What we can do is a series drawing inspiration from the changemakers of our time. Daze Aghaji is an environmental and wellbeing activist, artist and strategist with Extinction Rebellion.
There is no one way to tackle the climate crisis. The problem is too big, too complex. Climate action needs to be as diverse as the ecosystems it aims to save. What we can do is a series drawing inspiration from the change-makers of our time. What are they doing to help our planet? What were their first steps? What gives them hope? Climate action is needed. Here’s what we can do.
In 2016, a little-known scholar called Daniel Christian Wahl published his magnum-opus, a book called “Designing for Regenerative Cultures.”
The book attempted to connect the dots between environmental destruction and human cultures. With so much uncertainty about our planetary future, it asks the deeper questions: what is this culture we’re trying to sustain, and what would it take to redesign and organize our societies to protect, enhance and celebrate life?
Today activists are drawing on regenerative cultures as a relational and wellbeing informed approach to culture-building within climate justice movements. This builds on the ideas first introduced by Daniel Christian Wahl and others such as the veteran environmentalist Joana Macy, as well as earlier social justice movements and Indigenous concepts of land stewardship and reciprocity.
One of these activists is 23-year old youth activist Daze Aghaji. Daze is one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion youth, and in 2019 she was the youngest candidate to stand in the European Parliamentary election. In her work and activism Daze focuses on wellbeing and building a sense of collective agency through strong, supportive, regenerative cultures.
For this installment of What We Can Do, we spoke to Daze Aghaji on Zoom from her mum’s garden in London about what regenerative cultures are, and why practicing care and compassion is crucial in times of climate crisis.
How did you come to be involved with activism, and what does it look like for you?
In 2019 I was having really bad climate anxiety, in part because I felt like the general public were being lied to about how bad the climate crisis really was. A friend invited me to an Extinction Rebellion meeting, and it literally changed my life. I finally found a place where my anxiety about the climate was not met with angst or avoidance, but where I could bring my grief and find a way to turn it into action. I guess that’s also where I picked up my calling for regenerative cultures and wellbeing.
How do regenerative cultures help with climate anxiety?
When it comes to sustainability, we have to ask ourselves: what are we actually trying to sustain? This is where the call to regeneration, which means to repair or renew rather than just sustain, was really meaningful to me. In XR there’s a strong culture of regeneration and specifically regenerative cultures.
There is no one definition of a “regenerative culture” because it will look like different things to different people. That’s why we say cultures with an “s”, because there’s no one way of doing it.
That being said, the way I learnt it, practicing a regenerative culture has five main pillars; self-care, interpersonal care, community care, action care, and Earth care.
Self-care means many things, but to me it looks like exercise, movement, processing trauma, and learning how to express emotion in healthy ways. All of these things that we should be taught about our emotional wellbeing that we were never taught. In fact, many of us were actively taught to hide our emotions.
Another part of my journey of self-care has been learning how to truly grieve, and not seeing grief as something to hide from. Seeing grief and death as something to honor and as important as birth and regeneration. It literally changes the way you live life and experience the world when you do that!
Then there's the work that often people don’t want to do, and it's usually referred to as the “inner work”. For me this looked like feeding myself with knowledge and understanding from perspectives that aren't my own and asking difficult questions like “how have I personally contributed to this messed up system that we live in, and how can I not contribute to it anymore?” Especially thinking about things like racism, oppression, sexism, and white supremacy.
This process helps me to think about how I can start to be the change I want to see in the world, in my own everyday life and behaviors and ways of relating with people. It's hard work and it's work that you start and hopefully never stop doing, because it's a constant evolution.
And that’s just the first pillar! What about the others?
The second pillar is interpersonal care. How do I take these skills that I’ve learnt as a person, and bring those into my interpersonal relationships? How can I bring myself to have difficult conversations, how do I support people, and ask for support when I need it?
The third pillar is community care. Bringing these learnings into my community, not just 1-1 but as a neighborhood, as a school, as a community group, as a family, as friends — asking myself how can I bring love, care and compassion into those places?
Action care, the fourth pillar, is so called because it’s made for activists, but the way I see it is how do we care for each other when times are rough, when we’re really in a crisis. Do we decide to be selfish and individualistic, or do we decide to be there for our community, and prioritize the wellbeing of the most vulnerable
That’s when we get onto the last one, which is Earth care. It’s one of the most important but can’t really be done unless we change the way we treat ourselves and our communities.
We have to recognize that this crisis is a crisis of a lack of care, lack of beauty, lack of love. How do we learn how to care for the Earth when we can’t even do that with ourselves and our communities? So the final one is how to bring all of these learnings into loving the Earth.
And that’s regenerative cultures.
I can see that it’s a very alive concept which can be interpreted and adapted. I wanted to come back to the topic of climate anxiety and ask how this method or this framework for thinking about who we can be in times of climate crisis is a balm or a solution for climate anxiety?
I love to talk about climate anxiety because it’s so common and it’s something that especially young people are experiencing a lot. Anxiety is quite a normal response to feeling hopeless and disempowered.
I think the only way we can change this is by creating spaces for young people to be vulnerable about what they are experiencing and the fears they have for the future, but without getting stuck there but actually moving through these feelings in order to be inspired to do something different.
This can be on different scales, like reminding ourselves and each other to stop doom scrolling and go outside, plant some seeds, see them grow. It’s about finding ways to create control by consciously working towards the better world that you’re hoping to be part of.
Yes, recognising that climate action can happen from the micro to the macro. Planting the seeds, building a culture of care in your family and groups that you’re part of, and then scaling that to the more collective level, all of these are good tonics for climate anxiety.
Not everyone is going to be Greta Thunberg! And that’s OK. It’s all about working out what part we can play. Maybe the top of your scale is organizing some really badass guerilla gardening in your community, and that’s amazing.
Exactly, we can't all play the same role. And actually, if we did, it would be, well, a monoculture. So lastly, I wanted to touch on what regenerative cultures have to offer as a path forward?
The last time I experienced a wave of climate grief was after the realization that we might not solve it in time. I realize that it’s very bleak and most people don’t want to hear that, and of course there’s also a lot of hope, but there’s a lot of damage already locked in.
Regenerative cultures work is about cultivating the kinds of useful skills that we need to see more of in society, whatever happens. They teach us how to live in community, how to garden and grow food, how to have generative conflict. In those moments, we could fall into what society often assumes we are, selfish and competitive, or we can take a slower, calmer, more level-headed approach, and practice some of the mutual aid that humans have shown time and time again we’re capable of.
That’s what I love about regenerative cultures, that at its core it’s about resilience.
What can someone reading this take away as inspiration or next steps?
The most pragmatic and sensible thing to do right now as a human on this Earth is to envision what a better future might look like. Be bold! Then figure out what the next steps are to getting there.