Beyond the Anthropocene

We are living in a new era: the Anthropocene. It is now widely acknowledged that the root of the climate change crises engulfing us is epistemic and caused by humans—the cumulative impact of our modern cultural ways of thinking. These are rooted in an extractivist approach to wealth creation and a profound psycho-spiritual separation between humans and the non-human beings and natural environments of our planetary home, Earth.

Here in Australia we face several interlinked challenges:

Global warming and climate change—linked to carbon-intensive energy technologies, and its impact on weather systems with resultant impacts on infrastructure, human settlements and agricultural production

Environmental degradation and species extinction—linked to land clearing for agriculture and human settlement and to forms of land use that are destructive of land fertility and water management

National response to healing our relationship with the people of Australia’s First Nations communities—linked to the Voice, Treaty and Truth requests of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, the failure to meet Closing the Gap targets on socio-economic inequalities, the high rates of criminal incarceration of Indigenous people, particularly youth, and high levels of mental health issues, including suicide impacting Indigenous communities

Increase in reported anxiety and depressive mental health issues in our population, particularly among young people—linked to climate anxiety and concerns about the future.

Birthing the Symbiocene

SYMBIOCENE is a term coined by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht :
— συμβίωσις (sumbíōsis) literally means a ‘living together’ or ‘companionship’.
— καινός (kainos) means ‘new’. Commonly transcripted as -cene, it is a suffix used to identify geological epochs of the Earth.

Glenn Albrecht, a Fellow of Geoscience at the University of Sydney, is an environmental philosopher with both theoretical and applied interests in the relationship between ecosystem and human health. He has pioneered the research domain of ‘psychoterratic’ or earth related mental health conditions with the concept of ‘solastalgia’ or the lived experience of negative environmental change. He also has publications in the field of animal ethics including the ethics of relocating endangered species in the face of climate change pressures.

In our industrialised world that has created the Anthropocene, there is a vital need for a new generation of humans working towards reintegrating human culture with the rest of life on Earth to birth the Symbiocene. This is a global movement, with hundreds and thousands of people working to reactivate the symbiotic links that were cut off across the Earth during the Anthropocene. This can be done in different ways: through science, education, architecture, economy, agriculture, politics, the expressive arts and eco-spiritual journeys and healing.

Especially here in Australia, we are being called up to develop a new relationist approach to wealth creation and wellbeing that re-imagines our relationship with one another, the non-human beings with whom we share this planetary home, and our 60,000+ year old ancient cultural heritage grounded in First Nations knowledge systems. This knowledge and sensibility has been kept alive in the Songlines through ceremony: story telling, dance, painting, sculpture, song and music.

Generation Symbiocene, a project located in Greece, declares: In our effort to open doors to the Symbiocene by healing the emotional connection between humans and nature, we experiment with different artistic tools to develop ‘SumbioArt’ workshops; that is the practice of making art together with (sum-) all life (bios.

This provides a map for how non-Indigenous Australians might begin to create their own ‘songlines’.  For as Indigenous leaders such as Patrick Dodson remind us, songlines do not belong in the past but are ever present, collapsing linear timescapes of past, present and future.

The new ways to reimagine our lives to create the Symbiocene include:

—Changing our Australian Constitution to enshrine a Voice to Parliament for Australia’s First Nations peoples in response to their 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart

—Transitioning our economic system towards the use of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, water management and waste management systems

—Taking a wellbeing approach to government programs that deliver equitable wellbeing to our citizens to create a society in which everyone has a stake.

—Developing a new psycho-spiritual story, what I call REGENESIS, (re-thinking the genesis creation story of White/Western Culture) to guide our journey for the Symbiocene that draws on different Faith traditions, as well as the healing professions and intercultural expressive arts, such as with the work of Marrugeku, led by Dalisa Pigram and Rachael Swain.

Planetary Health

Supported by an Expert Advisory Committee, and Council, the Planetary Health Initiative, founded in 2021 by the City of Blue Mountains, is being carefully nutured by its Project Lead, Lis Bastian.

It seeks to link the things we do, with the health of people and the health of the planet, and for all life. As home to the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, this initiative inspires us to look at ourselves and our planet, from a different perspective. In recognising that #WeAreNature and that all life is interconnected, it helps us see that everything we do to the planet affects us, and our health. Equally, the way we treat ourselves and each other and all other species, ultimately also impacts the wider health of our planet.

The Planetary Health Initiative seeks to embrace our local/global responsibility to not only ensure the environmental, social and economic sustainability of community at a local level, but to also contribute to the overall health of the planet by contributing to a global movement activating the new relationist ethos of the Symbiocene Era.

