Can Design Save Our World?
Yes, says Dave Jacke. For more than 30 years, he has been practicing and teaching ecological landscape design and cultural design around the world. In this interview he reveals how we can create truly ecologically and socially regenerative societies, as well as how we can rediscover our true place in nature.
Omega: What does the term "regenerative design" mean to you?
Dave: Regenerative design means consciously designing a system that regenerates the health and functioning of the ecosystem, while meeting our own needs. That means the systems that we design will purify the air, purify the water, rebuild the soil, increase diversity, and create self-regulating, self-maintaining, and self-renewing ecosystems.
I think we need to strive for a culture that generates landscapes and societies that create air and water as clean or cleaner than wilderness does. All the models we have are damaged. All the ecosystems we have on the planet have been damaged by humans in some way. None of us really knows what true healthy wilderness is or was. That’s impossible for us to know, but we can make some very good guesses.
Professor Stuart B. Hill says: “The human species is psycho-socially highly underdeveloped and paradoxically that is our greatest reason for hope.” If we were psycho-socially as developed and advanced as we could be genetically, we’d be screwed. We could never work our way out of this situation we've gotten ourselves into. The only way we’re going to get ourselves out of this situation is if we grow psycho-socially.
All of this stuff is easy technically. It’s the mind and the cultural mind-set that are the biggest limitations.
Omega: You’ve written: “Interconnected ecosystems can teach us how to create ecological human cultures, and through ecosystem mimicry we can remember ourselves.” What do you mean by that?
Dave: Through ecosystem mimicry we re-member ourselves as part of nature. We’ve forgotten that we are part of nature. Our culture is based on the idea that humans and nature are separate from each other, which is just completely and utterly false. The problems that we’ve created for ourselves are due to that belief almost entirely—the belief that humans are separate from nature, that mind is separate from body, that spirit is separate from matter. We’ve built a culture based on this belief that things are separate.
We’ve created a situation where very shortly it’s going to become very hard to meet our needs. We are destroying places all over the world just to live our daily lives, just to have the lights on and the food we need. We are destroying the very basis of our own existence because we are destroying the ecosystems that support us. In order to meet our needs and regenerate the health of the planet, we have to learn how to design ecosystems that function, that have the same quality and characteristics of natural ecosystems. This is not just about reducing our footprint; it’s about increasing the size and beauty of our hand print. The way we learn to do that is by mimicking how ecosystems work in the way we design everything in our culture.
Omega: How can people approach designing ecological cultures?
Dave: There are three parts to ecological design.
One, is acknowledging that the interlocking crises that we face in our time of climate chaos, overpopulation, soil destruction, industrialization of agriculture, etc., are really problems of how we have designed our culture. It’s not sustainable. It’s causing a lot of problems for a lot of species, not just us. We have to change the way we live; we’re going to do that fastest by doing it consciously through design.
Two, is understanding the inner landscape of the ecological design process. There’s a relationship between the things that an ecological design process teaches you about yourself, how to make design choices, how to perceive the world in a functional way, and the very problems that we face in our culture.
Three, is the sense of self-empowerment. In the face of the huge interconnected problems that we have created for ourselves, people often feel powerless. We need to realize how powerful each of us is individually and how powerful we are collectively. The design process teaches us that and gives us the tools that we need to be empowered, to act, to live in an empowered way—and to not be dependent on outside authority for that power.