Daniel Wahl is the author of Designing Regenerative Cultures. He’s an expert in catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Daniel lives on Mallorca.
(A brief note: Daniel mentions lots of worthwhile organisations. For your reading pleasure, links to these and other useful websites are gathered together at the bottom of this post.)
As we head into 2020, many of us are thinking about the future of our planet and specifically Mallorca and the Balearics. The burning question we’re asking is what we can do to help protect and preserve places we love that have been good to us. After Charlie, a partner in Charles Marlow, mentioned Daniel’s work to me, we contacted him and had a free-ranging conversation about what regenerative culture means for Mallorca and the Balearics.
We should start by defining what ‘regenerative’ means in this context. It’s the next step after ‘sustainability’ and refers to adopting ways of healing and renewing the land and seas we depend upon to survive. But it also has a broader meaning. There’s an element of hope to regenerative culture that has to do with changing the aspects of society such as inequality, greed, egotism and mindless consumerism which have led to the need to regenerate our environment.
As Daniel writes, ‘There is nothing less at stake than the future of our species, much of the diversity of life, and the continued evolution of consciousness. If we achieve this ‘momentous leap’ (Graves, 1974) in human self-awareness, what lies ahead of us is the promise of a truly regenerative, collaborative, just, peaceful and equitable human civilization that flourishes and thrives in its diverse cultural and artistic expressions while restoring ecosystems and regenerating resilience locally and globally. The best of our music, art, poetry and technology will be an elegant expression of the symbiotic unity of nature and culture.’
But he is hopeful. He also writes, ‘We can co-create a world that works for all of humanity and all of life. We are capable of vibrant and diverse cultural expressions of the profoundly transformative insight that we are the eyes of the world.’
Charlie has been on the journey towards getting more involved for the past six months or so. He wants to explore ways that Charles Marlow’s business can help play a part in the regeneration of the Balearics. The rentals side of Charles Marlow’s business is part of the tourist industry and real estate a major player in the economy, so he feels a sense of responsibility. As he says, ‘My intrigue is growing rapidly’. I, too, am trying to find a way to contribute.
For people like Charlie and me – and you perhaps – the question is where do we start? We began by meeting Daniel online.
A brief biography of Daniel
I kicked things off by asking Daniel how he began his crusade. ‘I wouldn’t call it a crusade he said. More a normal human survival response to avoid running off a cliff.’
Daniel is German. He left that country in the early 90s to study marine biology in Edinburgh and worked as a marine biologist until he realised that ‘I could spend my life studying a particular species of dolphin that will probably become extinct if I don’t deal with the upstream problem, which is my own species. I got involved with trying to live the solution rather than be part of the problem.’
He began with permaculture and ecovillages and also spent some time in a VW van visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales and environmental education centres around Europe. While living in the Alpujarras in Andalusia, mainland Spain, in the late 90s/early 2000s, he attempted to set up an ecovillage and education centre but, he said, ‘I really didn’t know enough yet’.
Daniel did a masters in holistic science at Schumacher College, followed by a PhD on ‘Design for Human and Planetary Health’. Wanting to put what he’d learned into practice, he lived at Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland and ran Findhorn College. Here, he worked with many universities and also with the UN and the British government. In 2010, he moved to Mallorca.
Why did you move to the Med, Daniel?
I spent childhood holidays in the Med and very quickly realized that it’s a far more pleasurable place to live than northern Europe. Mallorca attracted me because it’s a very interesting size to explore bioregional transformation. If you want to design a more regenerative system, you can’t really do it at the scale of a small community. You have to include the region.
Mallorca’s just the perfect case study for that. It’s big enough to be realistic and small enough to be manageable. Palma’s a sizeable enough city for a case study and there’s a well-defined bioregion around Palma.
Because Mallorca’s an island, there are no arguments around where the region stops. It gets plenty of international attention so it could become an enormously important example for other places around the Med and the Mediterranean climate zone so it’s relevant for California, Australia and other places.
You’ve managed to connect with a remarkable range of people. Who are the people you’re working with to effect change?
Over the last nine years I’ve worked with administrations from different political parties here. In 2011 I helped to set up a course in sustainable community design at Son Rullan, near Deià. Here I met local activists, and other initiatives grew. I’ve worked with big businesses, including Ecover, the Belgian detergent company, and through the tourism innovation cluster Balears.t with many of the large hotel chains, Camp Mallorqui and Emaya. I helped Prof. Tomeu Serra at the UIB to set up the S.M.A.R.T. UIB project, collaborated on two films about resilience on Mallorca and one on getting Out of Plastics. I brought Lush Cosmetics onto the island to work on regenerative almond growing and as a result they funded some Grup Balear d’Ornitologia (GOB) bird protection projects. I was involved with the Camis de Lluc project, the launch of 4th Sector Mallorca, la Akademia Palma and Serendipia.
There’s plenty more but the essence of my work is to make connections across all levels from tech to education to social issues, try to bring people out of silos and share expertise, data and experience but, more importantly, co-create meaningful futures together.
What have you done most recently?
At the end of 2019, I gave a keynote speech at a conference on circular tourism, speaking to the potential we have if we brought the main tourist players in the Balearics together and made them understand they have to change their business model because it’s entirely dependent on cheap flights. They need to risk manage their portfolios on the islands by becoming partners in renewable energy cooperatives, local organic food cooperatives, building a renewable transport system and so on.
If we could make Mallorca and Ibiza the first islands to go combustion engine free, it would be huge. We already have the media attention . It could become a model for the world. But we need to work with a large industry that can finance or co-finance such audacious projects.
