Healing the Biosphere

Neighborhoods for Sustainability

A Sustainable Society

What is to be done can only be done together. Indeed, it is high time to create the next society, the right moment to unite. We have nothing to lose but alienating conditions and a disastrous future. What unites us is the prospect of replacing an undemocratic and unsustainable system with something radically better.

For as long as we believe that it is possible to solve the socioecological crisis, possible to create a social system that allows us to live well within the planetary boundaries – needless to say, not without redefining what it means to live well, not without questioning what is given – we have reason to be hopeful. The transformation to a democratically governed and ecologically literate society requires nothing less than a global revolution, and it is time to seize the moment.

From a survival perspective, it is obvious that we need new, decommodified social and ecological relations, manifested through new forms of democracy and creativity, but also through a scientifically based and democratically controlled system for the preservation of our only planet, putting an end to state-sanctioned, corporate-led crimes against the biosphere. At the local level, the root level of socioecological reproduction, we need to adopt a variety of practices that contribute to the health of the planet and its species.

Ecocreative Transformation

Ecocreativity can be defined as creativity guided by ecological principles and aiming at planetary health. It rests on the assumption that freely and openly communicating, conscious human beings can solve the socioecological problems of our time, that is, have the collective power to create a sustainable society. Alternatively, we can think of it as an awakener intended to restore our sense of urgency and remove our fear of using whatever means possible to put an end to the socially and ecologically destructive. As such, it is emancipating, but only as long as it provokes our thinking, encourages us to act as if we were free to rebuild society from below. Thus, it not only invites us to build new frameworks for socioecological interaction: it challenges us to make these systems free from oppressive relations and structural inequality, free from “invisible hands” that work behind the backs of people.

Ecocreativity, at the core of sustainable human development, acknowledges the transformative power of technology, but not as an unambiguous, autonomous force, disregarding its structural embeddedness and historical development. On the contrary: it urges us to take control of technology, bring it closer to our shared realities in such a way that it helps us to build social systems centered around human needs. Rather than providing us with a toolbox of quick fixes – underestimating the need for precaution – ecocreativity envisages a society where we are free to use appropriate technology and collaborative tools in a responsible manner, free to use knowledge for the common good, in other words, a society where technology is easy to use, easy to modify, and easy to control. What is to be done must therefore remain an open-ended question, ideally giving rise to a multitude of answers and not to insurmountable technological complexity.

A revolutionary practice and an antidote to unsustainable development, constantly in search of new ways to meet our material and spiritual needs, new ways to express solidarity, ecocreativity distinguishes between real and fictional dependencies – we cannot breathe, drink, or eat money, nor do weapons of mass destruction keep us alive. The ever more destructive reality of the vast majority of humankind makes self-determined activities and mutually beneficial interactions between individuals all the more important, challenging us to define alternatives to unsustainable practices in all domains of human activity.

Neighborhoods and Commons

Thus, interpreted as a human-centered practice that contributes to a sustainable society, ecocreativity is an imperative to create new spaces of interconnectivity, new bridges between social and ecological commons. In so doing, it suggests that the neighborhood can become the geographical starting point for sustainable human development, indeed, the birthplace of non-antagonistic, self-mediated relations. Decommodified neighborhood-integrated commons – in particular, energy, water, food, material, shelter, learning, communication, and health systems – would then frame our lives. Democratically controlled and collectively built and sustained from below, self-governing and self-regulating neighborhood communities would then allow us to realize our potential, however, without destroying the biological foundation of all human development.

From single molecules, genes, and epigenetic processes to whole ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles: the complexity of nature is an unrivaled source of inspiration if we are to change our neighborhoods. The patterns and processes of relatively simple forest ecosystems contrast with the monocultural environments, impervious surfaces, and material flows of segregated, car-dependent cities. Both in terms of water holding and nutrient cycling capacity, a natural pond ecosystem can easily be distinguished from an asphalt-paved schoolyard. The complex interactions of natural ecosystems are a good starting point for learning, but a radically changed perception of our common habitat could also trigger a revolution. The ongoing habitat loss and species extinction – be it through deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, water pollution, urban sprawl, or warfare – prompt us to act. It is about time that neighborhoods become places where human creativity contributes to healthy ecosystems, places where people of all ages thrive. In short, no one shall be reduced to a living fragment of what we can become, denied a lifelong exploration of our human potential, our capacity to live in material and spiritual harmony with the rest of nature.

As individual and collective, spontaneous and continuous, lifelong ecological creators of self-organized social commons, we are contributors to a different kind of society, not structured around artificial scarcity and monopoly markets, but explicitly defined by human needs and a variety of collaborative practices that give hope to humanity.

Healing the Rifts

Ecocreative transformation is a revolutionary turn, not only replacing destructive production with creative reconstruction. It turns our attention away from the production and consumption of goods and services toward the reproduction and well-being of all species – the long-term healing of the biosphere. This shift of perspective does not deny human well-being, but frames it in such a way that we can gain control of our social metabolism with the rest of nature, allowing us to socially determine how to interact with each other and our environment on a long-term basis. Consequently, ecocreative transformation fosters sustainability in a dual sense: it respects the integrity of ecosystems and the boundaries of the Earth system, and it guides the integration of necessary social systems with the ecological commons. However, for this radical transformation to occur, it does not suffice to negate or minimize the unsustainable and irrational: we must start anew, redefine the rules of human interaction, literally begin to act as conscious, self-mediating human transformers of social and ecological relations. Deeply involved in the replacement of a rapidly changing mode of destruction with a sustainable mode of reproduction, we would then make room for ecocreative practices of all kinds, that is, radically change – in the most encompassing sense – what it means to be interdependent beings on this planet. As bearers of hope and restorers of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, we would then live the revolution.

Here we must recognize the need for self-sufficiency, but do not confuse this with self-imposed isolation, falling into the trap of parochialism. More precisely, in a non-growing, materially closed system like the Earth, self-sufficiency presupposes fully shared resources, fully shared experiences, and fully shared knowledge, which, in turn, presupposes openness of a kind that fosters curiosity and solidarity.

In a similar fashion, ecocreative neighborhoods must necessarily be extended neighborhoods, in that they ultimately depend on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole, that is, the complex interactions of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, litosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere. To put it in other terms, sustainable human development is scale-dependent and intricately linked to all levels of ecological organization; the continual reproduction of any human society is simply impossible without the continual reproduction of nature in its entirety. The simple but powerful truth is that we cannot do it alone.

Now and Everywhere

The immediate past is not the best guidebook to the future. Why learn from wasteful, profit-driven urban development, when we can learn from water, trees, and honey bees? Why give disruptive food companies access to our cities, when we are in great demand of diverse, neighborhood-integrated food systems? Why contribute to the pollution of lakes and rivers, when we can recycle soil nutrients? By rethinking and reconstructing our neighborhoods, we can all contribute to a sustainable society. Briefly sketched, this is a society with radical democracy; substantive equality; neighborhood-integrated commons; global adoption of ecocreative practices; universal access to information and appropriate technology; participatory education and research; and local, regional, and global federations of self-governing neighborhood communities.