Down to Earth: Planetary Health and Biophilosophy in the Symbiocene Epoch

Susan Prescott, Alan Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Advances in science have illuminated the role of the “ecological theatre”—the total living environment—in human health. In a rapidly changing epoch known as the anthropocene, microbiome science is identifying functional connections between all life, both seen and unseen. Rather than an easily identifiable era appearing in rock strata, the anthropocene is more of a diagnostic syndrome, a set of signs and symptoms including climate change, gross biodiversity losses, environmental degradation, and an epidemic of non-communicable diseases. The syndrome is intertwined with politics, economics, public policies (or lack thereof), social values, and a global push of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages. The healing of anthropocene syndrome is the grand challenge of humanity. Expanding on the “Mars Can Wait” argument of Geoffrey Goodman, et al., we focus on the urgency with which health promotion must be prioritized here on Earth. We revive Jonas Salk’s biophilosophy: a call to action for collaboration between biologists, humanists, and scholars of all stripes. From this perspective, lines of distinction between personal, public, and planetary health are removed. We also describe the symbiocene: the possibility of a new epoch in which mutualism will be considered imperative. If society asks the right questions, a transition to the symbiocene is possible; the “stratigraphical” mark of the new epoch will be found in a repudiation of authoritarianism, and the promotion of empathy, cultural competency, emotional intelligence, and commitment to optimism, tolerance, and the facilitation of the WHO definition of health, i.e., the fulfillment of human potential.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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