Children of a Modest Star
Planetary Thinking for an Age of Crises
Jonathan S. Blake and Nils Gilman



Who and Where and How We Are

The COVID-19 pandemic ranks among the deadliest pandemics in human history, which as of March 2023 had infected hundreds of millions, officially causing nearly seven million human deaths, with estimates of the true total of excess deaths running to more than twice that.1 What started in Wuhan in the late fall of 2019 became within weeks a major global event. The pandemic was, however, more than just an event in global history—that is, the human history of global connections, in politics, economics, culture, and science. It was also an event in biological history. As an episode in the history of life on Earth, the pandemic had many faces. It marked a significant moment in the coevolution of Homo sapiens and viruses and sparked a rash of evolutionary adaptations of SARS-CoV-2 as it branched into more and more variants. This evolutionary perspective places the pandemic in a different light than the perspectives to which we are accustomed—the perspectives offered by the histories of globalization, of modernity, or even of agriculture, the rise of which twelve thousand years ago prompted the emergence of many of humankind’s major infectious diseases.2

The lens of biology offers synchronic perspectives as well, helping us see the pandemic not just as an episode in biological time but as an event experienced simultaneously by living beings across the planet. SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t care about Linnean distinctions between species. As long as the virus’s “spike” protein fits with a cell’s ACE2 receptor, it eagerly enters and infects the host. Cats, civets, and Caribbean manatees are just three of the many mammals that have ACE2 proteins similar enough to those of humans, and SARS-CoV-2 has charged ahead in all of them.3 The pandemic manifested, in other words, as a multispecies event.4

The virus also touched the biosphere via its impact on human behavior. Responding to fear and government mandates, humans across the globe retreated to their homes, briefly taking up a little less space on the planet. Other species noticed. To the wild goats of Wales and the cougars of Chile, the sign that something was different was the sudden absence of human beings and their loud and lethal technologies of transportation.5 Skies cleared. Asphalt arteries emptied. Rambunctious urban centers turned quiet, temporarily becoming open spaces for other creatures to explore, stalk through, or flutter by. This momentary human confinement registered as an event in the history of the biosphere.6

A larger, longer perspective comes from observing the pandemic through the biogeochemical history of Earth. To the global network of scientific sensors that record and make knowable this history, the sign that something dramatic was underway registered in changes to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry. In late February 2020, for instance, satellite imagery revealed an abrupt decline in nitrogen dioxide pollution—caused by cars and industrial production—in the air over China. The pollutant’s decline began over Wuhan, the first city locked down, but spread across the country, following the spread of lockdowns.7 Additional observation showed that the human reactions to the pandemic in the first half of 2020 resulted in a sudden 8.8 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions from the year before. SARS-CoV-2 did what no well-meaning climate policy has yet been able to achieve, causing “the largest ever decline in emissions.”8 It proved to be only a blip on the seemingly inexorably increasing Keeling Curve—a graph displaying the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured continuously since 1958—but it was nonetheless a telling episode in Earth history.

To protect human health and human life from a virus that measures no more than 140 billionths of a meter, societies undertook “among history’s largest exercises in state power,” shutting themselves down and locking in two and a half billion people—acts of social sacrifice and individual quarantine and isolation that added up to have planetary-scale impacts on the Earth’s atmosphere.9 The COVID-19 pandemic revealed both the discordant perspectives and the profound interconnections between three histories distinguished by the eminent scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty: “the history of the planet, the history of life on the planet, and the history of the globe made by the logics of empire, capital, and technology.”10

A perspective shift reveals our placement in the deep histories of biology and the planet, laying bare our inseparable interconnection with those histories and all that emerges from them. Adopting these perspectives, moreover, has tremendous implications for how we should live together and manage our collective lives—that is, how we should govern ourselves.

