Is it time for Homo Regenesis?

If we heed the warning from the financial collapse of 2008, a complex system degrading towards chaos, we can avoid a food systems collapse that could cost millions of lives.

Monbiot is in search of real, global solutions, and these are foregrounded while the existential problems of our food systems are nonetheless addressed head on. 

Why not Homo Regenesis? Human beings have been naming themselves from time immemorial. Homo sapiens has been surpassed, we’re told, by Homo economicus.

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And the seven billion human beings alive today are apparently collectively responsible for our entering the Athropocene - a period in geological history where nature is determined by us, a single species. And not in a good way. But why not the Regeneocene? 

George Monbiot, a regular columnist for The Guardian, and perhaps the most conscientious and important environmental journalists of our time, has published his latest book, Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet. This is his magnum opus.

Diagnosed

The journalist does something which is becoming vanishingly rare in our culture - journalism. The book is a series of vignettes and case studies elegantly woven with vital information harvested from 5,000 peer reviewed papers and supporting documents.

This is going to be a very positive review, so I will begin with my only gripe. I wish Monbiot had said more here about how the capitalist economic system necessitates much that he sees as going wrong in our food systems.

Readers would benefit greatly from reading Regenesis alongside the seminal study from Paul Sweezy and Paul Baran titled Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order.

The economists demonstrate how profit making, or the accumulation of capital, leads inexorably to the centralisation and consolidation of production by just a handful of companies. They predict the problems this will cause across all industries - the same problems so brilliantly diagnosed by Monbiot in our food industries half a century later.

Monbiot opens Regenesis with a description of his relationship with an apple orchard close to his former home in one of Britain’s old university cities, and his discovery after 35 years as a trained zoologist working in newspaper journalism of the incredible complexity of the soil, and the miniature life that it contains.

Trouble brewing
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Regenerative

I found these passages deeply moving, with the description of the trees, the insects and the microbes evoking my own utopian hopes for a society based on a symbiotic relation between human beings and the rest of nature.

The author of previous environmental blockbusters, from Heat to Feral, then applies his fierce intellect and rich empathy to answering the question posed in the subtitle of the work - can we feed billions of human beings without wiping out the world’s wildlife, and without undermining the complex life support systems that we call nature?

Monbiot is in search of real, global solutions, and these are foregrounded while the existential problems of our food systems are nonetheless addressed head on. 

Monbiot is in search of real, global solutions, and these are foregrounded while the existential problems of our food systems are nonetheless addressed head on. Monbiot’s classically structured ‘journey of discovery’ involves a series of meetings with real grassroots farmers and food producers who have mud under their fingernails and who are beating a path to a future food system that is regenerative and productive.

The description of the current state of our food system is extremely unsettling. Monbiot’s Twitter biography says “the corpse at every wedding, the bride at every funeral”.

Epitaph

He has long been the intellectual canary is an increasingly uninhabitable mine. A major strength of the book is that it presents a systems theory analysis of our food systems in a way that is accessible.

We hear how issues of uniformity, modularity and contagion within a network all apply to the global food industry. If we heed the warning from the financial collapse of 2008, a complex system degrading towards chaos, we can avoid a food systems collapse that could cost millions of lives.

Regenesis means ‘new birth’ or ‘renewal’. It is very nearly a neologism - it has been used as the title of a science fiction novel, the name of a youth group in Canada and even a Genesis tribute band.

But it is a term and a concept that needs to become the very definition of human connectivity to nature, including our relationships with each other. Monbiot is clear that this means total, world-historical systems change. We cannot let ‘the Anthropocene’ become our planetary epitaph.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, and a member of the editorial team of the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine, where this article first appeared. You can buy the book from Penguin.

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