Future Visions: Fictionalising Climate Change with the Ministry of the Future

Every so often you read a book that changes how you see the world. The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson is one of those books.

Author of a score of sci-fi (or cli-fi) novels — many with a climate bent, where scientists and policy makers are often the unlikely heroes — this 2020 novel has been a hit during the World Economic Forum meetings at Davos in Switzerland which happen every year.

A Barack Obama TOP PICK

Barack Obama's tweet on his 2020 list of favorite books, including The Ministry of the Future
Barack Obama tweeted his favorite books of the year, which included The Ministry for the Future

 It seems the anyone who knows anything about climate knows about this book, so clearly I’m a bit slow off the mark. Late last year, two colleagues asked simply if I had read ‘The Ministry…’ Then I read a full-page interview with Robinson in the Financial Times

Described as a cult author, his ‘speculative fiction can offer real-life solutions to the climate crisis.’

More than that,  ‘Robinson has become a sounding board for politicians, economists and climate negotiators eager for his take on fringe ideas’. These include things like pumping water under glaciers to stop them melting or “‘carbon quantitative easing’ whereby central banks would pay the worst polluters to stop.’

Whooaaaggh. A fiction author influencing global policy?

Now, this piqued my interest. 

I’ve always loved novels. Then March 2020 happened. The world fell off a cliff and fiction seemed pointless… the world around me was more weird than any novel I could lay my hand on. 

Since then I’ve only been able to finish one slim novel… that is until I started Ministry of the Future. I devoured it. Now I’m reading Robinson’s backlist.  (He’s my official ‘author crush’.) 

As an author myself (I’ve written fiction and non-fiction), it’s fascinating to read his earlier work because I can see all the preparation that had to happen in his less good early novels in order to make this latest one sooooo good. You can see that it’s a book that has been 25+ years in the making. 

caring for the next generations

In brief, the book, spanning multiple continents and numerous points of view, is about the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. 

At the heart is the eponymous Ministry for the Future, an international organisation whose job is to represent the interests of future generations in the face of increasing environmental devastation. It is set in the current and near future, so it feels like you are reading a slice of reality… except it’s told at a slant. 

Despite the topic, Robinson writes with humour… teasing out the idea that ‘it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

Cover of Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future book
Cover of Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future

How characters bring the climate crisis to life

His characters are sharply drawn and offbeat: a doctor fleeing a war zone, a migrant holed inside a refugee camp for years, a young man enslaved on a fishing trawler who’s rescued by masked eco-terrorists.  

There are really only two characters you inhabit deeply in the story but it’s the fact that he writes from so many points of view that leaves you with a dizzying global perspective. It’s a whole-of-systems novel (very regenerative), where you experience life from all perspectives, including that of an atom.

Popularising scary scientific concepts

Image designed by W. Larry Kenney from Earth Sky journal.
Image designed by W. Larry Kenney from Earth Sky journal.

But it’s the scientific concept of ‘wet bulb temperature’ which Robinson describes in such a terrifying and realistic way that has caught the imagination. Previously buried in a 2010 scientific paper, this true-life phenomena happens when air temperatures rise at the same time as humidity, making it difficult and then impossible for people to sweat. 

If humans can’t sweat, we die. 

While this scientific concept was known, it was only through Robinson’s vivid portrayal of a mass Indian heatwave that policymakers understood the implications of this as a result of rising global temperatures. 

As the Financial Times notes, ‘Ministry is like the first mass-market, general cultural publication of this idea that is quite obvious.’ (Likely, too, that Australian business magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest knows of this concept. Last September he said, ‘It’s business which is causing global warming…  it’s business which is responsible for lethal humidity.’)

If it all sounds a bit bleak … stay with it.

The Ministry of the Future is also incredibly hopeful — even though there is hell to go through to get us there. Ultimately the story is about the power of human ingenuity, courage, and willpower to reimagine a much better, fairer, world and a fundamental reimagining of society and its values.