The Planetary Health is also closely linked to the founding of Blue Mountains’ Pluriversity – combining university learning with the praxis of embodied transformative community engagement by young people.

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Symbiocene Retreats—Eco-Spiritual Regenesis and Learning

The Vision

The Blue Mountains as place where people come to heal themselves as individuals and as members of our planetary community. It is where we help to create the new story of the Symbiocene. Using the expressive arts in a retreat environment we learn how to feel a deep eco-spiritual connection to Country and belonging in the sense that it is understood by Australia’s First Nations culture. For the Gundungurra and Dharug people of the Blue Mountains, Country (Ngurra) is an all-embracing idea.

Ngurra takes in everything within the cultural and spiritual landscape—landforms, trees, rocks, plants, animals foods, medicine, minerals, stories and significant places.  It includes Cultural practices, knowledge, songs, stories and art as well as Spiritual Beings and people, present and future.  Ngurra has a deep meaning of belonging.  —Aunty Sharyn Hall, Gundungurra Elder

Retreatants will also explore how to re-imagine their lives as citizens, and members of families and neighbourhoods, in all the practical ways required to live sustainably within our planetary boundaries.

The Symbiocene Retreat draws on the example of QLD HEAL (Healing through Expressive Arts and Learning); the work of the Planetary Health Initiative by Blue Mountains City Council; the work of the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA) and its affiliate, Future Dreaming; the work of Marrugeku’s Intercultural performing arts programs; the example of the Jalngangurra Indigenous Healing Service (Kimberleys WA); and the First Hike program for recently arrived refugees. To mentions just a few, as initiatives like these spring up; the new budding plants shaping the Symbiocene story in multiple ways and on multiple dimensions.

The Focus of the Retreats

Because the root of the crises is epistemic, it brings together these foci:

  • Healing the relationship between non-Indigenous Australians and First Nations peoples by learning how to embrace our traditional cultural heritage and its knowledge systems about Caring for Country – the response to Uluru Statement from the Heart
  • Addressing the growing mental health ‘crisis’ whereby it is said that over 50% of young people suffer from anxiety and depression. If we simply pathologise what is in effect a cultural-sociological issue, we just end up with spiraling health care costs to no effect – like putting a finger in the proverbial dyke. Thus treating this as a mental health issue is a category error—it is a socio-cultural-political issue.
  • Instead we are being called to ‘heal’ a deep trauma that is being exacerbated by climate change and the de-colonisation demands of First Nations people, challenging all the assumptions of the ‘white’ way of life – economics and culture; the trauma of loss of white privilege (white fragility) in the global scheme of things, causing the white nationalist backlash etc playing out in UK, Europe and America and to a lesser extent here in Australia. White people (ie those of European cultural background) are used to running the show, culturally and economically. They are used to their knowledge system framing what is valid and true.  All that is now being challenged by geo-political changes and by climate change. It is deeply unsettling for many in ways they find hard to understand.
  • Most white people are not used to finding their place in other people’s cultural rules and assumptions. Even as migrants, the great European migration was to other places of European settlement: the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Central and South America where Indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by the colonising settlers. The ground is now shifting, mirroring the floods and fires of Earth’s systems, challenging human settlements.
  • The practical stuff of how we learn to live within our bioregional limits for a sustainable future in the face of climate change impacts – mapping a path for the Symbiocene.

Our Inspiration for this ‘Big Idea’

Check out the HEAL program in Qld. This is a program that addresses healing trauma in refugee communities.  Download their strategic plan for information.

Are there lessons here for healing the trauma of our alienation from Country that the Planetary Health Initiative is seeking to address?

As I have suggested, tackling this problem with purely practical measures in terms of science, land care, circular economy, etc is not enough. We have to dig into the psycho-spiritual dimension – which is the focus of re-genesis.  I call it re-genesis, because it is the telling of a new creation story (genesis) about how to live in the Symbiocene.

To make this spiritually and psychologically satisfying we need to employ not just science but the arts, especially the embodied expressive arts.  It is why I am so excited about the work of Marrugeku, about which I am posting blogs on this Regenesis blog site as I work my way through the book, ‘Marrugeku: Telling That Story – 25 years of Trans-Indigenous and Intercultural Performance‘ published by Performance Research Books, 2021.

The artistic directors of Marrugeku are Rachael Swain (non-Indigenous, based in Sydney) and Dalisa Pigram (Indigenous – granddaughter of Patrick Dodson), based in Broome.