Generation symbiocene

Old and young must unite to form Generation S - a force to combat corporate gigantism and to shape cultural and social revolutions.


The world witnessed the rise of the Greta Thunberg-led revolt against the climate crisis by school-age teenagers across the world in 2018. From within what popular media call Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2012) a young woman has emerged as a global leader.

Now, hundreds of thousands within Gen Z have responded to Greta’s leadership and have created a global social movement, School Strike 4 Climate.

It is no exaggeration to say that within Gen Z there is now the vanguard of a global movement challenging all the forces that are causing humans to commit climacide and ecocide. In addition, our wise teenagers now know that the climate crisis is an integral part of a much bigger crisis.

The symbiocene

In my forthcoming book, Earth Emotions, I make the case for a generational change where the post-baby boomer generations unite to form a new social movement.

I call this united movement, Generation Symbiocene or Gen S. Gen S will lead the rest of humanity into the Symbiocene.

In the essay, After the Anthropocene, recently published in this journal, I made the case for a new epoch in human history: the Symbiocene. The Symbiocene is a meme that represents the very opposite of the period of human dominance known as the Anthropocene.

The new meme has been created to achieve nothing less than complete change of the biophysical and emotional foundations of society from the ecocidal to the symbiotic, from the destructive to the nurturing.

While the Anthropocene is generating despair and desolation, the Symbiocene gives generously of hope and optimism.

Generational change

In Earth Emotions, I speculate on the role of post-Baby Boomer generations in the creation of the Symbiocene. In the popular media it is now commonplace to use marketing-generated characterisations of the post-Boomer X, Y and Z generations (the Gens) in the design, marketing and algorithms of social media.

Collectively, the Gens are often depicted as victims of the Boomer appropriation of the future with many psychological, sociological and economic problems resulting in various forms of trauma, anomie and alienation.

For these generations, a common form of escape from present angst and future dread is to become engrossed in havens of virtual euphoria in a heartless contemporary world. In 2018, there seemed to be little cause to think that revolutionary change was about to emerge from Gens X and Y.

However, I had thought, almost coinciding with the rise of Greta Thunberg, that a unique role might be played by Gen Z. They are characterised as having a broad global outlook, no current investment or employment chains and a highly nuanced, critical perspective on the use of social media and the role of information dissemination within it.

The use of social media and online recruitment to fight climate warming combine to become an ironic case study in how a response to a massive global crisis can use global modalities which themselves are part of the problem. For example, we are now using Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter to fight the very order they depend on for their business models.

Gen S

The momentum created by Gen Z is now unstoppable. I am convinced that many from all other generations, including the Boomers, will unite to form Generation Symbiocene. They will do so because it is now absolutely clear that the future will be unthinkable if it continues in the current direction.

As the old saying goes, if we do not change direction, we will get to where we are going.

In addition, marginalized groups within the Anthropocene, including LGBTQIA, indigenous groups and subsistent people in the so-called developing world, have every reason to join this movement. The Symbiocene requires, after all, the retaking of particular places as unique sites of biocultural energy and creativity the world over.

It has been the erasure of that diversity (biological and cultural) that is a primary cause of cultural and biological endangerment then extinction.

Gen S wants back the positive Earth emotions, the biophilia, that connect human-to-human life and the empathy required to co-exist with non-human beings. To do this, they will become giant-killers.

Giant killers

The most urgent tasks for Gen S will be to protest and fight against gigantism. By gigantism, I mean the dictatorial governments of nation states and corporate rulers that exercise authoritarian and totalitarian control over almost all aspects of our lives.

The globalised system of production, transport and consumption is run by a powerful elite of wealthy individuals at the head of the command economies, monopolies and oligopolies that rule the world. It is these powerful, gigantic bodies that are in control of the Anthropocene and the way it is evolving as a psychopathic juggernaut.

In order to return the Earth to a state that freely engages in the symbiotic building of the human community within the rest of life, the Symbiocene principles, all supportive of the collaboration and continuity required for life, must be engaged.

To achieve this end, the Symbiocene will have to be initiated by protesters, activists and hacktivists. Everything, from how we conduct politics to how we eat and live, will have to be disrupted.

There will be no time for the myopia of reality TV, gambling and gaming; this is genuinely productive work and it will be relentless and all-consuming. With urgency, new visions of all of the foundations of human life now can be imagined, then built. Here are a few of them to give you free entry into Gen S and the Symbiocene.

Growth and population

As Gen S dismantles gigantism, at the same time they need to be furiously building a new economy.  Ideas that have global application (such as renewable energy) will be shared, while innovation at the local level requires tailoring technologies to the particularities of place and culture. Gen S will become technological “terroirists” and sumbiofacts will replace artifacts.

As a consequence, the primary work of Gen S will be to identify and maintain the life bonds of particular places on Earth and, where necessary, create new ones. As sumbioregionalists succeed in this task, their combined efforts will rebuild ecosystem health at island, continental, and global scales.

The complexity of the living planet will be re-built, via active and collaborative human agency, from the bottom up. The amount of work required has no end and zero unemployment.

Instead of having to imagine the econo-apocalypse, Gens S can be encouraged to ensure that, as the GNP, the old measure of success goes down, new measures of genuine growth will go up.

Abnormal, life-threatening growth will be replaced by growth that is normal in that it assists in the maturity of organisms and the completion of a life-span.

Human reproduction will be voluntarily tailored to the limits of place and productivity. The gender sharing of the socialisation of children will become the norm and symbio-literate children will play a vital role in the further development of the Symbiocene.

Energy revolution

The Baby Boomers have set up and now enforce dependency on centralised energy-systems. For safe, just and pollution-free energy, Gen S will dismantle the current form of energy provision and the power structures that operate and own it. All forms of ‘power’ become decentralised.

From the commencement of the Symbiocene, energy and technologies that can be scaled at local levels will be necessities.

Many of these renewable energy systems are already in existence with an energy delivery cost structure lower than that of finite, high-risk polluting alternatives such as coal.

An energy revolution will also create new forms of meaningful employment at local level.


Globalised agribusiness is a version of gigantism where the international ‘free’ trade in food has disrupted and destroyed regionally produced food, its workforce and markets. Another task of Gen S will be to rebuild regional agriculture in light of the Symbiocene principles.

Regenerating soil by rebuilding symbiotic, living soil communities will be labour intensive but immensely satisfying. Bees will flourish and their buzzing will be a sign for all that food production without the ‘cides’ is once again life-affirming. Gen S will ensure there is no insectageddon.

Symbiocene food will be produced within a system we could call sumbioculture. Those who eat such food can be called sumbiovores.

Current important choices such as vegetarianism and veganism remain, but they too will respect the higher order ethical and life imperative of the sumbios, or living together for mutual benefit.

The Future

The Boomers can also help Gen S create the Symbiocene. They have wealth and knowledge that could be gifted to the young to build their future.

In joining Gen S, as their last act of generosity on Earth, the Boomers will achieve a degree of clemency.

The diversity of human culture in the Symbiocene will be a new form of tribalism. The new tribalism will not exemplify xenophobia, but an emergent hybrid humanity that celebrates and respects diversity and has new intellectual and emotional attributes.

Positive Earth emotions will triumph over the negative. The acolytes of the Anthropocene will be “on the run” by the 2070s and the Symbiocene on the rise.

This Author 

Dr Glenn Albrecht is freelance environmental philosopher and farmosopher. He has pioneered the domain of psychoterratic or psyche – earth relationships with his concept of solastalgia. He is the author of Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World and writes at Psychoterratica.

Image: Dr Glenn Albrecht.

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