3 WAYS fiction can help us imagine a better world

  1. Humans are sensory beings. We understand the world through sight, touch, sound, smell and taste. When we read great fiction we are able to experience other people’s lives, as if they were our own. This creates real empathy. We genuinely care about characters and what happens to them.
  2. Fiction is great at world-building. Especially genres like speculative fiction, where authors spend a lot of time creating the world of their characters — giving the reader that sense of visceral immersion.
  3.  ‘Near future fiction’ plays with your sense of reality. The novel starts in 2025 when ‘the big heat wave strikes India’. And yet as I was reading it, some of the weather events described in the novel — atmospheric rivers for example — were on the nightly news. In February 2024, millions of Californians were under flood alerts amid warnings of excessive rainfall as ‘a powerful atmospheric river sat over Southern California’.

Robinson does a good job in mixing dollops of scientific information (or exposition as it’s known in novel-writing) with a plot that carries you forward. You need to stay with it and don’t be put off by the size. It’s worth it… It’s a book that I can feel in my bones. There aren’t many like that. 

But I am glad, after my own fiction drought, this one brought rain… and immense hope. There’s power in imagination that might just save us all. 

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

Doing community regeneratively

A photo taken by Aden shows the regenerative community of Tarbert - a row of pink, blue and white houses reflected in the water of the harbour, and green hills in the background.

Community — what does it look like for you? It’s something that I keep thinking about as we travel and stay in different places. What sort of community/communities do I want to be part of? To invest emotionally. To cheer on. To rely upon. 

Island communities buying land together (rural Scotland). Knitting groups and wellbeing walks in the city (central London). Wild swimming Wednesdays (Sheffield). In-person. Online. WhatsApp groups. There are many ways to do community. 

 Here are three examples that I’ve glimpsed upon recently. Each has regenerative aspects.

Community-owned castle: Inner Hebrides of western Scotland

We were staying near a small pretty harbour town called Tarbert (see above photo). It’s got a ruined castle: not unusual in this part of the world! The signage proudly describes how Tarbert Castle Heritage Park is ’owned by the community and entirely cared for by volunteers.’ 

They do the fun stuff: senior pupils from Tarbert Academy illustrated Medieval characters on the historical displays; and the less fun stuff: picking up litter and emptying waste bins. 

As a way to increase biodiversity of the castle ruins, the community have created a woodland and orchard, and own a flock of Hebridean sheep to keep the grass cut. They’ve partnered with a local supermarket and rely on donations to ‘achieve their sustainable maintenance plan’. 

I like the fact that the community are flipping the script on ownership and how well they’ve thought it through (including using sheep to regenerate the land). Their sense of pride is palpable. Even as a passing visitor, you sense it. 

A picture taken of Hebridean. They are used in the regenerative community of Tarbert.
Hebridean sheep. © Pinterest.

Community buy-out: Island of Gigha

Not far from Tarbert is the tiny island of Gigha (pronounced Gere, as in Richard). Scotland is notorious for absentee landlords. When the entire island came up for sale in 2001, the islanders clubbed together to buy it. 

With support from grants and loans from the Scottish government (via the National Lottery and another enterprise), they raised the millions of pounds required. From soup ‘n’ sandwich days to quiz nights and ‘sponsored rows around the island’ they made their vision a reality. According to the Gigha website, this put them ‘in the vanguard of the Scottish land reform movement.’ 

Clearly, they needed a structure and proper  governance to make it work. The Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust was formed. Its aim: to promote ‘community regeneration, employment and sustainability.’ 

A photo taken by Claire shows the regenerative community owned island Gigha - the green hilly landscape with some small houses nestled in the middle and the sea behind.
Dramatic landscape of the island Gigha.
A photo taken by Claire of a white sand beach in Gigha - the regenerative community owned island. Sunny blue sky spotted with fluffy clouds, turquoise clear water and white sand below.
A beautiful beach in Gigha.

‘The Island is part of me’

Island life might not be perfect. But this short clip gives you a flavour — watch it for the hypnotic Scottish accent. When we spent the day there (travelling via ferry), we were lucky to get a table at the renowned restaurant on the island, the Boathouse. The campsite was busy and so was the tourist trade. 

The islanders have overhauled run-down housing and the population decline has been reversed. Plus, they have a viable long-term income through their four wind turbines, selling renewable energy to the mainland grid with all profits ploughed back into the Trust. (According to their website, back in 2004, Gigha was ‘the first community-owned grid-connected windfarm in Scotland.’)

