I first came across Joe Brewer’s work some years ago in an article he wrote critiquing the failure of universities to address in a comprehensive manner the complex ecological, social and cultural challenges we face.
He began his 2017 article “Why Are Universities Failing Humanity?” with this statement: “Humanity is going through the most turbulent and complex change — at planetary scales — that it has ever gone through and there is literally no PhD program on Earth dedicated to preparing scholars to address this situation.”
What was lacking, he argued, is “a fully integrative approach to the coupling of human and ecological systems capable of designing and implementing policy solutions at the appropriate scale to avoid planetary-scale systemic collapse.” Not finding the approach he sought in universities because “my work required a merging of physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities that was nowhere in existence at the time,” he quit his doctoral program and resolved to create what was needed himself.
His thinking very much reflected my own concerns at the time, as I neared retirement after a brief seven-year appointment at the University of Victoria and a lifetime as a practitioner and activist.
While at UVic, I had co-established UVic in the Anthropocene as a vehicle to discuss the role of the university in addressing these massive global challenges, and Conversations for a One Planet Region as a way of engaging people in discussing the implications of these challenges locally.
Together, these two groups were pleased to welcome Joe to Victoria in November 2019 to talk about his ideas. Some of you may have heard him speak at Camosun College.
But Joe has something bigger in mind than changing the work of universities, important though that is: His goal is nothing less than cultural evolution.
He was a co-founder of the Cultural Evolution Society and executive director of the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution, which defines cultural evolution as simply the extension of Darwin’s concept of evolution “to the domains of social behaviors, practices, tools, and structures.”
So how do we evolve to a culture that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, faced with the realities of ecological limits and social inequity?
We see the work of the Conversations as largely about cultural evolution at a local level, focused on how we shift the core values underlying our culture, something I wrote about two weeks ago.
But as I wrote last week, that global-level thinking has to be applied locally. This is an issue that Joe talked about in 2019. Since then he has written a book — The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth — that is focused on bioregionalism.
The principal goal of Earth regeneration, he writes, is to bring us back within the nine planetary boundaries (six of which, as I noted recently, we have exceeded). It is, in other words, a vision of a One Planet society or community.
But to achieve that, he writes, we must “organize our efforts around the functional landscapes of real-world ecosystems to achieve the emergent capacities of sustainability at territorial scales.”
To bring that to a planetary scale, he suggests, requires a global network of regenerative bioregions. In other words, it has to be a bottom-up rather than a top-down process.
The practical implications include the holistic management of landscapes, the creation of regenerative (rather than exploitative and extractive) economies, and “prosocial communities of people” capable of working effectively together.
It also requires an appreciation of the knowledge and experience of Indigenous people, whose way of life was largely ordered around watersheds and other natural systems.
So we are pleased to welcome Joe back to Victoria Oct. 21-24. He is currently on a Bioregional Activation Tour of the Cascadia region, co-ordinated by Regenerate Cascadia.
While here, he will be meeting with faith communities, local environmental organisations, municipal and business leaders, Indigenous people and high school students.
There will be one free public event, on Tuesday Oct. 24, from 7.30 to 9 p.m.,, in lecture theatre C-103 of the David Strong Building at UVic.
Joe and a panel of local leaders will discuss a bioregional approach to the future of our shared region. More details can be found at oneplanetconversations.ca.
I hope you can make it.
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy
>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org