Findhorn College is fortunate to have worked with many leading thinkers in sustainability. We caught up with Daniel Christian Wahl to find out more about his background and learn about his plans for the future.
Findhorn College (FC): What sparked your involvement with the sustainability movement?
Daniel: Growing up in Cold War Germany, I began by joining marches against nuclear weapons. Later, I became a marine mammal researcher, but quickly realised I would need to work with my own species and its unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, if I wanted my grandchildren to live in a world still with whales and dolphins. This set me on a path of learning about sustainable design from a whole systems perspective.
FC: How would you summarise your work to date?
D: I’ve spent more than 20 years’ studying sustainability at the local, regional and global scale and I’m still an apprentice on the path. I work at the intersection between formal and non-formal education, strategic consultancy, activism and journalism.
Following a post-doc at the University of Dundee, I worked at Findhorn College, collaborating with a number of universities to run field-study visits. Alongside Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, we created the MSc in Sustainable Community Design. This brought students to Findhorn to do two of their course modules, led by College staff. While at Findhorn, I also helped to set up the UNITAR Training Centre ‘CIFAL Findhorn’.
Since moving to Majorca, I’ve been a consultant for companies like Ecover, Lush and the local tourism industry as well as for the UK Government and the International Futures Forum. I have written curriculum and taught on sustainability for a number of organisations and design schools around Europe.
I also work part-time as Gaia Education’s ‘Head of Innovation’, developing a range of teaching tools to help organisations implement the United Nation’s ‘Sustainable Development Goals’. In 2016 I published my first book, ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’, so I now find myself getting lots of wonderful invitations to speak at conferences!
FC: What role do you see education centres like Findhorn College and eco-villages such as Findhorn more widely playing in addressing some of the issues we face today?
D: Formal education is bound by the rules of universities, which tend to move at a glacial pace. With many crises converging, we need a new kind of education. Innovation in education, or any field for that matter, tends to be at its most creative on the fringe. With the innovators then eventually informing and even infiltrating the mainstream.
Education centres like Findhorn College are test-fields for a (r)evolution in education. Being located within an intentional, experimental community with more than 50 years’ experience in exploring new ways of living and working gives Findhorn College an opportunity to offer embodied, experiential learning activities where the whole community becomes a classroom. So much is learned by cultural osmosis and through direct human relationships and interactions. Front-loaded traditional lecture formats become the exception rather than the standard practice. There is something about ecovillage based living and learning centres that lets the place and the local culture do a big part of the work in truly transformative education.
FC: You recently became a father. What are your hopes for the next generation?
D: That’s a tough question! As a climate and environmental scientist doing future scenario work, I’ve looked at the data and it’s not pretty. My answer to your question will be different depending on whether I am having a pessimistic or and optimistic day. I am often reminded that Einstein supposedly said that he was a pessimist for the 21st Century and an optimist for the 22nd. That might be a realistic way of seeing the path ahead. We have to understand that our work is beyond our lifetime. We have to adopt the practise of the Iroquoi Confederacy; by considering every decision with the wellbeing of the seventh as yet unborn generation in mind.
My hope for my daughter Lucia is that by the time it is her generation’s turn to steer humanity towards a thriving future of diverse regenerative cultures, they will at least be beyond the point at which things, however bad they are; are beginning to improve. I want that generation to receive a world from us that has more forests, more top-soil, cleaner oceans and healthier ecosystems than the one we received from our parents. That is a tall wish and means we have to all work together to make it so.
Incremental change won’t do. We need a course correction, a new cultural narrative that reminds us that as life, we humans are capable of creating conditions conducive to life. We can become responsible key-stone species in the community of life and begin to undo the damage we have done and regenerative healthy ecosystems everywhere. As one of my mentors, David Orr, once said: “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”
FC: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
This year is for two things: starting work on my next book and being at home to spend time with my wife and daughter. In the end, what kind of regenerative culture would I be promoting, if I did so at the cost of my daughter not having her dad in close proximity? I am prioritising my immediate family over my compulsion to “save the world” for now. In October, I will be bringing my family back to Findhorn for a week, as I am scheduled to give a TEDx talk in the Universal Hall on October 13th. Hope to see you there!
Daniel is an international consultant and educator specialising in biologically-inspired whole systems design and transformative innovation. Daniel’s book Designing Regenerative Cultures is out now. You can read more by Daniel at medium.com.