Regeneration: creating a sense of care in the community 

According to an article on the Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, not only has ‘community ownership built local self-confidence…. It’s changed the way people on Gigha relate to nature and one another.’ This speaks to the regenerative quality of care. So much easier to care about where we live if we have a vested interest in the place itself. (Another way we talk about this in regen is ‘place-sourced potential’: a bit jargon-ny, I know.)  

Green spaces and heatmaps

We left Scotland reluctantly. But now my husband Aden and I are finding our ‘London legs’, staying in Bloomsbury.  Just in the past day, I’ve seen a host of signs that point to the community initiatives here. From the Marchmont Community Centre to ‘improve the quality of life of local residents’, to farmers markets (everywhere in London these days, like in Sydney), to awareness about heatmaps. (Inevitably the less green in a city, the hotter they become. You can chart the hot-spots through heatmaps.) 

City community does things differently. In central London the garden squares create a focal point. I’ve missed Bloomsbury’s ‘tell the stories behind the trees’ event. But I’m signing up for the ‘wellbeing walk’ to increase my weekly step count. Last night our lovely 94-y-o neighbour, Betty, invited us for drinks. (Lovely, as we are only here a week!) She told us ALL about the colourful characters she’s known living here since 1976. 

Each place has certainly given me ideas on how I want to see communities thrive. 

What about you? How does community feed and nourish your life and work? Thoughts? Stories? 

Taken by Claire the image of a sign for a Farmers Market in Bloomsbury, London.
A picture taken of a sign for 'wellbeing' walks in the area of Bloomsbury.
"Not a guided tour".

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

Cautious or curious. Which are you?

A image taken by Claire at The Do Lectures Festival of AI generated cartoons of a 'superhero puppy'.

This is both a cautionary tale and a tale of curiosity. 

What this isn’t, is a debate on the rights or wrongs of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI). There’s been A LOT written about that and I don’t feel qualified to talk about it. Instead this is a narrow aperture of using AI and seeing what it can do.

You’ll notice the photo above of two creatures. On the left is a weird, slightly scary Gothic dog-thing, wearing a twisted superhero outfit. On the right, is a pretty cute puppy, also wearing a red and yellow hero suit. Canine features are discernible: button-brown eyes, floppy ears, paws. 

Chris Branch, Founder and Marketing Director of Seedily, shared this image at the start of his presentation at the DO lectures (read here about DO if you missed that post). He used the two photos to illustrate how fast AI is evolving. 

While he covered AI across all media, he particularly focused on ChatGPT (for text) and Midjourney (for images). 

”This is a decentralised form of creativity,” Chris said. “Your idea can be a single idea and 30 seconds later you have a way to represent that one idea in many ways.”

Reluctantly on the journey

Midjourney, Magazine Cover - the AI art programme. It shows 'MidJourney' in capital letters. The background is a woman's face, pixled and with blue, red and yellow spots.
The Midjourney magazine cover.

Last year, Midjourney, an AI program and platform, made headlines when their free trial version was shut down because of ”extraordinary demand and trial abuse” said founder David Holz. I totally missed it, but deep fake photos of Pope Francis decked in a white puffer jacket and sporting a diamond chain went viral. 

In the words of BBC journalist, Alex Hughes, Midjourney, like other AI art programs “isn’t without its controversies”. However, continues Hughes, it leads in painting and Gothic/sci-fi inspired artwork, as well as regular updates “in techniques and advancements in its training database.”

This is where the puppy comes in. 

Getting the experts in early

During his talk Chris Branch said that the first 20,000 users of Midjourney were art directors from around the world – all part of the ‘training database’. He explained that the same prompt – along the lines of ‘puppy dressed as a superhero’ – was used in June 2022 and a year later, in June 2023. 

As you can see. The results are exponentially different. 

A year after testing and learning, harnessing global expert feedback, refining the technology, the AI-generated puppy image is transformed. 

No wonder there are likely to be new jobs coming, titled ‘Prompt engineer’. 

