We were all taught to be good citizens but were never asked to reflect on the historical and geographical limitations of the idea of citizenship. Compared to suffering under tyranny, citizenship is clear progress that has enabled access to education, arts, science, open debate and democracy, but citizenship has always been an exclusive notion. City walls separated insiders from outsiders. Furthermore, of those living within the walls, only those able to defend the city commons from external threats were eligible for citizen status, i.e. no slaves, women, or children. Nature was also outside of the walls and had to be exploited to create sustenance for the citizen population and make them wealthier.

During the Enlightenment, nation states devised a new citizenship, yet it remained exclusive. Once more, foreigners, the poor, slaves, women, and children were not considered citizens and thus could not vote and decide on the laws imposed on them. Citizens of imperial states competed to exploit nature and colonize other parts of the world to maximize their wealth. This engendered the slavery, war, and overexploitation of natural resources that ushered in our current age of democratic, economic, health, climate, and biodiversity crises, none of which stop at the walls of any city. If the citywide and statewide levels are the appropriate scales for coming to democratic decisions on local and national issues, then in order to solve borderless crises, a larger planetary scale is needed, thus in addition to being local citizens, we all need to learn to become ethical, inclusive, and respectful planetizens.

Planetizens of all ages are learning planetizens because we can always continue to learn to (i) care for themselves, others, and the planet, (ii) work together to overcome personal, local, and global challenges (including the UN’s SDGs) by mobilizing collective intelligence and technologies that can help us to become more sustainable, (iii) recognize our global interdependence, the limits of our planet, the vulnerability of our societies, and the complexity of our world, (iv) reflect on our past, present, and future, (v) be good ancestors to the generations to come, (vi) “planetizen the movement,” in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as our thinking, actions, rights, institutions, celebrations, and ability to decide together how on Earth we’re going to live together.

By François Taddéi, Co-founder and President of the Learning Planet Institute.