Planet Earth is in trouble. Its living systems are crumbling, as forests disappear, species are lost, water is polluted, ecosystems are simplified and the climate changes.
We rely on these living systems for our own survival, so these threats to the Earth are threats to our own existence. We have become the architects of a great environmental tragedy that could lead to the equally tragic demise of all that humanity has achieved.
At the same time, despite the staggering quantity of resources we are extracting from the planet, we have not yet found a way to deliver basic necessities to all people. Poverty and famine coincide with over-consumption and obesity epidemics. Parts of the world are stuck in bloody conflict while others engage in meaningless media circuses.
Some might argue that these contradictions are just what it means to be human. But I think we can do better. And I think we must do better if we expect the Earth to continue to sustain us. Nothing less than a transformation is needed: a transformation of the way we live on and with the Earth, and of the way we treat each other.
After more than 20 years working on different aspects of this necessary transformation, it is clear to me that there are no simple technological or economic fixes. If there were, we would have done them by now. Instead, our challenges are social, cultural and political. We need to transform the way we relate to each other and the Earth, the stories we tell ourselves about what it means to be human and the way we make decisions together.
For this website, I am particularly interested in the challenge of shifting our deep stories and narratives. We are surrounded by stories and narratives that stimulate our imaginations, guide and influence our behaviour, shape our ideas of what is possible and govern what we perceive as normal. They help us to understand who we are and how we relate to the world around us. They can open up new possibilities and make them feel tangible, accessible and real.
Narratives, however, can also be limiting and constraining, particularly when used to promote interests, goals, and values that benefit a select few and create outcomes that are inconsistent with an equitable and sustainable world. Narratives can diminish people’s sense of individual and collective agency and make the ‘end of the story’ seem inevitable.
A key source of the unprecedented environmental and social challenges we currently face is a deep, persistent narrative that does not respect the Earth and all living things. This dominant narrative operates on a global scale, has deep historical and cultural roots, and structures the stories told at other scales. It combines a neo-liberal economic ideology with a myth of human separation from, and dominance over, nature. It positions endless economic growth as the primary goal of society. The result is continuous exploitation of material resources, while disregarding the ecological destruction and human misery that results. If we are to respond effectively to sustainability challenges, transformation of the dominant narrative that shapes human civilisation is crucial.
The rough shape of a new narrative is already emerging in the stories and language of countless sustainability initiatives around the world. It will be a narrative that respects the Earth and fosters life, community, connectedness, solidarity, regeneration and resilience. It will emphasise wellbeing, dignity, and justice for all and recognise our interdependence and connectedness to each other and to nature.
I think of it as a ‘planetcentric’ narrative – a narrative that values the whole of planet Earth, all peoples, all living things, and seeks ways for us all to live together in something approaching harmony. It is an unashamedly utopian ideal, but why should we not aim for utopia, even if we inevitably fall short.
This site will explore the many dimensions of a planetcentric narrative, the arguments for and against this and other deep narratives, ways that stories and narratives change and are changing, and the stories of those around the world working towards the transformations we need. It documents the ongoing search for a story that sustains.