Rabbit wearing pom-pom-toque and red-white-sequined-christmas-scarf, in the snow, art in the style of jon klassen and atey ghailan.
The prompt: rabbit wearing pom-pom-toque and red-white-sequined-christmas-scarf, in the snow, art in the style of Jon Klassen and Atey Ghailan.
AI Generated pictures displayed on a projector screen. Left: headphones, a boy, Spider Man mask, football boots, The Joker at a picnic.
AI generated pictures.

Putting ChatGPT to work

About a year ago, when OpenAI ChatGPT3 launched, I typed in, ‘what is a regenerative business?’ In about 10 seconds it spat out an okay answer: vague, wordy, lacking any specificity. Still, I was impressed how it described an abstract concept. After that I switched off. As a writer, the ethical minefield of AI felt too deep to navigate. 

But I’m a pragmatist. 

So, a few weeks ago I thought it would be fun to experiment. I asked my niece Imogen Scobie, who supports me with social, to attend an online course. Lazy Discipline ChatGPT Edition is run by David Hieatt/DO lectures. Imogen got a first class degree in philosophy and is fascinated by the ethics question of AI.

Here’s the 3-step process Imogen took. 

Step 1: She created what David calls ‘Anchor Notes’ – a document giving the relevant context and prompt. In this case, says Imogen, “I started with a description of who Claire is and what she wants her LinkedIn posts to achieve. Then I wrote a piece of content in Claire’s writing style.” 

Step 2: Then she input that content PLUS an example of somebody else’s writing style. ‘In the style of…’ gives ChatGPT added context and a specific example to work with.

Step 3: Finally, she gave ChatGPT a prompt like: “Write three versions of this in the style of Claire so that it is more engaging and appealing for LinkedIn”. Imogen could then choose which versions she liked. “I also asked ChatGPT to alter the style, tone down the adjectives or make it more appealing to LinkedIn’s algorithm.”. 

While the results were pretty good, we both felt the posts were overwritten. (And btw, we haven’t published them yet. We’ll let you know if we do!)  

Imogen’s 3 top takeaways: 

  1. Use ChatGPT as a tool to make the quality of your copy better. Not as a quick fix. You might not save time, but you will be more efficient at coming up with better ideas… 
  2. “The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life”. Success in using Chat GPT comes down to the context you provide and the prompt you ask it. If you ask ChatGPT an unclear question, you will get a vague response. 
  3. It’s you versus you. Get better at being you, instead of trying to be like everyone else! At the end of the day, ChatGPT cannot write better than you can. 
Taken from the Do Lectures Lazy Discipline, ChatGPT Edition course on AI. Large writing in white with a background of a beach at dusk.

Decentralised creativity

Imogen and I would love to know how you are navigating AI. 

Are you running towards it, or veering away? Are you being honest when you use it (i.e. quite a few people have shared how they write their posts or emails with it). 

Is it a way to become more creative? If you’re experimenting, what are you discovering? 

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

Caring: Regeneration in Action

A picture taken by Claire of the stunning coastline of Prussia Cove, Cornwall. To the left, clear turquoise water meets the steep cliff edge. The coastline is covered in green grass and pink flowers.

This week I’ve been on holiday walking some of the South West Coastal Path in Cornwall. Unlike in much of the UK, we’ve had glorious sunshine on this rugged peninsula. (The long winter I mentioned in my last post, a distant memory.) 

The Coastal Path is actually many paths. They are narrow and you walk pressed between wild flowers: magenta foxgloves, white cow parsley, wild gladioli, giant daisies. Walking gives me time to reflect, ponder and percolate ideas. Quietly, I’ve started to map out chapter headings for my next book. 

My friends keep asking what I’m writing about. They’re hoping for another novel. When I tell them I am writing about how we can apply regenerative principles to our work and life, they look a bit disappointed. 

But, that’s okay. I reckon, once they read what I’m learning about… they’ll be interested.

A picture taken by Claire of some of the native plants with their distinctive shapes and colours. They are pink, green and dark purple with some curved and spiky leaves.
Succulents only grow outdoors here.
A photo taken by Claire of the green verge of the coastline with tall pink foxgloves. The background is a clear baby blue sky with bright sunshine.
Tall and bright pink foxgloves stand out in the sunshine.

