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Entering the Symbiocene offers new hope to humanity

“Life doesn’t have to be a continuation of the despotic Anthropocene,” Dr Glenn A. Albrecht tells me on the latest episode of Inside Ideas. “We have an alternative – it’s called the Symbiocene”.

The Symbiocene, a term the Australian philosopher famously introduced to the world, is a future state where humans are re-integrated with the rest of nature. “Bringing our human life into harmony with all life at the micro to macro level is what the Symbiocene is trying to do,” he explains.

Albrecht is also known for creating the concept of solastalgia, the despair humans feel as a result of destructive environmental change. Having the vocabulary to translate our emotions like this is something Albrecht says is vital. In his 2019 book, Earth Emotions, he gives shape to the idea with hopeful vocabulary that people can use to reignite their love of life.

“The Symbiocene is a way of getting out of prison. We put ourselves in it using language, keep ourselves in it using language, and we can get out of it using language as well.” With the right language, he says, we can “actually imagine a much better future” and shift to a new era where homo sapiens, meaning: wise ape, can begin thriving by “living up to their names”. 

“Humans are emotional beings so approaching some of these problems through the lens of the emotions, through the landscape of the emotions, could be more effective. So there’s a need for word creation, for concept creation, particularly in the domain of the human-nature relationship.”

For the last 20 years, Albrecht has been working in a domain he calls the psychoterratic: psycho, of the mind; terratic, of the earth. “But it is the symbiocene and positive earth emotions, negative earth emotions, that I keep working on,” he says. “Because that is the domain that lacks the adequate language for us to understand the predicament that we put ourselves in.”

By ‘ourselves’ he is talking specifically about the “part of humanity that has alienated itself from the rest of life”.

“I’m referring to those no longer seeing life as something they are connected to, or part of, but rather as something to get rid of so that we can keep bulldozing our humanity all the way through earth and then into outer space.” 

A source of hope

An antidote to this, Albrecht says, is for everyone to look at everything in the Anthropocene and “think of its opposite”. Because that is how “you begin to get some idea of a future that is viable, worth living in, worth handing over to your children and your grandchildren – it is a source of hope.”

The solution to the Anthropocene then, is its exact opposite, the symbiotic economy, which he says is “resilient, technically; sustainable, technically; and it’s capable of being regenerated accurately.”

“Just about anything we can think of can be converted from petrochemical-based substances, which are highly polluting, that are carbon dioxide maximisers, to their opposites, which are entirely benign and have come from life, can be returned to life, without any so-called pollution.”

The building blocks of life

The Australian philosopher is currently working with architects and others on shaping the practical, physical landscape of the Symbiocene. 

“Look at PLP architects in London. They’re in their science labs working on mycelium bricks, which is as light as a feather and strong as an ox. That’s going to be the building material of the future. We’re also seeing MycoWorks using mycelium-based bricks to build complete houses in places in Africa.

“I’ve seen so many examples even over the last year, particularly when I travelled to the Netherlands, where there are people promoting the idea of mycelium-based coffins, returning death to living systems. We’re also looking at algae and bacteria being used for the foundation of furniture.”

He adds: “So, fungi, bacteria, algae, the building blocks of life will become, once again, the building blocks of human life.”

And he says the Symbiocene is ‘not anti-growth’, rather it will be “one of the most rapid periods of change and growth in the history of humanity since the industrial revolution”.

“It has not only got cash value, it has infinite potential to be developed further. It will be the next revolution, but it won’t be industrial. This is an opportunity for tech heads, engineers, designers, architects. It’s also an opportunity for artists and for other creatives to get cracking on, to get us out of the misery of the Anthropocene and onto something to laugh at and enjoy again.”

The Symbiocene is an endlessly creative place, Albrecht adds and “it’s going to produce new stuff that we can’t even think about right now”. His new book, Symbiocene, due to be completed by the end of the year will be another chapter in this paradigm shift. For now though, listen to the podcast – and join us in a world where the despotic Anthropocene is no more.

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Written By

Marc is Editor-at-Large for Innovators Magazine and host of INSIDE IDEAS, his OnePoint5Media video podcast show. Marc is a member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network, Resilient Futurist, and award-winning Global Food Reformist.

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