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Sneak Peek. Beyond Unity: Embracing Symbiosis

by Davie Philip

Our Winter 2021/22 issue has gone to print. In this issue David Philip talks about the importance of observing nature in order to shape the future– dive on in for a sneak peek!

Beyond Unity

Embracing Symbiosis: Redirecting Our Course On Planet Earth

 by Davie Philip

“There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew” — Marshall McLuhan. The spaceship earth metaphor is a powerful one for the times we are in. Our dominant way of life has severely undermined our planet’s life support systems and, just when we need unity to collectively take action, we have never been more divided or apathetic. Let’s zoom out and take a wider perspective…We find ourselves hurtling through space on an incredibly complex and fragile living planet that is billions of years old.  As far as we know, spaceship earth is the only place in the universe that sustains life. Our species emerged six million years ago, with our modern form evolving about 200,000 years ago.

We began to cultivate and breed plants and animals around 12,000 years ago, and embarked on transforming our natural landscapes through agriculture. Our settlements became more permanent, which led to the growth of civilizations. Around 500 years ago a mechanistic worldview emerged in European societies that viewed the world as a machine with separate parts, and us as selfish individuals detached from each other and nature. This mindset gave rise to the industrial revolution and during a relatively short period of human history our growth — addicted, industrial-technological civilisation globalised its impact.

With nature under our control, and then super charged on fossil fuels, we exploited, colonised, enclosed commons, increased energy use, expanded our populations and grew our economies — massively. There is a name for this period of our planet’s history: the “Anthropocene”, or the “age of man.” We have now become the dominant force of ecological change, undermining the health of spaceship earth at an ever-increasing pace. In the last 40 years we have polluted the atmosphere and oceans, cleared forests, destroyed habitats, eroded soils and are now the main cause of extinction in plants and animals. Our anxiety, depression and inequality has also increased, and we are beginning to realise that our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet are inseparable.

“ “…the next period in human history needs to be the “Symbiocene”…the synergy of humanity and nature”

It has been proposed that the next period in human history needs to be the “Symbiocene”, derived from the Greek word for living together. This era will be characterised by the synergy of humanity and nature, informed by a deep awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. At every level life is connected. In every living system there are individual elements — for example, the cells, organs and systems within our bodies or the different organisms in the soil. The more diverse and cooperative the parts are, the more likely it is that the whole will be healthy and resilient.

Life, in order to survive, embraces symbiosis — this is the way in which organisms live together for their mutual benefit. There is a lot we can learn from the observation of how nature cooperates to help us move from being passengers to crew members, of spaceship earth. Shaping a better future will require us to; creatively restore human connectedness to the natural world; re-imagine how we live together; choose the path of sustainability and regeneration; and create a greater level of wellbeing, health, happiness and equality for everyone and all life on board.

Davie Philip is a facilitator and trainer with a focus on community resilience at Cultivate.ie and a network weaver at ECOLISE.eu, the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability.

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