The problems posed when events of biological or geological scale pierce the defenses of governance on a human scale were on dazzling display during the COVID-19 pandemic. The existing global governance system turned out to be unable to stop COVID-19’s lethal spread. While the scientific capacity to understand the nature of viral infection has improved exponentially since Old World viruses devastated the New World over the long sixteenth century, the capacity of our global political system to control the spread of a pandemic disease has scarcely improved at all. At the same time, the globalization of our economic system has only accelerated the rate at which viruses can proliferate. Whereas the Black Death took eight years to march from Kyrgyzstan to Crimea in the 1330s and 1340s and the 1918 influenza took three months to move from Kansas to Europe, SARS-CoV-2 spread from Wuhan to Europe and North America within three weeks, causing public health system meltdowns and thousands of deaths in Lombardy and New York.11

If one looks at the system of global governance for pandemic response, it becomes clear why, despite our vastly improved understanding of the science of viruses, we were collectively unable to respond in a way that could prevent the virus from becoming a planet-wide health catastrophe. The present global system of governance was developed during the twentieth century to facilitate the integration and interaction of national states, especially around economic cooperation and international peace and security. It was and is designed, therefore, to represent the interests of its member national states in international forums. It is fundamentally not geared toward addressing planetary challenges like pandemics. Nor does this apply only to pandemic response: for many of the most pressing challenges that we now face, the existing structures of governance are simply not fit for purpose. Our governance institutions are not attuned to the deep murmuration of the planet—nor are they prepared for the inescapable consequences.

What would governance look like if our planetary condition was central rather than ancillary to our political self-conceptions? What issues would become paramount, and how might this change our views?12 How would we act if we took seriously humanity’s profound integration into Earth’s planetary systems, demonstrated by the COVID pandemic, from the microbiological scale of the virus to the macrosystemic scale of the planet’s atmosphere? What would change as a result of human beings being revealed, not as masters of the planet, but as part of it?13

Human beings are essentially and ineluctably embedded within planetary-scale phenomena: we affect and are affected by our Earthly home. Western science, which is the bedrock of modern technology, politics, and worldviews, however, emerged in large measure in denial of this embeddedness. Springing from a secularized distillation of Christian belief (“And God said, Let us make man in our image,” according to King James’ Genesis, “and let them have dominion . . . over all the earth”), this scientific tradition rested on the precept that humans were inherently different from all of God’s other creatures. Unlike the beasts, the “fowl of the air,” and “every thing that creepeth upon the earth,” humankind was endowed with reason and a capacity, if not moral duty, for technical mastery over the natural world—a unique inheritance that set us humans apart from nature. Yet the scientific method that developed over time from those precepts—a method of inquiry rooted in the scrutiny of evidence and radical skepticism—has, by the early twenty-first century, revealed that there is no separation between human beings and the natural world. In a triumph of the scientific method, the tools of science overturned science’s most basic assumptions. This insight has been percolating for about a century, catching the attention of the occasional forward-thinking scientist, but it is now increasingly clear that the idea of humans distinguished from nature is intellectually unsustainable. It is, moreover, ecologically ruinous. The idea of “humanity apart” is, and for a long time has been, encouraging grave harm to the ecosystems in which humans dwell and the biosphere of which humans are a part.

These discoveries have changed the face of science and, in turn, have triggered a rupture in philosophy. But these insights about the state of the world and our place in it have yet to trickle out of the scientific labs, specialist journals, and rarified seminar rooms and into the mainstream consciousness. They certainly have not yet affected how societies act. With this book, we hope to change that. Given what we now know—and are likely to still learn—about Earth and the place of humans on it, the question that animates this book is: What should we do about it?

Our answer is that we must transform our modes and systems of governance, which is to say the institutionalized social rules that tell us how we are supposed to live in common.14 Governance is typically understood to happen through law and government—and the government of sovereign national states in particular. But governance operates at many levels and comes in many forms. Subnational political institutions (like city and state/provincial governments) set rules for their jurisdictions, as do many nonstate actors (like firms, nongovernmental organizations, and religious institutions). Global governance institutions, such as the United Nations, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the World Health Organization, work to manage global issues. This system of multilevel governance—with subnational governments expected to take care of local issues like garbage collection or street cleaning, the national government setting the basic legal framework for the society as a whole and managing macroeconomic matters, and multilateral, global governance institutions managing relations between national states and matters that require international cooperation—has, since the end of World War II, become, more or less, the model for how governance happens around the world.

