book review

Book review: Regeneration, by Paul Hawken

By Jeremy Williams

Drawdown is one of my favourite climate books, an extensive study into the top fifty ways to reverse climate change, edited into an accessible and inspiring book by Paul Hawken.

Regeneration is similar. It’s presented in the same attractive but slightly unwieldy format, halfway between a paperback and a coffee table book. There’s a similarly large team of people behind it and a huge amount of expertise, and again all brought together by Hawken. But there is a different dynamic to this book. The emphasis has shifted from a potential menu of solutions to what it might look like to take action – from a ‘what if?’ to ‘how to’. And the idea of regeneration runs through it.

Both meanings of the word apply. These are actions for the next generation, a make or break moment for the planet as we know it. It’s also about regeneration as a philosophy: “Regeneration is an inclusive and effective strategy compared to combating, fighting, or mitigating climate change. Regeneration creates, builds, and heals. Regeneration is what life has always done.”

The book explores this across a series of themes, such as oceans, forests, cities, industry and food. Individual solutions are then explained in more detail within each theme, with real-world examples to show that these are not theoretical ideas, but practical approaches that are already being used in specific places. A variety of guest essayists contribute their own stories.

There are lots of ideas that will be familiar, and many that I have covered on the blog in the past – the importance of mangroves, reducing food waste, urban farming, walkable cities, or geothermal energy. Many others were new to me. I hadn’t come across the Azolla fern for instance, a nitrogen-fixing aquatic moss that can be grown in rice paddies, turning them into “a polyculture that mimics a natural wetland ecosystem.” Or rain-making bacteria, or reframing carbon offsets as net positive ‘onsets’. There is a huge wealth of ideas in the book, and it’s one that I have read and will need to come back to.

One thing I liked about the book is that it includes people as a climate solution. This is in contrast to traditional conservation movements that have often emphasised wild nature as separate from humanity. It’s also different from eco-modernist approaches that distance humanity from nature through technology. There is no such divide here, and there are solutions in empowering girls, respecting indigenous cultures, and in valuing community and justice. People and community will be just as important in addressing climate change as technologies such as wind power or electric cars but are rarely discussed in that way. (See books by Alastair McIntosh or Tamsin Omond for a couple of exceptions.)

Perhaps most importantly, Regeneration breathes life into the climate conversation. What’s good for wildlife is good for climate change. Restored landscapes, recovering fish stocks, rising biodiversity, expanding forests, flourishing towns and cities, these are all things that lead us in the right direction – and who wouldn’t want to see that? This is the kind of growth I could get behind. As the book says in the introduction, “if putting the future of life at the heart of everything we do is not central to our purpose and destiny, why are we here?”

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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