Earth Ethics, Sustainability

Rent the World: A Manifesto

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Among the doomsday predictions and naysaying climate skeptics have you stopped to appreciate that you are the result of around 3.8 billions years of evolution?  It strikes me sometimes that in the midst of doom and gloom scenarios we forget to rejoice the fact that despite the odds human life has evolved in a truly remarkable way.  We are alive to experience the world wide wake-up call challenging us to shift our paradigm and start to take care of the Earth.

Despite the turmoil that surrounds us (disruptive technology, economic woes and environmental degradation), we live at a fascinating time.  We are witnessing the evolution of human consciousness before our eyes.  The news has been delivered telling us that the way we are living is at odds with the physical systems of the planet and we are fast approaching crisis point. It is up to us to choose the path to a safe, clean and free society for current generations and for future generations after us.

A changing paradigm – ethics and cosmology

We’re moving from a worldview that prioritizes nations to one that prioritizes planet. Peter Ellyard a renowned futurist and intellectual, coined the term planetism to describe the worldview where our first allegiance is to the planet.  As a concept planetism recognizes that humanity exists as part of a whole in an interconnected system.

The shift that we’re experiencing is a shift in paradigm from a worldview in which:

  • individual is king to community being paramount;
  • autocracy and hierarchy rule to democracy taking a deeper hold;
  • humanity working against nature (or from above) to one where humanity sees itself as inextricably linked to nature.

Consciously or unconsciously the predominant worldview stresses that life (you, me and all the creatures of the biosphere) is insignificant because we are so tiny in comparison to the infinite universe.  This is recognized by the expression ‘in the scheme of things, I’m insignificant’ or ‘one person won’t change a thing’.  We must challenge this view.  While the Earth may be ‘insignificant’ in space (i.e. we are tiny in comparison to the rest of space) we are significant in time. Earth has been around such a long time that it has allowed complex human life and everything in the biosphere to flourish.  This fact alone means there is no justification for us to continue approaching our relationship with the Earth and life itself with indifference.  Our fundamental relationship with the Earth needs some counselling so that collectively we recognize we’re flying in the face of 3.8 billion years of miraculous design, destroying the planet for the benefit of a relative few.

The rise of civil society: citizens and entrepreneurs

With the rise of the civil sector, we’re witnessing an extraordinary shift in the way in which people are grappling with and responding to the global challenge of sustainability.  The organisation I founded, Rent to the World started because we recognized the need to catalyze the paradigm shift and get on with the task of looking after the commons.

The metaphor of paying ‘rent’ to the world is unmistakable because it challenges our worldview and encourages us to recognize there’s a corresponding duty (or fee!) for our place on the planet.  As a noun, rent is defined as “a fee for use, service or privilege”.  The concept encourages us to recognize the symbiotic nature of our existence and that we each have a role (or duty depending on your point of view) to give something back.  As everyone has a concept of money it is a powerful tool to remind us that we all have an impact, and therefore a responsibility to give back to the Earth – our home – for the gift of life and the use of its resources – valuable, beautiful and quite often finite.


For the moment we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole but the message is resoundingly clear: we cannot continue on our current course.  Once we make the mental shift placing cooperation, collaboration and responsibility as the central principles of our worldview, we can harness our energy and ingenuity to begin the task of looking after the commons.  Our hope at Rent to the World is that many more people are ready to join with us to turn things around.  Wendell Berry, the remarkable American poet, farmer and activist has said “the world and life it holds are conditional gifts.  We have the world to live in on condition that we take good care of it”.  Humanity is receiving a wake-up call, after many years of taking our place on Earth for granted.  It is our responsibility to take care of the planet, so that in return, it will look after us.

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