Symbiocenic Environments

Sergey Dmitriev
7 min readApr 25, 2023
Šumska 1 — a 3-generation permaculture and outreach project in Serbia started as a homestay in nature and growing further as the Forest School and the Forest University, Photo from the project’s Facebook page.

Intro. Personal Point of View

Nowadays I see a critical underestimation of ecological crisis (and actually ‘collapse’) that is detectable both by science and by personal experiences. While climate change is the most discussed topic, other aspects are staying in the shade of it (soil depletion, deforestation, mass extinction, and numerous forms of pollution). Beyond the wide denial of this crisis even within those groups (scientists and environment activists — e.g. Deep Adaptation Forum) that accept forecasts and estimations of forthcoming catastrophic changes I couldn’t find (I still informed just a little) approaches, strategies, and initiatives that developed a particular set of actions on the whole spectrum of the social scale (from personal to planetary) to proceed in long-term horizons, as well as what can be done in the mid-term and immediately. This in turn means that I can’t find any organization, society, or community to join to work for in that way that my personal vision, practices, and strategy would be in line with this formal or informal group of people.

As an IT industry professional and a social entrepreneur in education who moved 8 years ago to the countryside to research and experience opportunities for simple, sustainable life, I have two different perspectives (technological and ecological) to ask:

What can be done and how to cope with the upcoming changes?

Yet these just two perspectives are almost nothing to have a real bigger picture (e.g. no global politics, no macroeconomics, no technology optimism, etc) and to propose any theoretical and practical framework. I see a few visions with theories I would share (for a few basics texts see further in the Reader: Worldview part). But in the meantime, I can’t find practical frameworks and related activities that I would join. Ecovillages, nature conservation, kin domains, rewilding, and bioregion regeneration movements I consider only as a part of the solution.

The Framework

So I dare to outline what (at the current moment) I see could be a conscious, practical, and flexible framework (and people within) to start with to deal with the ecological and civilizational collapse and its consequences.

The key approach is to forge cooperation between

  • universities and schools
  • intentional rural communities (ecovillages, permaculture initiatives, kin domains, monasteries, …)
  • indigenous people societies
  • nature reserves.

In the long-term vision, it’s not just about deeply interconnected joint projects and programs (actually nature reserves by design collaborate with academia and Global Ecovillage Network has its working group — GEN Research that supports joint projects with universities). It’s to create and grow the framework (concepts and set of actors and their interconnection) for the new type of (sacred) territories that host small communities and/or organisations with blended features and functions of

  • universities (research and education),
  • UNESCO biosphere reserves (conservation, research, and ecological outreach),
  • eco-centric, partly self-sufficient human habitats based on indigenous people groups or/and newly created communities with the goal of ecosystem restoration and adaptation to climate change with community-based schooling and/or unschooling.

An exact wording for such new (sacred) territories and their inhabitants (let’s include non-human beings also) is to be found still. Nevertheless, I propose to adopt a vision of Symbiocene by Glenn Albrecht. In 2019 in ‘Generation Symbiocene’ he writes:

The Symbiocene requires, after all, the retaking of particular places as unique sites of biocultural energy and creativity the world over.

Although (and as a Gen Y representative) I can’t share Albrecht’s approach of protesting and fighting as well I find his concept quite abstract and romantic, we do need such a high-level perspective and direction.

Let’s call these territories, their ecosystems, participants, and institutions to support them — ‘symbiocenic environments’ (SymEns?) for a while.

In the beginning, universities and schools are critical to gaining conscious awareness of collapse and dealing with psychological and economical denial. In the mid and long-term universities are to provide a systematic approach to generate, collect, and spread knowledge on monitoring, adaptation, and regeneration theories and practices. While schools are to update curricula with symbiocenic worldview.

Intentional rural communities and indigenous people within their territories become monitoring stations for climate and biodiversity change and living labs to search for alternative basic values and corresponding lifestyles that ‘by design’ support symbiocenic and regenerative perspectives.

The existing nature reserves could become core entities (preserving their status\functions). The territories around them could be allocated to that new type of blended function.

Indigenous people are to be free from territorial and economic pressure, while it’s an open question on why and how to collaborate with them beyond anthropological research.

