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Reconnecting with Nature: Regenerative Cultures

Updated: May 16, 2022

By C

Our Relationship with the Environment

The Indigenous Peoples believe that we are all expressions of the land, our roots inextricably tied to the earth.

Animism, the ‘attribution of a living soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena’, lays the foundation for many indigenous beliefs, including that of the Orang Selat in Singapore. In an interview with TheHomeGround Asia, Firdaus, founder of Orang Laut SG, tells us, ‘The islanders had a deep respect for nature. Even before going out to sea, there would be a greeting we’d need to give to the sea itself because we believe it is a living, breathing thing.’ This respect for nature is echoed in many other indigenous communities globally. ‘If you’re alive, you connect to everything else that is alive,’ Bob Randall, an Aboriginal Yankunytjatjara elder, explains in an interview with the Global Oneness Project. Later on, he introduces the principle of kanyini, that teaches us to love all creation unconditionally and responsibly.

Kanyini is a simple concept, merely the telling of right from wrong. Take what you need, and not in excess. Replenish what you can, when you are within means of doing so. And yet.

Greed is a crafty thing. What do you want, you ask it. A good home, it replies vaguely, diplomatically. But your next question causes its lips to thin: What makes ‘good’? The answer reveals itself in an unspoken clause: Endless growth.

And thus, we see today:

Plants replacing plants; it’s ironic how these petrochemical systems release rather than receive heat. The Semakau landfill was once an island, home to a maritime tribe of people. For centuries, they had developed cultures, traditions and livelihoods connected to the land they lived on and the sea that surrounded them.

Blended beaches of sand. Our feet dig into the grains as we walk, and simultaneously we have travelled across Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia.

Patches of green, isolated between sprawling grey and vacant lights. We call ourselves a City in Nature, but really, nature is jailed, overridden, primed and plucked for public presentation in the city of Singapore.

Just what will satisfy our thirst for urbanisation?

We call this series of events ‘progress’. But in what terms? Certainly not in regard to local biodiversity. Urbanisation has ‘transformed mangrove swamps, primary forests and beaches into industrial estates, housing blocks and reclaimed land’, fuelling the climate crisis over the past few decades. As Dawn-joy Leong writes in her essay Scheherazade’s Sea: Five Women and One that was published in ecofeminist book Making Kin, ‘Human systems do not respect the delicate interconnectedness of our natural world. We refuse to acknowledge that when this balance is intercepted or maimed, everything will eventually crumble, including human existence.’ While our government has made efforts to preserve the remaining biodiversity we have with nature reserves, park connectors and other conservation efforts, environmental protection still appears to take a backseat when faced with the growth of the city and the economy. This can be seen by the recent Dover Forest petition, in which more than 50,000 people objected to the deforestation of the Forest for housing development. Yet, only a compromise was reached — citing ‘a win for all’, the Straits Times reported that half of Dover Forest would remain zoned for housing.

As urban development plans continue to risk the loss of our remaining natural spaces, it is imperative that we, as a society, begin reflecting on our relationship with nature. That means returning to the ‘basic questions of humanity’, as phrased by Daniel Christian Wahl, the author of Designing Regenerative Cultures: ‘Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?’ We must recognise that humanity’s existence — our past, present and future — depends entirely on the generosity of the natural world. It is only just that we do not exploit it. Is that so difficult to understand?

Building Regenerative Communities

‘Healing, to me, is about reconnecting with what has been lost,’ writes Nurul Fadiah Johari in her essay Coming Home: Healing from Intergenerational Trauma, also published in Making Kin. Indeed, how can we repair the connection between Man and Earth that has frayed and fragmented over time?

The answer comes in the form of building regenerative cultures.

In Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, Paul Hawken refers to regeneration as ‘putting life at the centre of every action and decision’. Hence, in the spirit of kanyini, regenerative cultures must be constructed with the goal of caring for all living beings.

Regeneration is more than keeping things ‘sustainable’. As Wahl states, ‘if sustainability just means not adding any more damage to the system, then that’s not enough because we spent centuries, if not millennia, degrading ecosystems in many places.’ We cannot simply sustain the current resources we have left. Rather, we must look deeper into our history — what biodiversity, cultures and traditions have we lost, and how can we bring them back? After all, urbanisation didn’t just wipe out billions of plant and animal species. Millions of indigenous cultures have disappeared globally as a result of forced relocation and genocide too — in Australia alone, colonisation stripped the Aboriginals of 190 langauges, out of the total of 250.

Additionally, there must be an explicit centring of the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of our present people. This should firstly reveal itself through respect and appreciation for the care work carried out in our society — in the sense of institutional support that protects our care workers from overwork and underpayment, rather than mere clapping ceremonies or ‘thank you’ cards. Structurally valuing care work — both paid and unpaid —is essential, especially as the climate crisis increases heat-related illnesses, climate refugees and inequality by and large. Secondly, regenerative cultures should manifest as a paradigm shift on a community, familial and individual level. Under capitalism, Marx points out in Das Kapital Vol. II, ‘the labour-power is a commodity, not capital, in the hands of a labourer, and it constitutes him a revenue so long as he can continuously repeat its sale’. Too often, even outside the workplace, our value as human beings is measured in accordance with our capacity for labour — in both our interpersonal bonds with others and intrapersonal relationships with ourselves. As we build a regenerative community, we need to instead view each other as whole peoples, with needs, wisdom and worth, beyond our working capacities. We must recognise that we are all part of a larger, interconnected network, and that, once again, brings us back to our roots in the natural world.

However, as proven throughout history, top-down, capitalist systems systematically destroy the relationships between humans and the earth. With the worsening climate crisis, it has become even more urgent for us to reconsider the unsustainable structures bracing our society. As such, regenerative communities must be erected from the ground up, when every person’s voice is considered and every being’s life is valued. Our communities must be held together by a sense of solidarity and mutual trust, so that each individual recognises their irreplaceable role in the ecosystem of life, and the inseparable ties between themselves, humanity and the Earth.


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