Published by Ethical Corporation (http://www.ethicalcorp.com/)
Oct 18, 2019
Simon M Lamb, author of a new book called Junglenomics, argues that human survival will depend on putting ecology into economics
We hear a great deal about ethical markets, in fact it’s easy to get the impression that some kind of world revolution is going on – an ethical cavalry riding to the rescue of a declining and disappearing natural world. For example, I was talking to a partner in an upmarket fashion business the other day and she was waxing lyrical about the new ethical turn her company was taking. I was full of admiration. But I asked her “Will this put up the cost of your clothes?” “Yes,” she replied brightly, “but only about £25 on average.”
I didn’t want to pop her balloon, so I left it that and changed the subject. But it left me thinking that night about what she had really told me that she didn’t mean to. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not disparaging her company’s efforts to be greener or more socially responsible. I love that they are trying to do so. But there’s more to this than meets the eye.
The 12 Core Aims of Junglenomics
- Markets should not be free to profit to the detriment of the environment, species or human beings
- It should be profitable to conserve and enhance natural capital
- A right to “safe-to-breathe air” should be enshrined in law by 2030
- Goods and services that are less damaging to the environment should be made cheaper than more damaging competitors via ring-fenced external cost levies
- Green technology research and development should be prioritized and supported, and proven products and services fast-tracked into mass production and deployment
- That new financial markets that profit from the conservation of the natural world should be devised, initiated, underwritten, and fast-tracked
- Non-core environmentally damaging industry and business should rapidly convert to green technology and practices or be priced out of business
- Core environmentally damaging industry and business should be motivated to avoid, minimize or mitigate its environmental impact, while cleaner alternatives are supported to replace them
- No pollutive or environment-degrading materials should be permitted to escape into the environment from the economy cost free
- The collection and re-use of escaped pollutive or environmentally damaging materials should be made profitable at the cost of their manufacturers and/or distributors
- The poor in developing economies should be prioritized for inclusion in new green development
- Universal education, primarily in Africa, should be made a central priority by the international community to increase opportunity and reduce birth rates
- Saving the Planet: it’s all about Markets
Solving the world environment crisis using Nature’s ecosystems as a blueprint as explained in part 2 of this summary means treating market economies as what they are: “economic ecosystems”. The objective is to achieve natural balance within economic ecosystems so that little or nothing is wasted, and to ensure that no more pollution escapes into the environment than can be comfortably absorbed and neutralised by natural processes. Because it is a holistic approach, this “ecosystem economics” applies to every interaction involving economics and ecosystems – to pollution in air, water and land, to greenhouse gas release, wilderness destruction, species decline, over-population, poor agricultural practices, and so on. These interactions happen almost entirely within markets. Look around your home – everything you see, from the clothes you’re wearing, to your fridge and the food in it, to your furniture, the paint on your wall, even the house itself, has got to you via markets, sometimes involving many components and crossing many different regions of the world, coming together in one object. However, up to now all too many markets have been living in a misty Neverland in which profits are made with little or no regard to environmental impact, as if this were an efficient economic model. In fact, it’s highly inefficient because it is so wasteful of valuable, diminishing resources. It is only by bringing reality to these markets that we can have any real hope of rescuing the world from its spiral of environmental decline.
This article was published in BusinessGreen 07/10/19
It feels like barely a week goes by without another dire environmental news story breaking. One day the IUCN reports that 60% of the world’s wildlife has been wiped out in the last 40 years, the next the UN warns of the potential loss of a million species. Recently that large tracts of the species-rich Amazon rainforest are burning with severe potential consequences for CO2 release and wildlife. Now we hear climate change is moving much faster than expected. In truth, these destructive processes have been going on for decades, and a large number of organisations have been campaigning and working hard to save wildernesses, protect species, control waste and cut carbon emissions and pollution since as far back as the ‘60s. But the environmental winds have changed: suddenly the public have become ultra-sensitised to such news, and all over the world they are demanding with great passion that governments do something dramatic about them. The unlikely figure of a Danish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg, has taken centre stage – a modern day Joan of Arc for the environment. Equally unlikely perhaps, at the other end of the age spectrum a 90+-year-old – the revered broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough - has found himself thrust into the midst of this new fever.