The reigning structure of multilevel governance is no longer adequate to the challenges of our current age, an age that some scholars have come to refer to as the Planetary. The concept of the Planetary is one that has emerged over the last several decades from the work of scientists, especially Earth system scientists and biologists, as well as philosophers, particularly philosophers of science. At the heart of the idea of the Planetary is a holistic vision of the planet as consisting of an almost infinitely complex interlaced and nested array of dynamically interacting biological, chemical, energetic, and geological systems. This concept, in turn, is informed by new knowledge of the place and role of human beings within this vast system. At the macrocosmic scale, we now know that human activity is deeply interconnected with atmospheric chemistry and Earth’s climate and geology; at the microcosmic scale, discoveries about the human microbiome have revealed our deep entanglement with bacteria and other microorganisms, one that affects our very mental states, that supposed hallmark of human distinctiveness and autonomy.15

This emerging and rapidly expanding body of knowledge is bringing forth what we call planetary sapience—that is, a technologically enabled self-understanding of the planet and its deeply systemic interconnectedness.16 Human beings, like all other creatures, have of course always been embedded in this system of systems, existing in a position of codependency with them. Indeed, virtually every traditional religion and indigenous epistemology has emphasized this embeddedness, and the need to respect and sustain our “Mother Earth.”17 What has changed over the last few centuries, and especially over the last few decades, is that a rapidly expanding techno-scientific apparatus of measurement devices and computing has enabled an understanding of the nature of the embeddedness to a degree of detail and precision that before was literally unimaginable. Planetary sapience is the product of the rapidly expanding array of sensors in, on, and over the Earth—continuously monitoring everything from temperature to moisture to chemical compositions to deforestation—as well as the algorithms and supercomputers that organize these data and scrutinize them to detect overarching patterns, abnormalities, and changes in individual ecosystems and the planet as a whole.

An increasingly precise understanding of how the Earth system operates and how its subsystems interoperate is one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. So vast is the scale of this new knowledge and the new perspective it offers that it has enabled—indeed necessitates—a fundamental rethinking of the human place on the planet. Planetary sapience has already revealed that the unintended consequences of human actions have remade and continue to remake the biogeochemical conditions that have thus far sustained our flourishing here. After such knowledge, we must reckon with our ways of being if we want to keep the planet habitable for ourselves, our descendants, and all the other living beings that call this rocky sphere home.

Unfortunately, growing planetary sapience has so far mainly revealed wreckage rather than redemption. It has made us exquisitely aware of the planetary challenges we face: climate change, pandemic diseases, stratospheric ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol loading, space junk, growing antibiotic resistance, biodiversity loss, anthropogenic genetic disruptions, declining soil health, upended nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, freshwater depletion, ocean acidification, oceanic plastics—and maybe even emerging technologies with terraforming potential, like bioengineering and artificial intelligence. By one widely respected measure, human activity (or more accurately, some humans’ activity) has breached six of nine quantified “planetary boundaries,” potentially pushing Earth beyond the “safe operating space for humanity.”18 To achieve planetary sapience is to realize that humans can no longer treat the planet as an endless font of resources or a bottomless sink for waste. Above all, planetary sapience uncovers the condition of planetarity, the inescapability of our embeddedness in an Earth-spanning biogeochemical system—a system we now know is undergoing severe disruptions from the relative planetary stability of the previous twelve millennia. The condition of planetarity is and always has been an ontological fact—that is, a verifiable, empirical statement about our place inside the planet’s biogeochemical feedback systems—even if it has only recently been disclosed by planetary sapience (enabled by an assemblage of planetary-scale technologies of perception). Together, these two concepts mean that humans are capable of understanding the damage that we are doing to ourselves when we damage the planetary systems that we are a part of and that sustain us. Appreciating the condition of planetarity entails an unflinching embrace of the fact that humans cannot thrive unless the ecosystems we inhabit are themselves thriving.