Paul Hawken: a world-leading author in regeneration

Right now I’m in the exciting phase of interviewing people across industries and from different fields. These include economist and environmentalist, Paul Hawken, author of Regeneration: how to end the climate crisis in one generation. It’s ballsy and bold, like him. There’s an urgency and intensity in the way he talks that is captivating – and makes you believe this is possible. 

And it’s also backed up by solid research. In 2014 Hawken founded Project Drawdown. Since then he’s collaborated with over 200 researchers on dozens of climate solutions – many of which are already happening to create “the largest social movement in history.” Behind the scenes he works with heads of state and global CEOs to help them accelerate economic and ecological regeneration.

When we spoke he reminded me that, “We are innately regenerative, all 30 trillion cells in us.” 

When I pressed him for more, he said simply, “Caring is regeneration in action… Unlike a concept like sustainability, regenerative is a principle. It is a way of seeing… This regenerative impulse is in all human beings. “ 

One of the books Claire is reading to gather research on regenerative principles.
Paul Hawken: a world-leader in regen.

Nature immersion: it works.

Walking in Cornwall felt so regenerative. The profusion of flowers, warm micro-climates where palm trees, succulents and grevillea grow (frosts are rare in the southwest so these species survive the UK winter) add to the rich biodiversity. Carpets of pink “pig face” tumble off cliff faces; gulls wheel above. 

Being immersed in nature like this helped me think more deeply on how to simplify some of the regenerative theories. It seemed apt that the South West Coastal Path spits and diverges… each path has its own character… each adapting to the shape of the land that it travels. There’s a certain etiquette as you walk – you shout “runner” and step aside when a jogger barrels past, you step onto the bank when the path is particularly narrow, and let a family walk by. 

Taking the time to slow down.

All of this spoke to me of the need to be attuned to your surroundings – to the place you are in. (Place-making is essential to regenerative thinking). It’s also about slowing down and taking the time to notice the micro-moments of nature.

This card I found in the port town of Mousehole summed it up well. We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails. That is, our own sails…

By changing our way of seeing, we can achieve so much. Really we can.

A picture taken by Claire of a card. It is an artists print drawing in blue of a sail boat in the waves. Text below it reads, 'We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails'.

                                                         Over to you. What inspires you the most when you are in nature / the bush / on country? 

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

London Calling

Picture of an electric white van decorated with colourful green and blue patterns with the slogan "Soul Food on the Move".

Just landed in London. Doing some exciting work here with my UK client, Selfridges, and speaking about regenerative business models at the flagship event of London Climate Action Week.

Thought I’d share some observations while they are fresh.

1. The EV revolution is fully underway.

So many models. Cool designs. Charging plugs are on lamp posts identified by a blue light. Supermarkets also have rows of charging stations. 

While I know that EVs have issues (their use of rare earth minerals and their end-of-life disposal), the inner city benefits are obvious. Air and noise pollution are down, in part helped by a hefty congestion charge in central London. The ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ currently in place will be expanded London-wide in August to tackle the ‘triple threats of air pollution, the climate emergency and congestion.’ This can only be a good thing. 

2. Spring is late.

It’s a month from mid-summer and until today I was still sporting a beanie (woolly hat). Admittedly, Londoners are not … and with the first whiff of summer they are sunbathing in parks. But it’s been a long, cold winter and a wet, cool spring. Wonderfully, this weekend, the sun came out and May Blossom — or Hawthorn — is floating like white clouds along the hedgerows. What will this mean for summer? Hopefully not another scorcher like last year when the celsius topped 40 degrees in the UK. 

3. Worn again launches at selfridges.

Already a world leader in sustainability, Selfridges, the luxury department store has just launched its new creative scheme (see pictures below of their Oxford Street windows.) With its tagline of shopping, swapping, repairing, upcycling, and trading, Worn Again offers customers the chance to rent clothes, swap clothes AND buy pre-loved items from Reselfridges. I love the playfulness in how it does this…  through pop-ups like ‘The Stock Market’ which also has a handbag clinic to give bags a second life.