I believe such eco-socio-research (learning) ecosystems could eventually support not only the resilience of the bioregions where they were established but initiate also a revision of humans’ natural abilities and the role of humankind. I cautiously suggest that some children growing up in such places may be slightly more gifted on average. It may be possible because of

  • less trauma from the mainstream environment,
  • intelligent, thinking adults around them,
  • deeper immersion in wildlife.

Sough it may also provide opportunities for the development of particularly rare abilities.

Additional Features and Functions

Beyond the basic mentioned features in some cases, hubs can act also as:

Art & Science & Media residencies

to host (for at least one month) ‘notorious’ as well as young talents and provide them with the experience of alternatives, that they could adopt and further use in their creative and scholarly works. As well for communities inside biocentric biospheric hubs and spots, these long-staying guests are a flow of opportunities to keep up with the latest discoveries and trends in mainstream societies, so knowledge exchange and joint research and/or creative initiatives could have a steady source of ideas, visions, and participants (An example of such a concept in real-world practice is described in ‘Tickling the Sensible: Art, Politics, and Worlding at the Global Margin’ by Višnja Kisić & Goran Tomka).

Symbiocene Outreach Spots (Open Science and Ecological Transformational Post-Tourism)
As nature parks have visitor centres and certified nature guides and some ecovillages have educational programs related to alternative lifestyles and connection with nature and inner self there is potential to create ‘outreach spots’ on the edges of SEs that could include:

  • Open-source/science food forests;
  • weeks-long programs that combine eco-tourism, psychological groups, and rediscovering life meaning/purpose retreats;
  • regenerative education and research programs for kids and youth.

Organic Longevity Research

While Longevity research is often considered a high-tech bio-hacking story, an alternative (or complementary) approach is to explore opportunities provided by living in evolutionary-fit environments that keep the organic balance of physical and mental activities which in turn could significantly expand a healthy life span.

Safe spaces

to help (to work with) people with undefined diagnoses (and those whom medical institutions have nothing to cure) and adults and kids with mental problems. But it’s unclear in which cases it could be synergy and in which it’s a mutual obstacle.

Arks of civilization

In the case of global nuclear war, the whole concept could become outdated as the key humans’ goal could become — ‘just survive’, but in this case, hubs’ self-sufficiency readiness for this scenario could be one of the key features and research/practices.

Symbiocenic AI learning environment

As dramatic existential risks of the general AI grow fast, one of the options to mitigate them at least partly is to learn and develop symbiocenic approach together with leading AI development initiatives.

Geography

The key hubs to grow these ecosystems I consider launching in:

  • Northern Europe (people and institutions are most advanced and ready for such an agenda)
  • and the Balkans (compact countries with high biodiversity, so there it’s easier to work nationwide than in other regions)
  • with smaller pilot projects in Western Europe.

Pilot Projects

At the end of 2021, I’ve started negotiations with Uppsala University and Suderbyn ecovillage — both are located on the Gotland island (Sweden) for joint R&D initiative slides and with the Swedish Institute to have seed funding and to have cross-border cooperation with partners — Russia, Finland, and Estonia. But in January 2022 it became obvious, that the situation will go such a way, that this regional cooperation will not be possible. The topic to start was ‘Ecovillages and universities cooperation for transformative sustainable/regenerative tourism’ (with the idea of rethinking the whole meaning of tourism from a degrowth perspective).

Now (and during 2022) I’m getting to know the sustainability context in the Balkans to see if it’s feasible to start a pilot project here. The basic field trip research and networking in the region showed

  • four locations with the potential of the first hubs
  • and brought me to the idea of ‘the Balkans Eco Educators Society/Association’ and introducing the Balkans to experience from Estonia, where local ecologists and educators successfully implemented Gaia Education (it’s the same founders as GEN) curriculum in pre-school, school, and university programs.

Reader

Worldview

Ecosystems Restoration

Bioregional Regeneration for Planetary Health, (2020), Daniel Christian Wahl

Ecovillages, EcoSocieties + Universities as Testbeds for Biocentric Approach

Initiatives and institutions that partly have some similarities:

Related Cases

Positive Images of the Future that Inspire Ecological Movements and Actions (2021) Sergey Dmitriev

TICKLING THE SENSIBLE: Art, Politics, and Worlding at the Global Margin (2020) Višnja Kisić & Goran Tomka

What’s next

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