Charles Marlow’s business is selling and renting high end real estate. The rentals side of things is, in effect, part of the tourism industry. One of the big questions for Charlie is how to build bridges between Charles Marlow and the people in your network. We wondered how this could happen.
It’s a big question. The real estate industry is a major problem to one extent because a huge amount of houses are empty for large parts of the year and Airbnb has caused rents to shoot up and become unaffordable for many locals. There are obscene levels of inequality in Mallorca. So the idea of someone like Charlie wanting to build bridges is great.
But, if you work as a bridge builder between camps that sometimes don’t like or dismiss each other, the danger is you get shot at from both sides. It’s one of the big problems here in Mallorca.
For example, we need the work of TIRME but some activists see them as the devil – the evil people who burn our rubbish. But someone needs to deal with rubbish and, before the current system was put in place, the mountain of landfill grew every year. Now we officially have zero landfill and recycling is rising rapidly. We’re so trained to look for the mistake and waste time ‘othering’ people, but we should just be getting on with it.
It’s much easier to make a course correction when you’ve already started working together. We’ve wasted a lot of time in political infighting when we are literally all in the same boat, well, on the same island!
Do you see change happening?
I see that many land and property owners on Mallorca and Ibiza are wanting to make a difference now. For example, Bruno Entrecanales at Son Moragues or Benjamin Miles at Son Amar want to demonstrate that change is possible. Ben Goldsmith helped set up both the Mallorca and Ibiza Preservation Funds. A Dutch family that owns houses on Mallorca and Ibiza recently helped create Marilles Foundation, aimed at protecting the ocean around the Balearics. Save the Med has been doing amazing work, supported by foreigners like Stefan Hearst and locals such as the Fluxa family (Camper and Iberostar).
There’s huge potential to work with high net worth individuals who are buying property on Mallorca to help in the process of creating an island that’s a case study for regional regeneration. And it’s happening! There are plenty of amazing projects doing good work: Poc-a-poc, Carbon Circle, PermaMed, Artifex Balears, Ecotxe and many others.
What else is needed?
What’s missing is an independent place that does the research or coordinates what’s being done by already existing bodies. But, until we’ve sorted funding, this would be a labour of love where you bang your head against many walls and many closed doors, working with next to nothing. Resourcing the network weavers would be critically important.
Personally, I’m linking into the larger international initiatives that could support the regeneration of Mallorca through capacity building and possibly help in securing funding off island. To name some of my close collaborators on regeneration projects in many places: the Capital Institute and their Regenerative Communities Network, the Ecosystems Restoration Camp Foundation, the Commonland Foundation and Gaia Education .
The Regenerative Communities Network works at a bioregional level with all stakeholders to address the question of how we create regenerative bioregional economies. They’ve been asking me to register Mallorca as part of the network for a long time. Mallorca would be a wonderful model. But we need the funding.
What does the future look like to you?
For me, it’s about building partnerships between industry, local and regional government, the university and many of the grassroots players already doing the work. This could create enormous business opportunities for the regional economy and enable diversity beyond the current addiction to tourism. That’s why I’ve opened up the regenerative tourism conversation again.
Because the obvious people to fund making Mallorca part of the Regenerative Communities Network are the feudal families of the Balearics who’ve become billionaires thanks to the beauty of these islands. These are the people who say they’re proud Mallorcans but keep investing in Asia or the Caribbean. I’m saying to them that the patriarchs of Meliá, Iberostar, Barcelo, Riu and the like have already exported a model of tourism to the world that’s not sustainable.
Now they have an opportunity to build a healthier legacy by making Mallorca a model for regenerative tourism and transferring what we learn here to touristic regions around the world. With more than 80% of the regional economy dependent on tourism, the only way to shift this island is to shift tourism.
Tourism won’t be the same in 10 years’ time if it engages now. It’s a major transformational process but it’s worth it.
We should also create spaces with good facilitators where we redefine what feeling Mallorcan is really about, where people can meet and enter into a heart space of listening to each other. Culture changes when connections are made.
In 2013, while advising the German entrepreneur who set up Escola Global on the island, I had the idea of creating a ‘United Nations of the Children’ on Mallorca. The idea was that every three months or so, we’d invite a boy and girl from each of the nationalities living on Mallorca as representatives of their culture on the island along with their parents. But the parents would be on the outer circle and only listen. This diverse group of locally resident children would then get a chance to playfully envision the future they want for the island. In the process we would bridge the divides between the bubbles on the island, between Deià and Son Gotleu – a poor barrio of Palma. We never realized this project but I still think it’s a good idea. If things get tougher in the future, bridging those sorts of divides is what might save our vegan alternative to bacon.
From Charlie and my perspective, there are plenty of signs of hope. In 2019, Charles Marlow supported the Deià Festival de Las Artes , which was a huge success. Afterwards, one of the organisers told me that a particularly heartening aspect was meeting people who owned houses in Deià she’d never seen before who said they wanted to get involved in helping the community and protecting the landscape. Culture was the magnet for them. A lot of the people activists attack want to help, they just don’t know how to go about it.
As Charlie says, ‘It’s one of the reasons I’m hopeful about Mallorca and Ibiza. The type of people we engage with see the beauty of life. They’re buying in Deià and Ibiza because of the rich culture and beautiful environment and want to sustain and regenerate it. Right up to the billionaires, they’re looking for something that has meaning, that their money can’t buy. If these people get involved, they’re also an extremely valuable bridge between two worlds. Now, it’s about doing and not just talking.’
Buy Daniel’s book here
Read Daniel’s blog here.
Here’s Daniel’s website.
Watch Daniel discussing tourism as a catalyst for regional regeneration here. How might you be able to contribute to change?
2013 presentation at Club Diario de Mallorca
Mallorca as a case study for bioregionalism