A picture taken from inside Selfridges in London. Showing a LED sign from the "Worn Again" campaign.
"Worn Again" banners hang boldly in the Oxford Street store.
A picture taken from outside Selfridges in London. A blue model to represent how Selfridges will repurpose old clothes.
All these items are second-hand and will be repurposed after display.
A photo taken from Selfridges on Oxford Street, London. It shows a sign from part of their "Worn Again" scheme - The Stock Market.
This playful approach gives a new meaning to the traditional London stock market.

4. Nature themes and schemes are popping up everywhere.

The big theme at Chelsea Flower Show this year is rewilding and the restorative powers of nature. #NoMowMay has really become a thing… this Plantlife UK initiative urges people NOT to mow their lawns to encourage wildflowers to bloom. Councils are also liberating roadside verges to encourage weeds to grow. The upshot: more food for pollinators like bees and butterflies — desperately needed as the UK has, according to Plantlife UK, ‘lost nearly 97% of flower rich meadows since the 1970’s’. 

A picture of block text on a yellow background that says "The Urban Nature Project". Taken from the Natural History Museum in London.
The signs are unmissable: nature is being welcomed back into urban life.
A picture of text from the London Natural History Museum. It starts with the sentence, "wildlife is in trouble in the UK".
Led by the Natural History Museum, who is partnering with various UK organisations, is this the start of a new urban nature movement?

5. Getting a read on London’s pulse is always tricky…

This time a year ago, the city was just waking up again after the long cold winter of Covid. Now, tourists are coming back, helped by the coronation of King Charles III and Eurovision. But inflation is high, and so are food and energy prices. Rail strikes are ongoing, with nurses and teachers walking out again soon. Footfall is down in the shops and there’s a sense of uncertainty about what lies ahead. 

From a regenerative perspective, what does this mean?

In part, I see it as cultivating the capacity to hold the tensions: staying optimistic about the positive changes already underway and staying the course when we hit the inevitable road bumps. More EVs on the streets are just one part of the massive systemic change facing a city like London. This move to bring back nature in large and small projects gives me hope. There’s also the human side of things: more connection and kindness to each other. How can we all hold a vision for the future we all want to live… while accepting that we can only get there one day at a time? Do share your thoughts. 

Say hello if you’re in London on 27 June.

I’ll be speaking on a panel Exploring Regenerative Business Models and Strategies, with the inspirational Jannine Barron, Regenerative Business Mentoring, and Galahad Clark, MD, Vivo Barefoot. 

13:00 – 13:30 at Reset Connect London, the UK’s largest (free) sustainability ecosystem and green investment event.

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up for this blog.

Systems change – and so can we

A screenshot from the 'Systems do change: Water Resilience in Mexico City' campaign. A colourful drawing of the concept of nature.

Thinking systematically is one of the hardest things I’m learning on my regenerative journey.

But it’s also one of the most needed shifts. 

Being regenerative is about better aligning with the living systems we all rely on… and understanding the impact of our actions on the WHOLE.

Are you a systems-thinker?

I reckon some people are born systems-thinkers. For my husband Aden, it comes naturally. He sees the picture and the pieces within the picture. And then often reconfigures what he sees to give another perspective. 

Aden is a proud Gumbaynggirr man from the mid-north-coast of NSW, Australia. He was brought up by eight mothers and has a vast extended family. 

His Indigenous heritage is part of what gives him a more holistic view on life. His connection to country is deep and strong. His awareness of the unseen as well as the seen — together with his ability to trust his intuition: all contribute to thinking systematically. 

Aden and a 1000-year old eucalypt in Dorrigo, Gumbaynggirr country. A systems-thinker.
Aden and a 1000-year old eucalypt in Dorrigo, Gumbaynggirr country.
Another perspective - it would take 10 people with arms stretched to circle the tree’s girth. A systems-thinker.
Another perspective - it would take 10 people with arms stretched to circle the tree’s girth.

Western thinking and Indigenous relating

Western thinking tends to dissect knowledge and siloes information. 

It is linear. 

Indigenous thinking tends to do the opposite – it connects and focuses on the relationship between people, land, the more-than-human. 

It is circular.

So much to say on this topic, but that’s for another day. (Aden and I are en route to London to spend time with my mum – I’ve just got the one mother! She’s doing well, in her mid-80s.)

Sit back and be inspired

Instead of more chat, I will leave you with this 4-minute video about how systemic change actually looks in a real-world project. 