Yet for those of us like me who have been following the spiral of world decline for the past 40 years or more, there is no real sense of the tide turning, of impending victory over the destructive economic forces that underlie all these problems. Why? Because although tens of thousands of highly qualified and experienced economists and ecologists have been concentrated on it, world environmental decline continues at an angle resembling the BP share price after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There have been successes here and there, certainly, but the overall numbers tell a story of abject failure. Why is this? It is surely vital to understand, or the world will just go on throwing mud at the wall in the hopes some of it might stick, hardly a recipe for success.
The reason for this failure is that the “plan” Sir David, Greta, Extinction Rebellion and so many others are calling for simply doesn’t exist. There is still no core economic strategy to restructure the world economic order to conserve natural capital. There are innumerable excellent micro-plans and brilliant new technologies, many of which Business Green readers will be closely involved with. But no core macro-economic strategy – no master plan.
Yet I believe that this plan is all around us – in Nature. The consilience between ecology and economics has long been recognised, but never have the lessons of ecology – specifically ecosystems, been applied methodically to environmental economics. If we want to stop panic-firefighting problems one-by-one and get to grips once and for all with these humungous problems, it’s time some solid science was injected into it.
We can start with the basics: all things human that give rise to environmental decline have one thing in common - one way or the other they can be laid at the door of free markets. Markets are at the epicentre of the human world, after all. They built it; they maintain it; they continue to develop it, and we have everything to thank them for. But all too often they also degrade and destroy it. Just as happens in Nature, where creatures that overextend themselves eventually get knocked back, all the signs are that without a radical re-think, the same will likely happen to us, or rather to the children to whom we bequeath the potentially dire consequences of our inaction.
There’s a logical reason for our ostensibly suicidal exploitation of the natural world, though. An ancient and immensely powerful instinct impels all species to acquire and control resources – it’s a survival thing, and it drives the evolution of species. It’s why you find life exploiting resources everywhere from inside solid rock more than 2 miles beneath South Africa’s Tau Tona gold mine, all the way up to the cumulus clouds in the sky above. This is why we humans are doing precisely the same thing – feverishly exploring, exploiting and expanding the economic dimension - the economic ecosystem. It’s why we now have our eyes set on other planets. Looked at it this way, we can perhaps begin to understand why we strip the Earth of its resources despite the inevitable consequences – it’s in our genes.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it – far from it. While we can’t change our genes, we can, through smart economics, redirect this universal drive so that it protects the natural world instead of destroying it. How? By changing existing markets and creating new ones specifically designed to make “good” behaviour profitable, and “bad” ever more costly. In economics, as in Nature, what provides survives; what costs is lost. I yearn for the day when the Brazilian rainforests are worth more standing than burned; when clean cars are cheaper than dirty ones; when organic food is cheaper than pesticidal food; when clean energy is cheaper than pollutive energy, when tigers are worth more alive than dead. It’s crazy economics that they aren’t already when we know full well their true worth. The bottom line is that Nature doesn’t care a fig about what happens to us, but it does show us how to create the balanced economic ecosystem the world needs.
But this change won’t emerge from grass roots at anything like a sufficient scale in the narrow time window available. It demands a brand-new form of ecology-inspired, neo-Keynesian macro-economics, which means only governments can make it happen. But with vision and a renewed political will inspired, activated and energised by Greta and her supporters, the big plan that is “Ecosystem Economics” could be born the very next day.
Simon M Lamb
Author of Junglenomics: Nature’s Solutions to the world economic crisis: a new paradigm for the 21st century and beyond
Let me begin by quoting from Peter Wohlleben’s superb, The Hidden Life of Trees: “… out there under the trees, the law of the jungle rules. Every species wants to survive, and each takes from the others what it needs. All are basically ruthless, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse is because there are safeguards against those who demand more than their due. And one final limitation is an organism’s own genetics: an organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out.” (p.113).