- Date published:
6:05 am, August 10th, 2021 - 130 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, sustainability - Tags: anthropocene, Glenn Albrecht, how change happens, how things change, powerdown, regenag, resiliency, symbiocene
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the IR6 Report yesterday,
The Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations.
It’s grim. There will be plenty of coverage on social and mainstream media for those that choose to look. From RNZ,
Describing the report as a “code red for humanity,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate end to coal energy and other high-polluting fossil fuels.
“The alarm bells are deafening,” Guterres said in a statement. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”
The headlines of today's IPCC Working Group 1 report are no surprise. We've known them for years, even decades. Their power lies in the starkness with which they are presented. No more equivocation, nothing for recalcitrant entities to hide behind. https://t.co/qAUrskZ0tj
— Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) August 9, 2021
While I was on RNZ I saw two related pieces. One was about New Zealand’s coal imports rising to an all time high this year, due to low hydro lake levels and low natural gas supply. That right there is the limits of growth: gas is a finite resource and a contributer to climate catastrophe, and power generation may be renewable but still exists within physical constraints. We could be scaling down our demand but instead are pretending that physical reality will bend to our will.
Here’s the other one: there were rolling power black outs in the central North Island last night, because demand on the grid was so high a power company was required to take the load off the network. Again, the limits of growth, as our population pushes against our infrastructure. Yes we need to be preparing better for climate change but we’re now in the climate catastrophe and each year will bring increasing demands on infrastructure and repairing damage from the increasing extreme weather events. It’s likely we won’t be able to keep up.
We’re also mired in the neoliberal death cult. It’s not hard to see the New Zealand versions of this,
Heathrow Airport has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2030, not including “emissions from planes”.
BP is going carbon neutral by 2050, not including “emissions from the use of their products”.
Capitalism is going to kill you. But it also thinks you’re stupid.
— Sam Knights (@samjknights) February 21, 2020
You understand that there are people with enormous power that are not only lying to us, but actively working against climate solutions.
There is no doubt we are in an incredibly serious situation. This week there will be serious journalism, but also the MSM headlines and social media algorithms will be feeding us imagery and messaging designed to trigger our amygdalas into alarm, anger and fear leading to reactive clicking and soothing consuming. It’s the weirdest emergency, in our faces but still easy to disbelieve – most humans will flight and freeze rather than stand and fight.
I was fortunate then to come across this yesterday. A long essay by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht about how the narratives around the Anthropocene are harming our well-being and ability to act, and offering up a new story – the Symbiocene.
In order to counter all these negative trends within the Anthropocene we clearly need, within popular politics and culture, visions and memes of a different future. We also will need more novel conceptual development, since the foundation on which we are building right now is seriously flawed and conducive of nothing but great waves of ennui, grief, dread, solastalgia, mourning, and melancholia. We must rapidly exit the Anthropocene with its non-sustainability, its perverse resilience, its authoritarianism, and its corrumpalism. The new foundation, built around a new meme, will need to be an act of positive creation.
Entering the Symbiocene
I argue that the next era in human history should be named the Symbiocene (from the Greek sumbiosis, or companionship). The scientific meaning of the word “symbiosis” implies living together for mutual benefit, and I wish to use this profoundly important concept as the basis for what I hope will be the next period of earth history. As a core aspect of ecological thinking, symbiosis affirms the interconnectedness of life and all living things.
As many thinkers have pointed out, such interconnection and interaction puts a human worldview back into the community of life and resists the Hobbesian and Spencerian views of nature as essentially hostile and a competitive war of all against all. No doubt, conflict between organisms exists, but an overall balance of interests (eco-homeostasis) is in the total interest of all life. In addition, ecology itself is a radical concept in that it requires of us all to live within the limits of nature and to live with all the other life forms that share this home we call the Earth.
As a scientific term, symbiosis has been used to give substance to the nature of the interactions between different organisms living in close physical association. For example, relatively recently it has been discovered that, in ecosystems all over the world, there are immense, mutually beneficial associations of macrofungi with flowering plants in complex, positive, metabolic, symbiotic relationship to each other. Findings such as these have scientifically overturned the view that evolution and life are solely founded on competitive struggle between species.
Albrecht goes on to explore how nature provides a template for our social and political organising,
The basic idea here is that if the processes that nurture ecosystems and biomes are identified, protected, and conserved, species within such healthy ecosystems will also flourish. We therefore do not need to further democratize a failing, biased democracy with, say, a Deep Ecology “council of all beings” approach, in which species’ interests are “represented” in decision-making structures by well-meaning humans. Rather, we need to elect people to govern who understand and affirm life-supporting organic forms, processes, and relationships, and we must give that governing body the authority to carefully deliberate on various creative proposals from humans.
And later, in conclusion,
I now offer “sumbiophilia” (the love of living together) as an addition to biophilia. Since we evolved within a pre-existing ecological matrix as an intensely social species and lived in relative harmony with all other life forms, sumbiophilia must also be deeply ingrained within us. If I am correct, then exiting the Anthropocene and entering the Symbiocene, will be a satisfying experience for most humans. As the politics of sumbiocracy play out and we live by symbiomimicry in all our technologies and habitats, the Earth will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
We desperately need cogent and hopeful visions of where we can go next. Hope here isn’t wishful thinking, it’s a declaration of what we want our future to be and then acting to make that happen.
I like Albrecht’s vision because it matches my understanding of the fundamental nature of life on earth and the inherent very long term functionality of that. It offers humanity a sense that we can belong, that there is a way for us to be that affirms rather than destroys life. But the point here isn’t to present the way, but to open the door to see futures where things work out, because it’s only from such imagination and hope that people will act for radical change.
Other stories of proactive hope: