Sumbioculture in The Symbiocene

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The call “to eat your greens” is good advice from parent to child. Without ‘greens’ as the foundation of what ecologists call food chains, we would not have any sort of food available for sustenance. ‘Green’ is also a term commonly associated with being an environmentalist; however, it is surprising just how many people do not understand the vital connections between green plants, and green people.

By the amazing process known as photosynthesis, green coloured plant cells called chloroplasts are able to harness sunlight (radiant energy from the sun) to convert water and carbon-dioxide within the plant into sugars or usable energy plus oxygen. It is the chloroplasts containing a molecule, chlorophyll, which is where the green colouring in plants and blue-green algae comes from. It’s easy being green … if you are a plant.

Green people understand that the energy that drives all complex life on planet earth comes from the sun and green plants. Green people also understand that over deep time, life on earth has evolved to produce great diversity, some of which sustains itself by eating plants. However, if the biodiversity of the earth consisted of nothing but plants and plant eaters, then photosynthesis could be put at risk by too many vegetarian mouths. Fortunately, evolution also gave us the predators of plant eaters, the carnivores (including a few carnivorous plants). The famous American environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold once remarked, “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.”

What Leopold meant by this statement was that without some countervailing force, an overabundance of herbivores will destroy the very ecosystem (e.g., the mountain range) they require for sustenance. The question of balance in ecology or the complex spatial relationships between the elements in living systems is hugely important for sustainability. Together, these diverse components all work together to make sure that no one sector of the system comes to dominate the rest. The health of the whole depends on there being a long term balance between the ‘opposing’ parts. There is unity in diversity.

There is another sense in which the question of balance is important. An increasing number of people have a little actual experience of natural systems and little knowledge of the way they work.  This is especially the case with food chains. Our industrial systems of food production alienate producer from seller, seller from consumer and consumer from biophysical reality and do so in ways that reinforce our ignorance of how healthy and sustainable food systems function (See the works of Murray Bookchin on this issue).

The intensive production of red meat, for example, within an industrial monoculture separates grazing animals from pasture in grain based feed lots. Such concentration of large numbers of animals causes a nutrient problem which then impacts on the health of waterways. We forget that naturally broadcast animal manure was once an essential ingredient of pasture and rangeland soil fertility. Pasture is now artificially fertilized by petroleum-based chemical fertilizers that in turn cause nutrient runoff problems into waterways (and climate change). Dead rivers, lakes and whole zones of places like the Gulf of Mexico can no longer sustain life because they are hypoxic or devoid of life sustaining oxygen.

The production of intensively grown vegetables and fruits require huge inputs of ‘cides’ or the killers of life. Herbicides kill plants, insecticides kill insects and fungicides kill fungus. Yet, healthy ecosystems require insects for plant fertilisation and fungi, it turns out, are the bedrock of ecosystems helping plants extract nutrients via their connected networks of mycelium (root-like threads) working in symbiotic association with the roots of flowering plants. Healthy ecosystems, including those of the oceans, require this balance between predator and prey, body wastes and decomposition, the cycling of nutrients and essential elements. Life has evolved within this complexity and becomes impossible without it.

When we eat food, we should treat it as a lesson in life and how it is possible here on Earth. Everything we eat can tell us something about how ecosystems work and how they remain naturally healthy. Our organically produced green vegetables tell us about the magic of photosynthesis. Each mushroom is a manifestation of invisible but vital symbiotic work going on under the ground, another form of magic.  The respectful consumption of ethically produced meat should be a lesson in predator-prey relationships and the role of magic manure in soil health. Production methods such as ‘permaculture’ and those of Polyface Farm respect the principle of ‘unity-in-diversity’ and give organic food producers and consumers the opportunity to re-unite with life.

By being an informed and ethical consumer of food we can appreciate the ‘balance’ issue in healthy ecosystems and return ourselves from a state of ignorance about food to one of food enlightenment. This is crucial in a period of increasing alienation from the biophysical and the foundations of sustainability.

It is argued by some that we have now entered the Anthropocene or a human dominated period in Earth’s history where we are now the major force shaping events here on earth. By re-educating ourselves about the essence of food, I would hope that we can reject the Anthropocene and put ourselves into what I call ‘The Symbiocene’ or the period of re-harmonisation between humans and the rest of nature. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat” and in The Symbiocene, using sumbioculture, we could eat our way into a state of sumbiosity.

Unfortunately, in the grip of the worst excesses of the Anthropocene, we are right now eating our way into non-sustainability. Sumbiotarians understand that eating is a potentially revolutionary act and the revolution starts with children (and adults) overcoming ignorance by eating their greens and other forms of eco-ethically produced food and learning where life comes from and how it is perpetuated in healthy ecosystems.


About glennaalbrecht

Contact at: Farmosopher at Wallaby Farm, NSW: Glenn Albrecht retired as professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia in June 2014. He is now an Honorary Fellow in the School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney. He was at the University of Newcastle as Associate Professor of Environmental Studies until December 2008. He is an environmental philosopher with both theoretical and applied interests in the relationship between ecosystem and human health, broadly defined. He has pioneered the research domain of 'psychoterratic' or earth related mental health and emotional conditions with his concept of 'solastalgia' or the lived experience of negative environmental change. Solastalgia has become accepted worldwide as a key concept in understanding the impact of environmental change in academic, creative arts, social impact assessment and legal contexts. Glenn Albrecht’s work is now being used extensively in course readings, new research theses and academic research in many disciplines including geography, philosophy and environmental studies. His work is also being published in languages other than English. He has publications in the field of animal ethics and has published on the ethics of relocating endangered species in the face of climate change pressures and the ethics of the thoroughbred horse industry worldwide With colleagues, Nick Higginbotham (University of Newcastle) and Linda Connor (Sydney University) under Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants, he has researched the psycho-cultural impact of mining in the Upper Hunter Region of NSW, Australia and the impact of climate change on communities, again in the Hunter Region. He has researched the social impact of gas fracking and coal mining on people and communities in the Gloucester region of NSW. Glenn has also been involved as a Chief Investigator in an ARC Discovery Grant Project on the social and ethical aspects of the thoroughbred horse industry worldwide and was a partner investigator on ARC Linkage Grant funded research on the ethics of feral buffalo control in Arnhem Land. He has held an NCCARF grant at Murdoch University which studied the likely impact of climate change on water provision in two inland cities (Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie). Glenn Albrecht is also a pioneer of transdisciplinary thinking and, with Higginbotham and Connor, produced a major book on this topic, Health Social Science: A Transdisciplinary and Complexity Perspective with Oxford University Press in 2001. His current major transdisciplinary research interest, the positive and negative psychological, emotional and cultural relationships people have to place and its transformation is one that sees him having a national and international research profile in an emergent field of academic inquiry where he has been recognised as a global pioneer. International citations to his academic productions are increasing annually and references to his psychoterratic concepts (particularly solastalgia) in global philosophical discussion, art and culture are now too extensive to fully document. New concepts such as his idea of ‘The Symbiocene’ are also attracting international interest. Glenn now works as a ‘farmosopher’ on Wallaby Farm in the Hunter Region of NSW. He continues to research and publish in his chosen fields. He is currently writing a book, Earth Emotions, an overview of his scholarly and public contributions to solastalgia, other psychoterratic issues and the Symbiocene.
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2 Responses to Sumbioculture in The Symbiocene

  1. Pingback: Becoming a Sumbiovore and a Sumbiotarian | glennaalbrecht

  2. Pingback: Glossary of Psychoterratic Terms (WordPress Links). | glennaalbrecht

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