From this condition of planetarity flows the ethical through line of this book: our governance institutions must promote habitability in order to enable multispecies flourishing. The idea of habitability stands in contrast to the concept of “sustainability” that guides much of global governance today, in particular as embedded in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which have been at the heart of the international system’s economic development and environmental governance strategies over the last decade.19 Whereas the sustainability concept implicitly if not explicitly suggests that nature be seen and treated as something separate from humans, a standing reserve of resources and “ecosystem services” to be managed and responsibly harvested for human benefit, the idea of habitability begins from the scientific understanding of human embeddedness and inseparability from nature. Its focus, therefore, is on creating the conditions for the continuity of the entire web of life in which humans are inextricably embedded.

The question then becomes: How can humans govern effectively in the name of habitability? Doing this requires, first, that we entirely rethink how to govern. This book presents a foundational critique of the existing architecture of global governance. The problem with the existing system is that none of our current international institutions that are charged with addressing planetary challenges answer to the imperatives of the planet as such; rather, they answer to the member states that they represent. This institutional structure leaves planetary challenges unresolved and creates span of control/responsibility asymmetries and other pathologies that we will discuss. We propose therefore a new architecture for governance of the planet, based on a rethought version of a centuries-old principle known as subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity states that authority within a pluralistic system of administration should be allocated to the smallest-scale governing institution capable of managing the task effectively. Regional authorities take over only what the local authorities can’t do for themselves, national authorities only what the regional authorities can’t, and so on. Subsidiarity, in short, aims to maximize local control within an overarching governance framework that retains the capacity to manage shared problems.

Combining the observation about the condition of planetarity and the principle of subsidiarity, we propose a fundamentally new architecture for the governance of the planet, what we call planetary subsidiarity, based schematically on three scales of institutions: the planetary (which is to govern and guarantee habitability and multispecies flourishing), the national (which is to govern and guarantee development and redistribution), and the local (which is to ensure that the aforementioned principles are implemented in accordance with local conditions and preferences). A key argument of planetary subsidiarity is that the condition of planetarity makes clear that the smallest scale at which planetary issues can be governed effectively is the planet itself.

The vision of planetary subsidiarity differs radically from previous proposals for and instantiations of global governance, whether the existing United Nations system or the ideas of world federalism that were briefly popular in the years after the Second World War. On the one hand, whereas most older schemes for a “world state” or “global federalism” imagined a single, integrated, general-purpose global-scale government—the classical Weberian image of the state projected to the planetary scale—our proposed architecture of planetary subsidiarity envisions a series of narrowly scoped, functionally oriented governance institutions. Rather than one hegemonic world Leviathan, we propose separate planetary institutions tasked with managing specific planetary problems: one for the climate, one for pandemics, one for biodiversity, and so on. On the other hand, our vision also differs from the existing UN system, where multilateral member-state institutions ultimately answer to the sovereign national states that join them. We instead imagine putting people with expertise in the relevant planetary phenomena at the center of the decision-making process, answering to new forms of democratic publics. Only such a structure of deliberate multiscalar governance, one that eschews the fetishization of national sovereignty, can ensure the habitability necessary to enable multispecies (and thus ultimately human) flourishing.

In the end, of course, there is no escape from politics—that is, from the negotiations and power struggles between individuals and groups with differing values, interests, and needs. And so this book, while primarily concerned with planetary governance, also underscores the need for a new form of planetary politics. To achieve multispecies flourishing, we must find new ways to include the interests of nonhumans in this planetary politics, and to that end we also make a plea to empower those with the knowledge of how nonhumans operate to represent what those others need, in other words, scientists, as well as those who have the creative capacity of imagining the interior worlds of these others and can serve as their spokespeople. These are some of the bearers of planetary sapience, and to ensure that this knowledge is formed inclusively, it is imperative, finally, that we broaden access to scientific expertise. Where you are born and what identities you embody should not determine your capacity to serve as a planetary knower and spokesperson.

