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What's next for wellbeing science? Moving from the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene
Frontiers in Psychology, Volume: 14
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The modern world is now living through the Anthropocene (Slaughter, 2012); a “new human” era signifying the impact that human activities have had on the ecosystems within which we live, characterized by distinct ecological change. Anthropogenic climate change is increasing risk and frequency of natu...
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The modern world is now living through the Anthropocene (Slaughter, 2012); a “new human” era signifying the impact that human activities have had on the ecosystems within which we live, characterized by distinct ecological change. Anthropogenic climate change is increasing risk and frequency of natural disasters, with rising global temperatures leading to more devastating droughts, wildfires, and floods, as well as loss of life and agricultural capacity. The climate crisis is a systemic problem contributing to a multitude of socioeconomic, demographic, and political consequences (Kalwak and Weihgold, 2022) moving us toward what has been described as “Hothouse Earth” (McGuire, 2022), a phenomenon that cannot be reversed through human intervention once the tipping point is passed (Steffen et al., 2018). The Power Threat Meaning Framework (Johnstone et al., 2018) provides a lens through which different responses to climate breakdown including eco-distress, climate trauma and feelings of institutional betrayal may be understood. These are no longer issues that can be understood through traditional models for understanding psychological distress (e.g., the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), but issues tied to wider contextual factors including vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, carbon intense lifestyles, geopolitics and war (Morgan et al., 2022). Developments in psychological science and ecophilosophy highlight an urgent need to foster a sense personal agency for the promotion of planetary wellbeing, rediscovering a sense of purpose and hope, and reconnecting with and cultivating compassion for the natural world, which will require reaching out to those with different personal values (Morgan et al., 2022; Pihkala, 2022). Despite the positive contributions of psychology, including the promotion of climate action (Gulliver et al., 2021), the field has been criticized for focusing on the individual rather than the system (Kern et al., 2020). Our own work (Kemp et al., 2017; Mead et al., 2019, 2021a; Kemp and Fisher, 2022; Wilkie et al., 2022), and the work of others (Kern et al., 2020; Lomas et al., 2021; Lambert et al., 2022), has highlighted how the combination of top-down (e.g., public policy) and bottom-up (i.e., individual behavior change) approaches may be combined to support responses to complex problems. Our focus in this paper is on the need for population-wide inner development and self-transformation to improve progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), drawing on scientific developments embedded in existential and positive psychology.
Symbiocene, wellbeing, climate action, human suering, connectedness, sustainability, systems approac
Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences