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Is it possible to meet human needs without continuing to destroy the environment we live in?

Of course the answer to this question is yes. But not whilst we refuse to accept the obvious fact that healthy ecosystems are the very basis of life, and as such, must lie at the very centre of economics.

A system that does not acknowledge this is clearly divorced from true fundamentals. It is one that actually ascribes more ‘value’ to death than to life. One in which more economic gain is made from activities that cause death – (warfare, deforestation, degrading of soils from industrial agriculture, pollution of air and water, etc.) than activities that increase and enhance life.

This is the modus operandus of our present economic system. The big money continues to be made through the exploitation of people and resources, and a very tiny fraction of this gets put back. Destruction of life systems still wins, most of the time.

Financing for the restoration of forests and other ecosystems is still primarily reliant on funds from governments, NGO’s and charities. Mainstream forestry and land management companies, even if they are making some effort to be more ‘sustainable’, are still taking more from the life of the planet than they are giving back in terms of soil health and biodiversity.

Carbon trading, REDD+, and Payments for Ecosystem Services, offer sources of capitol that can be incorporated into the funding structure of social enterprises working in this area. But implementation of these mechanisms has had limited success. They tend to be complicated, high on bureaucracy, with top-down implementation and control, and they are often unpopular with local communities.

My issue with these ‘solutions’ is that they are focused on how we can somehow ‘sustainably’ carry on within an economic system that at its core does not recognize the value of healthy ecosystems or healthy, happy people.

Measures for reduction, mitigation, and off-setting mostly work to slow down degradation and pollution, or allow for business as usual, as long as you pay someone somewhere else to compensate.

It is time to accept that the economic experiment of the past few hundred years is over; to realize that we have been infected by a sort of mental fog, and a dissociation with nature.

The way forward is to simply recognize the fundamental value of life, and by doing so create a ‘regenerative economy’ – one in which businesses are orientated towards giving back MORE, to the life of the planet than they take.

To make this practical we need a useful definition of ‘life’, one that gives us the terms to understand what is more alive and what is less alive, so that we can work and ‘value’ with it. ‘Connectivity’ and ‘diversity’ are two simple yet powerful factors we can draw from nature and use in our economies. In this scenario, it simply becomes ‘uneconomical’ to buy a product that damages life, as it ‘costs’ more than one that creates life. It is that simple. Those who chose not to respect life are no longer rewarded.

Many people entrenched in mainstream economic thinking might say I am being unrealistic, but I would say that anyone who denies these facts is being unrealistic. The more enlightened edge of business is already starting to recognise this shift, and those who choose to resist change will be the ones that lose out. We do not need to wait for the prevailing economic system to change. We can take action now by creating and supporting enterprises that align with the principles of a life affirming economy.

Earthlife operates based on the core proposition that living soils, clean water, and forests are the most valuable things on the planet. Our mission is to support a global network of “earth stewards” – people and communities who know how to restore and nurture these conditions for life, and increase the levels of connectivity and diversity in their human and natural ecosystems.

Using regenerative systems such as Permaculture or forest gardening, vast amounts of food can be produced on an acre of land, whilst at the same time improving soil and biodiversity. A mixed forest may be more complicated to grow than a monoculture plantation, but gives back much more in real value over the long-term, as well as having the potential for good financial returns. Such activities can also revive communities and reactivate a deeply sustaining relationship with our environment.

In a world that is still rapidly losing topsoil, forests and fresh water, the people who are dedicating themselves to this work have enormous value, a value that is not currently recognized economically. Once we shift to a life affirming economy this will rapidly change.

Social entrepreneurs have come up with amazing and successful creative responses to many social challenges. I invite people to invest their creative energy into re-imagining how we can live in a healthy symbiosis with our planet, and create a future of abundance rather than scarcity.