This book aims to join together two conversations that have been taking place in parallel but largely in ignorance of one another: the scientific-philosophical conversation that has been developing the concept of the Planetary and the ongoing political conversation about how best to govern the world. On the one hand, people interested in governance—including scholars of politics, international relations, and law; analysts, activists, and journalists interested in public policy; policymakers in local and national governments and international organizations; and informed citizens throughout the world—are barely if at all aware of the latest scientific and philosophical understanding of the Planetary and what it means for how they need to rethink their missions. On the other hand, the communities of specialists in the Planetary, largely in the Earth sciences and philosophy of science, often wish that governance structures and decisions would respond to their findings but are often also uncomfortable with and professionally disincentivized from promoting normative claims at a level of specificity that would make a difference. As a result, these two communities talk separately if not past each other, missing out on opportunities for mutually beneficial exchanges. Thus we hope to build a bridge between the conversations and introduce these communities to one another using mutually intelligible language to enable productive communication between them. We hope this book will kick off a broad and ongoing dialogue between those who understand the condition of planetarity and those with the tools—and power—to do something about it.

This goal determined our method of inquiry. The knowledge that we draw on to make our case primarily comes from the bodies of thought on science, politics, philosophy, technology, and governance that emerged in the North Atlantic over the last century and a half. For the most part, we have not integrated other traditions of thought, notably indigenous traditions, which have often addressed similar concerns of planetary holism. (Indeed, in many ways, Western thought is just now catching up to well-established indigenous insights about the world.) We chose to focus on this particular intellectual tradition for two reasons: first, because this is the conversation to which our primary audiences are already attuned, and second, because of the strengths gained from the Western scientific tradition’s commitment to precision and falsifiability. Western science’s unique contribution to long-standing intuitions held by other knowledge systems about the holistic integration of humans into our natural habitat is a level of exactitude that enables the rigorous testing and identification of the nature of planetary embeddedness. After a long detour (mis)guided by a belief in human exceptionalism, Western science has in recent decades returned to the ideas of holism and systems.

Some forms of knowledge based in Western science have undoubtedly justified and materially enabled the rapacious and cruel treatments of other human beings, living beings, and the Earth, but the solution to the rapacity and cruelty enabled by science is not less science but better science. Above all, solutions to the problems that Western science has created require better governance systems, ones that can act on the precise and useful knowledge produced by such science. Enhancing planetary sapience through education, technological development, and scientific study is the only way forward.

This is not a book with “ten simple fixes to save the planet!” It’s not even a guide to policies that should be pursued to effectively manage problems like climate change and pandemics. Rather, it is a book about institutions. Specifically, it’s about how to design institutions that can pursue policies to effectively manage planetary issues. Yet we do not go into the details of administrative practice, much less about the black-letter law that will be necessary to codify the institutions we have in mind. Our purpose is not to describe the juridical details of the necessary new planetary institutions, only to make the case for their necessity and to describe the functional capacities they will need to have in order to be effective in addressing planetary challenges.

We recognize that our proposals to build planetary institutions are unlikely to be implemented any time soon—what they represent, rather, is a vision for the future. Meanwhile, ongoing efforts to address planetary challenges within the current institutional matrix must continue, and indeed multiply, even as we build toward more effective structures of planetary governance. We must pursue both our long-term vision and the short-and medium-term tactics aimed at decarbonization, disease control, and so on. Let’s be clear: there are real and powerful antiplanetary forces in governments and corporations around the world. They are the adversaries of all who seek the long-term habitability of Earth and the flourishing of all its inhabitants. By contrast, those who believe in those goals but work within the existing governance system—people, organizations, governments, and global institutions working toward a habitable planet—are our allies, even if we disagree (sometimes forcefully) with their strategies. In those cases, our criticism is intended as constructive and as a spur for creative, even radical thinking.

