Seeds of a Good Anthropocene

How often do we spend time seriously envisioning a positive future for humanity? Most of our collective visioning is filled with doom and gloom and warnings of impending collapse. These dystopian futures have their place as they can warn us of the consequences of continuing along a given path, but we can lose hope and direction if that is all we have.

I had the wonderful privilege during the first week of June to travel to Sweden and meet with about 30 people and spend four days intensively visioning a positive future. The meeting was called “The Seeds of a Good Anthropocene”, and it was hosted by Dr. Elena Bennett.

Meeting participants came from all over the world to envision a positive future | Photo: Garry Peterson

If you haven’t heard the word Anthropocene yet, I imagine over the next few years, you will see it get popular. The word was just recently invented (and my spell-checker still doesn’t recognize it), but it has been gaining rapid traction for describing what is now happening on our planet. The idea is that the earth has entered a new geologic era that is characterized by the fact that humans are now so dominant that we are actually changing the physiology of the planet and causing the 6th great extinction.

That is a pretty scary concept, especially as astrobiologist David Grinspoon (who was also at the meeting!) argues that the jury is still out whether or not intelligent life has yet developed on earth. Intelligence, after all, requires the ability to respond to feedback – and as a species, we aren’t doing much of that yet.

What would it look like for humanity to grow up into adulthood and learn to live in a way that was in balance with the natural world and honored all human and non-human life on earth? Getting there would mean first accepting that we are actually in charge. A statement like that feels like massive hubris (which was always punished in Greek Myths) but the truth is that we have now entered a time where it is simply the reality of things – we are truly in the Anthropocene era, and humans have incredible capacity to influence the future of the planet.

So this group of scientists, futurists, authors, policy-makers, artists, and “seeds” gathered together to really think about what a positive future might look like and then what would need to be done to get there. The “seeds” were carefully selected projects from around the world that Elena and her fellow “Bright Spots: Seeds of a Good Anthropocene” researchers felt had the potential to be truly transformative if taken to scale. The seeds ranged from new methods of banking to re-wilding projects and technological innovations like self-driving cars. I found it a great honor that Health In Harmony was seen in that light.

We broke up into four working groups and then over the four days we all used three seeds each to form the basis of what a positive future might look like with these seeds fully matured (the link is to a list of ten principles of where we might want to head to). What was surprising to me was how each group ended up with some very similar key principles of the route to change. I would summarize them as follows:

  • Technology does have the potential to really help us but only if values change first.
  • We need to integrate nature back into humans spaces and makes sure to set aside land on a global scale for nature.
  • Decision-making and power need to shift to the local level (this doesn’t necessarily -- but might -- preclude higher levels of governance).
  • We are more likely to get to a positive future if ideas and resources could more easily cross borders and be shared around the world. Living in balance with nature is a benefit to humans as well: healthier food, healthier ecosystems, and the beauty of the wilderness.

For me, personally, and for the work of Health In Harmony, I found the meeting very encouraging. First, I felt affirmed that we are on the right path and that our key principle of radical listening is something that is actually needed globally – even in the wildly functional country of Sweden where they too are often blocked in living more in balance with the environment because of regulations or lack of knowledge. And second, I realized that we can’t get to a positive future if we can’t imagine it and then actively work for it in the present.

Thank you all for supporting us in this work to help bring about the Good Anthropocene! Getting there is going to take all of us. But after this last week, I am feeling hopeful that we can do it. I encourage you also to spend time thinking about what your positive future might look like and then deciding what you can do in the present to help bring it about. May we be successful in that wonderful goal!

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About Kinari | View all posts by Kinari

Kinari is the Founder of Health In Harmony and it's pilot program, Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI). She is based in San Francisco, CA and often travels to Sukadana, West Kalimantan, where ASRI is located.