The deciduous trees in our yards may look dead right now, but we know they aren’t. A “seemingly mystical combination of pliable membranes, natural antifreeze, and glasslike supercooling, with frost on the outside and viscous dehydration on the inside, helps trees avoid freezing injury to living cells,” Purdue University explains. “Trees are the largest, oldest living organism on our planet and don’t grow older and larger without having very specific strategies for survival.”

Amid the mounting evidence that ecological collapse is accelerating and causing unprecedented weather patterns, habitation loss, and species extinction, there are those who are focusing on what could be, rather than what is being lost. Like the winter work of the brilliant trees, these courageous thinkers are innovating humankind’s strategies for survival and providing roadmaps to a sustainable future.

Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac are two examples. The duo led negotiations for the United Nations that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement, and their experience and wisdom fills the pages of the book they co-authored, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis. Lucky for me, this title was available in the Climate Action Team’s lending library (thanks, Lizanne Moore!). 

Figueres and Rivett-Carnac lay out the facts as you would expect. “The converging crises of climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, desertification, and acidification of the oceans have taken us to the point where we can no longer naively depend on the Earth’s natural resilience or capacity to recuperate. While nature is innately restorative, regeneration does not always occur completely on its own.”

The duo makes a strong case that we have the capacity to make changes that will help nature restore much of what has been lost. This requires both a paradigm shift and a number of practical steps implemented at scale and with deliberate haste.

“A regenerative mindset is most effective if pursued intentionally and consistently. It is both a tough mental discipline and a gentleness of spirit that needs to be cultivated. It is about understanding that beyond getting what we want and need from our fellow human beings, we have the responsibility to replenish ourselves and to help others to restore themselves to levels of greater energy and insight. It is about understanding that beyond extracting and harvesting what we need from nature, it is our responsibility and in our enlightened self-interest to protect life on this planet, indeed even enhance the planet’s life-giving capacity. Personal and environmental goals are interlinked, mutually reinforcing, and they both need our attention.”

They continue: “A regenerative mindset bridges the gap between how nature works (regeneration) and how we humans have organized our lives (extraction). It allows us to ‘redesign human presence on Earth’ driven by human creativity, problem solving, and fierce love of this planet.”

It’s not a stretch to recognize that our human operating system flies in the face of the symbiotic processes of the ecosystems we rely on. Our fixation on overconsumption and unlimited growth blinds us to the realities of the planet’s thresholds and tipping points. 

“We have to shift our action compass from self-centric to nature-aligned. We have to filter every action through a consequential stress test, and we have to be pretty radical about it. When considering an action, we have to ask: Does it actively contribute to humans and nature thriving together as one integrated system on this planet? If yes, green light. If not, red light. Period.”

Our upbringings haven’t trained us to make this distinction, but our awareness is growing, isn’t it? Our gut is beginning to guide our decision-making. Centering the environmental impact of our lifestyles is not about virtue signaling or adding to the cacophony of divisive politics. For UUs, it is about standing firm with the seventh principle’s respect for the interdependent web of all existence. Regeneration is what this respect calls for.

“This is not a distant dream,” the co-authors write. “It is already happening. Together with renowned author Arundhati Roy, we can say, ‘Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. Maybe many of us won’t be here to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen very carefully, I can hear her breathing.’”

Are we listening?