Chapters 1 and 2 describe the world’s current governance architecture and its functional strengths and weaknesses as well as narrate how it came to be. We show (in chapter 1) that the hegemony of the sovereign national state as the privileged container of governance is a recent phenomenon, one that solidified globally only in the 1960s. Then (in chapter 2) we describe the multilevel global governance system that has grown up around the sovereign national state, explaining how various governance functions have relocated “above” the state, to the multilateral global governance system, and “below” the state, to subnational authorities and nonstate actors.

Chapter 3 offers a genealogy of the concept of the Planetary, a key term in contemporary Earth system and biological science as well as the philosophy of science. Chapter 4 presents our original interpretation of the principle of subsidiarity, an old idea for how to allocate authority within a multilevel governance architecture. Building on the insights of the previous chapter, we argue that we should rethink the principle of subsidiarity in light of our condition of planetarity. These two chapters provide the core conceptual and theoretical innovations of the book.

Chapters 5 and 6, finally, outline how we could redesign governance institutions for a planetary age. The first of these chapters proposes new roles for local institutions and suggests that they will be best able to serve their residents by networking with one another to share ideas and resources. The second sketches a general architectural model for planetary governance, including what planetary institutions for managing climate change and pandemics might look like in practice. As we illustrate these possibilities, we do not intend to offer a full blueprint for new institutions, but rather simply to outline what their key features ought to be.

The vision we put forth will no doubt be dismissed by some as madly ambitious, if not unhinged and perilous—thoughts we have at times shared. But what of alternatives? Is our vision less realistic than the escapist fantasy of building off-world colonies for a few (billionaires) while the world burns? Is it more foolishly optimistic than the belief that the market, aided by no centralized coordination mechanism, will deliver messianic technologies to redeem us? Is it more despotic than the possibility of eco-authoritarianism? Compared to these (alarmingly plausible) alternatives, the proposals in this book, we dare say, seem realistic, just, inclusive, and modest. We are, as the poet W. H. Auden recognized, “children of a modest star”—and we must live on Earth with modesty rather than by mastery.20


1. Data from “Tracking,” Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, accessed June 15, 2023, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, a private initiative that provided real-time public information about the pandemic worldwide better than most governments or international organizations, stopped collecting data on COVID infections and deaths on March 10, 2023, two months before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic over, on May 5, 2023. On the estimated “excess deaths” from the novel coronavirus, see William Msemburi et al., “The WHO Estimates of Excess Mortality Associated with the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Nature 613, no. 7942 (January 2023): 130–37.

2. Nathan D. Wolfe, Claire Panosian Dunavan, and Jared Diamond, “Origins of Major Human Infectious Diseases,” Nature 447, no. 7142 (May 2007): 279–83.

3. Fabian Z. X. Lean et al., “Differential Susceptibility of SARS-CoV-2 in Animals: Evidence of ACE2 Host Receptor Distribution in Companion Animals, Livestock and Wildlife by Immunohistochemical Characterization,” Transboundary and Emerging Diseases 69, no. 4 (July 2022): 2275–86.

4. Eben Kirksey, “The Emergence of COVID-19: A Multispecies Story,” Anthropology Now 12, no. 1 (2020): 11–16.

5. Aleesha Khaliq, “Wild Goats Take Over Welsh Town amid Coronavirus Lockdown,” CNN, March 31, 2020,; “Chilean Capital Gets Another Visit from Cougar amid Coronavirus Lockdown,” Reuters, April 2, 2020,

6. Marlee A. Tucker et al., “Behavioral Responses of Terrestrial Mammals to COVID-19 Lockdowns,” Science 380, no. 6649 (June 2023): 1059–64.

7. Kasha Patel, “Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets over China,” NASA Earth Observatory, March 2, 2020,

8. Zhu Liu et al., “Near-Real-Time Monitoring of Global CO2 Emissions Reveals the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Nature Communications 11 (2020): 2.

9. Benedette Cuffari, “The Size of SARS-CoV-2 and Its Implications,” News Medical, last updated February 15, 2021,​.aspx. The quote is from Peter Baldwin, Fighting the First Wave: Why the Coronavirus Was Tackled So Differently across the Globe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 82.

10. Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021), 68.

11. Maria A. Spyrou et al., “The Source of the Black Death in Fourteenth-Century Central Eurasia,” Nature 606, no. 7973 (June 2022): 718–24.

12. Paraphrasing Scott F. Gilbert, Jan Sapp, and Alfred I. Tauber, “A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals,” Quarterly Review of Biology 87, no. 4 (December 2012): 327.

13. In addition to the cited sources, this section is indebted to Hannah Landecker, “Antibiotic Resistance and the Biology of History,” Body and Society 22, no. 4 (December 2016): 19–52; and Dipesh Chakrabarty, “An Era of Pandemics? What Is Global and What Is Planetary about COVID-19,” In the Moment (blog), October 16, 2020,

14. There are lots of definitions of governance (likely too many) strewn about. Some that influenced our thinking include Börzel and Risse’s “the various institutionalized modes of social coordination to produce and implement collectively binding rules or to provide collective goods”; Hooghe and Marks’s “authoritative decision making in the public sphere”; Weiss’s “the entire composite ecosystem through which a society manages its common affairs, a system that may or may not involve authoritative structures”; and Bevir’s “all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market, or network; whether over a family, tribe, corporation, or territory; and whether by laws, norms, power, or language. Governance is a broader term than government because it focuses not only on the state and its institutions but also on the creation of rule and order in social practices.” We prefer our definition for its simplicity and plain language. Tanja A. Börzel and Thomas Risse, “Governance without a State: Can It Work?,” Regulation and Governance 4, no. 2 (June 2010): 114; Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, Community, Scale, and Regional Governance: A Postfunctionalist Theory of Governance, vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 5; Thomas G. Weiss, Governing the World? Addressing “Problems without Passports” (New York: Routledge, 2014), 9; Mark Bevir, A Theory of Governance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 1.

15. Karl J. Maier and Mustafa al’Absi, “Toward a Biopsychosocial Ecology of the Human Microbiome, Brain-Gut Axis, and Health,” Psychosomatic Medicine 79, no. 8 (2017): 947–57; Federico Boem, Gabriele Ferretti, and Silvano Zipoli Caiani, “Out of Our Skull, in Our Skin: The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis and the Extended Cognition Thesis,” Biology and Philosophy 36, no. 14 (March 2021): 1–32.

16. The concept of planetary sapience is drawn from Benjamin Bratton, “Planetary Sapience,” Noema magazine, June 17, 2021,

17. Indigenous thought and scholarship have been particularly fruitful and have produced a forceful critique of the Western traditions in which our book is rooted. We do not explore this body of work in any depth in this book, but our engagement with it has been valuable. Especially important for us are Jodi Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, A Yupiaq Worldview: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1995); Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013); Ailton Krenak, Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, trans. Anthony Doyle (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2019); Elias Nelson, “Making Native Science: Indigenous Epistemologies and Settler Sciences in the United States Empire,” PhD diss., Harvard University, 2018; Kimberly TallBear, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013); Kyle Powys Whyte, “On the Role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as a Collaborative Concept: A Philosophical Study,” Ecological Processes 2 (April 2013),; and Christine J. Winter, “A Seat at the Table: Te Awa Tupua, Te Urewera, Taranaki Maunga and Political Representation,” borderlands 20, no. 1 (January 2021): 116–39.

18. Will Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 347, no. 6223 (February 2015): 736; Linn Persson et al., “Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities,” Environmental Science and Technology 56, no. 3 (February 2022): 1510–21; Lan Wang-Erlandsson et al., “A Planetary Boundary for Green Water,” Nature Reviews Earth and Environment 3, no. 6 (June 2022): 380–92. On the point that some humans, rather than “humanity,” are to blame, see, for example, Jason Moore, ed., Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016).

19. We draw the contrast from Chakrabarty, Climate of History, 81–85.

20. W. H. Auden, “New Year Letter,” in Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Vintage, 1991), 208.