to facilitate this emergence.
This kind of civilization-wide change certainly would take a long time, generations, to arise and fully develop, but it has to start somewhere.
As Jordan Hall explains in detail in this page of the Game B Wiki, the best place to start for each of us is within ourselves. Developing one’s own sense-making capability, and sovereignty, and cultivating healthy relationships with those around you, are all critical components of our journeys.
Ironically, one of the best ways to boost one’s personal development is through community. By definition, you can’t see your blindspots. So having an honest, loving community to support you can be tremendously helpful in your journey. That’s why the Sangha (community) plays such an important role in Buddhism, and that’s why developing oneself and developing community can create a positive, reinforcing feedback loop.
Find the others. Start engaging in community activities wherever you find yourself. Check out local groups of like-minded people in your area (or if there are none, start one), connect with your local farmers (or CSA program), and/or join some online communities of people who share your interests.
I included a few of the ones I resonate the most with below.
These are all just a wide variety of possible suggestions, I’m not implying that you, or I, should do all that at once. Everyone has different means and possibilities, and may not be able to do all that, and that’s ok as well. I think it’s important to keep a playful, light attitude and a sense of enjoyment in all this. It shouldn’t become a chore or make you feel guilty for not doing enough.
Change is slow, always has been. If we try to rush, put too much on our plate, stress out, we might become counter-productive, turning people away form us rather than attracting them.
Let’s just simply do the best we can at the moment while enjoying the process <3
If this resonated (or also if it didn’t), and you want to connect, share your feedback or experience, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to DM me on Twitter 🙂