Earth and Ownership – Walking the Harmful Premises Path

Our relationship with nature is a troublesome one. And it does touch down on another subject: the concept of ownership. This is as old as our footsteps on this planet. There are laws, regulations and customs to live by, meant to serve communities and society at large. What is new, is how we should deal with the ‘ownership’ of earth.

The climate crisis is a real time fact and the Paris Agreement sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change. How we got here, we know. How we go from here, is a matter of choice, dedication, and examining underlying issues. One of those is a very basic question which refers to our relationship with nature, the environment. In general: Earth. If we regard ourselves as ‘part of nature’ it implies a certain division, a separation. But when we embrace a more holistic point of departure, whilst including man in the concept and at the same time adhering to the implications of interdependence, it becomes ‘we are nature’. Although this does not imply that all and everything is the same or equal, it might serve to formulate a frame of reference regarding the ‘ownership’ of earth.

Who granted us ownership, the planet itself? God, or other mighty powers? No one did. A throughout history acted out human species’ supremacy isn’t based on any title deed or other contract. It’s just very convenient to behave as the righteous owners, stretching the idea of ownership to its limits and combining the legal right (of ownership, that shows the legal situation) with the possessory right (that shows real position). Ownership, like possession, is a concept that translates our ideas and our ethics into rules, rules into behaviour, and vice versa. Actually, it provides us with the licence to operate. But regarding the planet it unfortunately didn’t come with a sustainable business model, and that is exactly what the world is up to right now.

For a long time this planet has been treated as a shopping centre where one can get what they want without paying. No cashier, no check. But now the shelves are running on empty as the natural restock – also literally – fails. That’s not decent economics, nor in any way sustainable. The shopping mall metaphor is also a reminder of our stewardship. We don’t ‘own’ this planet. And we’d better take good care of it because it is the one and only home we have.

We can build for the future if we not only repair damages already done, but in addition reimage and restore to balance the big ecosystem that life depends on. Although we are clever, it is hubris to think we can outsmart the unpredictable. We cannot know and foresee everything simply because there is no end to what can be known. So with us stays a realm of wonder too, residing in that place where dreams do come from, and our beliefs, our hopes. It is connected to the spot that give birth to miraculous inventions of the mind. We are an amazing species, especially if we truly care.


Prof. dr. Paul van Geest (professor at Erasmus School of Philosophy and professor at Tilburg School of Catholic Theology)

mr. dr. Marina van Driel (advisor Erasmus Institute for Business Economics)

We Trust. We Share. We Build.

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