It’s from a project located in the neighbourhood of Xochimilco in Mexico City – that has both preserved cultural practices AND restored water access in times of crisis — and done so by changing the system. One of the lead project designers was Ben Haggard, from the Regenesis institute in the US — and where I studied regenerative theory and practice. 

It’s an inspiring watch.


P.S If you are a systems-thinker and you have any tips, please share what’s really helped you. 

P.P.S If you’re interested to go deeper with regenerative thinking, enrolment has just opened for this year’s Regenesis TRP practitioner series

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

When Connection Breaks Down… Does Cruelty Follow? 

Black mother swan and her cygnets swimming on the water.

The squawks are so loud that I wonder how Jen Abbott can concentrate. But she doesn’t pause for breath. After eight years running her home-grown sanctuary “Aussie Wildlife” on the Gold Coast, she’s used to the sound of birds. From a white-throated night jar to kookaburras, kingfishers, magpie geese, and, one of her favourites, black swans, she gives them all a second chance. 

First, the nearby Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary checks any of the injured birds or abandoned chicks. Then, Jen painstakingly nurses them back to health. Every morning she is up at 4:00 am feeding, cleaning and (when needed) giving medication to the several dozen birds in her care. Then she gets back to her day job: operations support for small businesses. 

“We are one of the few carers on the Gold Coast to care for swans. It costs about $500 per swan and it takes a lot of effort.” After six months raising a cygnet, Jen releases the vulnerable bird back into the wild. She stops, shakes her head in disbelief. 

“It’s heartbreaking. There are young people out there who are deliberately running over swans in their boats and killing them. Why would you do that?”

Close up photo of a fluffy black cygnet in Jen's care.
Black cygnet in Jen's care.
Two black cygnets with fluffy grey feathers on the water.
Black cygnets on the water. Image © Geoff Ronalds.

We are all one integrated system

Since January the RSPCA have reported around ten incidents of deliberate cruelty against swans where people in boats have “tormented” and purposely driven at the birds. Gold Coast Water Police are now investigating. 

What do you put that down to? I ask Jen. 

“It’s a lack of connection. People don’t see these birds as wildlife. But they – and we – are all part of one integrated system.”

Jen is wearing a checked shirt and holding a black swan. The bird is reaching its beak down to the grass.
Jen holding a black swan.
Claire holding a poorly white-throated nightjar
Claire holding a poorly white-throated nightjar.


Take a moment to think about this. We are all part of one system. 

So often – in the West, at least – that’s not how we are taught. Here… a short historical excursion will explain why. 

Back in 1641, the French philosopher René Descartes famously separated humans from minerals, plants and animals. Humans, he declared, have a rational soul or intellect. I think therefore I am. This means that it’s only us who can feel and experience. 

As David Abram says in The Spell of the Sensuous, all other organisms “are in truth nothing more than automatons… unable to feel pleasure or suffer pain. Hence, we humans need have no scruples about manipulating [or] exploiting… other animals.” 

Abram pushes the argument further. Not only have humans used this “specialness” to justify exploitation of other organisms – but other humans as well: “other nations, other races, or simply the ‘other’ sex”. 

It sounds horribly familiar…  so how do we address this?


Regenerative thinking de-centralises the role of humans. Instead, we talk about the “more-than-human” or “other-than-human” beings that we inhabit our world with. These could be furry or feathered, scaled or many-legged. They could be from the plant or fungi or tree families. 

None of this is new to First Nations cultures. For thousands of years they have recognised –  and respected – the more-than-human. 

In one of my previous blogs I introduced you to scientist Suzanne Simard, author of Finding the Mother Tree. Simard writes about her own transformation from an objective scientist, to someone who recognised that “trees and plants have agency.” When we acknowledge this, Simard continues, we can see that “all nonhuman species… deserve as much regard as we accord ourselves. Mistreatment of one species is mistreatment of all.”

Below, young channel-billed cuckoos – migrants from Papua New Guinea – being fed.

