How do we regenerate Duluth?

Tone Lanzillo

In her article entitled The Science of Self-Repair: Regeneration Research at Whitehead Institute, Greta Friar wrote, "Living things have to be resilient to survive." Friar talks about how certain animals have the power to regenerate. From worms and starfish to lizards and salamanders, they can replace damaged parts of their bodies or grow a whole new body from a small surviving piece.   

In reading about how these animals, as well as human tissues and organs, can regenerate themselves, and how this ability to regenerate contributes to something becoming more resilient, I find myself wondering how our city can respond to the loss and damages that we're experiencing during this climate emergency. How could we create spaces for regeneration and become a more resilient city?   

Recently, there have been major rainfalls and flooding in Scotland, Ireland, Ghana and Vietnam. The global atmospheric temperatures and sea surface temperatures hit new highs in September. It was also reported that the Amazon River fell to its lowest level in over a century due to the drought in Brazil. And the global atmospheric CO2 level is now at 416.43 ppm. When I was born in 1954, the level was 313.20 ppm.   

Millions of us from around the world are experiencing more intensive and destructive climate events. And these events are creating more challenges and obstacles to protecting our environment and the public's health as well as our children and future generations. So, through the process of regeneration, how does Duluth respond and adapt to these climate events?   

One of the pioneers in the regeneration movement to address climate change is Paul Hawken. In his book Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one generation, Hawken presents a list of questions that serves as guidelines to the actions we must take to embrace what he calls the "fundamental principle of regeneration."   

Does the action create more life or reduce it? Does it heal the future or steal the future? Does it enhance human well-being or diminish it? Does it restore land or degrade it? Does it prevent disease or profit from it? Does it increase global warming or decrease it? Does it serve human needs or manufacture human wants? Does it reduce poverty or expand it? Is the activity extractive or regenerative?   Given that Duluth will be experiencing more severe climate impacts in our region for the foreseeable future - including microplastics and algae blooms in Lake Superior, higher CO2 levels and temperatures, longer droughts and an increased number of air quality alerts, we must explore how Duluth can hopefully weather the storm of these ongoing challenges to the health and welfare of our city by the lake.  

Whether it's our city government, the Chamber of Commerce, local school board, or the healthcare industry, all of us have to reflect upon Hawken's questions and ask how we can help regenerate Duluth. It's becoming clearer that through regeneration we give ourselves a better chance of creating a more resilient city.  

When we think about our transportation system and simply construct more and wider roads, along with parking lots and spaces for cars, how are we contributing to higher CO2 levels and global warming?  

When we're planning new developments and construction projects, along with rehabbing buildings and historic preservation, what approaches will help us restore the land instead of just degrading it?   

When we continue to bring in all of our food products from out-of-town instead of cultivating urban farming and local gardens in our region, are we enhancing human well-being or diminishing it?  

So, how do we regenerate Duluth? We begin with having more public conversations with our city's leaders about our city's climate future. We support the expansion of climate education in our schools. We encourage the local media to do more stories about climate change and its growing impact upon Duluth.   This week, UMD's Office of Sustainability and Institute on the Environment will be hosting "Our Climate Futures." It's a conference for the faculty, students and community leaders to explore how Duluth can promote climate justice and address the needs of our most vulnerable populations. Hopefully, this event will give us another opportunity to seriously consider some of Hawken's questions about regeneration and help our city become just a little more resilient, sustainable and environmentally just.