Giving back to the planet

Walking around the aviaries with Jen Abbott, and watching as she feeds her flock, is a real eye-opener. I have the precious experience of holding a white-throated nightjar (see photo above). This quiet, shy bird is rarely seen as they live in the undergrowth in forests. After a moment of uncertainty, the bird finds its spot and sits calmly on my arm. 

Jen says she started her wildlife rehab because she “always wanted to give back to the planet… I felt that there was a need to improve the system. To create a sanctuary that cared for animals in a nurturing way. I didn’t even pick birds, the birds picked me.”

For years she has self-funded the project — out of her own pocket. Now, she’s becoming a charity as a way to make it self-sustaining. 

What’s your vision, I ask her? “I’d love to see more of these ‘rehab hubs’ in communities. Nothing beats experience. If a community can see the wildlife ambo [ambulance] driving down the street with a new rescue. Or families can show their kids, or people can volunteer to help… people will feel the connection that’s missing.”

She scoops a handful of raw mince and walks into the aviary towards a pair of REALLY noisy birds that are getting more insistent by the minute. These channel-billed cuckoos are migrants from Papua New Guinea (see video above). Jen needs them to gain weight so she can release them before winter. 

“Aren’t they great,” she says, as the two fledglings, mouths agape, go crazy. “Such a precious world. We’ve got to protect it.” 

Keen to Know more?

  1. Keep an eye out for “more-than-human” or “other-than-human” terminology. Reflect how you look at your world – where do you see your place in it?
  2. If you’re on Facebook, follow Jen’s progress at Aussie Wildlife. You can also donate via PayPal
  3. Reading your thing? The Spell of the Sensuous is dense and mysterious. It helps give language to what we are needing to find new words for… something I’ll be exploring in later posts.  

Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.

How 45 minutes can change everything

Climate emergency

Outside my office-studio is a mango tree. She’s pretty old and craggy limbed. Fourteen months ago, her branches were stripped bare.

It was a warm October afternoon. We’d had a few warnings about freak storms. Then a supercell hailstorm hit our beachside suburb on the mid-north coast of NSW. It got so loud I hid under my desk – until I realised water was pouring through the roof in three places. Our nearby shopping centre roof also collapsed as golf ball sized hail pelted down (see 7News below).

It’s the first time I’ve been in an area declared a disaster. And the weirdest thing? When I stepped outside of my studio, I didn’t recognise where I was. In 45 minutes, everything had changed.’

Climate emergency
Climate change
Climate change
Our suburban street had become a snowfield. A neighbour’s son, shirtless and in board shorts, was using a shovel to dig out his dad’s pickup truck from thick ice. The leaves on the trees were shredded. The poor birds. My vege patch was a bunch of sticks. My husband’s car, a right-off. I remember looking around me, and thinking, I don’t know where I am. The locals and shoppers in this 7NEWS report clearly felt something similar. (Although in Aussie style, surfers were soon snowboarding on the nearby Sawtell Beach!)

Welcome to my new newsletter: The Regenerative Leader.

Stories about people + business doing things differently.

It’s taken over a year for everything to get replaced and fixed. Both our roofs have been replaced. And we’re lucky, we were insured. I’ve heard that people sheltering during cyclones feel a similar sort of dislocation – obviously on a more acute, terrifying and catastrophic scale. Those 45 minutes were so disruptive that something shifted inside of me. I’d been making changes in my life and work for at least three years. But this was a catalyst.

In storytelling terms, a lived experience is what I call a “shift moment“. It changes our narrative and how we make meaning of our lives. This is what Regenerative Storytelling can offer. A new language to understand what’s happening and a new way to respond.

I wish it was as easy as flicking a switch.

But it’s not, of course. It’s about incremental changes, internally and externally. In slightly laborious language (which I promise I will limit), it’s about “building capacity”.

This is what you can expect from my Regenerative storytelling newsletter:

Stories that illustrate the small steps (and the occasional leap) to help us all adapt to our rapidly heating world. Stories of leadership in likely and unlikely places. Some might alarm you, others will entertain, inspire and encourage. Together, we are finding a new language for this time.

A couple of weeks ago, a year after the hailstorm, our mango tree suddenly grew leaves. It was almost as if they were sprouting before our eyes. The birds have come back. Birds that we never saw before.

While nature (and us) can regenerate fast… can we do it fast enough?