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Nature as Capital? Or Nature as Inspiration?

July 20, 2012

Many sensible, forward-thinking people know that the ‘Green Economy’ is at the heart of the next stage of our world and regional economies, helping us out of the economic pit we find ourselves in while also helping us out of the social and environmental mess which make-up our reality.

Many sensible, forward-thinking people also know that our current political world leaders are not a reliable driving force for change – hence the ‘damp squib’ of Rio +20 Summit being over-shadowed by the encouraging ‘emergent shoots’ of green economics from diverse Summit fringe groups full of social entrepreneurs, business change agents, thought leaders and innovators.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report ‘Towards a Green Economy’ to help provide structure to the emergence of this ‘green economy’ concept.  An important component of this concept is ‘nature as capital’.  In other words, ecosystems of non-human life rationalised as capital assets defined in terms of the value they provide humans.

As Nick Robins explains in Resurgence Magazine (‘Rescuing the Economy, p16 Issue 272) “natural capital is profoundly different from capital stocks as understood by economists and financiers. First, its depreciation can be irreversible; second, it’s difficult if not impossible to replace a depleted natural asset with another; and third, ecosystems can collapse abruptly.”

Nick Robins also points out a deeper more philosophical differentiator – nature and its ecosystems are not here purely for human benefit.  We all too often in today’s prevailing business paradigm see the world around us through anthropocentric eyes.  We view the world as a collection of things to be utilised for human consumption.  Nature and the ‘ecosystem services’ that flow from nature are viewed in terms of the value they provide us.  Often, within ‘sustainability programmes’ biodiversity is valued in terms of how it benefits the human stakeholder groups involved.   This rather incomplete view of nature and life (encouraged through reductionist, mechanistic world views) rather overlooks the deeply important truth that life is an interconnected web of life; where ecosystems are systems of interconnected life with humans a strand within this diverse and rich fabric of life. 

This recognition does not in any way attempt to belittle humanity or down play our human specialities; rather it brings to the surface a simple truth that is often overlooked in our desire to fix human-centric problems with human-centric solutions without acknowledging (and deeply understanding) that we are part of a rich tapestry of life. Our actions and interactions have repercussions and interconnections with life.  If we ignore this simple truth then we seek incomplete solutions by seeing only incomplete problems.

I hope that plans for a ‘Green Economy’ do not apply the same faulty, incomplete logical in finding solutions as the logic we applied to the current ‘take, make, waste’ economy that led us into the current plethora of crises. That would be a shame for humanity and life on Earth.

Hence, the core to any ‘Green Economy’ must be rooted in a deep understanding (a knowing) of how life on Earth works and so how we can benefit ourselves while helping rather than hurting the rich tapestry of life to which we form part.

Understanding nature has (until recently) been largely confined to science, and only limited bridging with sociology, psychology and economics.  Many sensible, forward thinking leaders of the future know that we now need a holistic, all-encompassing understanding and approach to our economies, societies and natural world as it is all interconnected and inter-related.

Ecological principles act as guidelines for how nature works and how ecosystems develop resilience.  These same ecological principles can help reshape our economies, in fact they will become the foundational principles for any new ‘Green Economy’ that has a chance of being resilient in these volatile times.

  • Diversity instead of monopoly
  • Multi-cultures of shared interest instead of mono-cultures of self-interest
  • Economies of scope to balance economies of scale
  • Emergence interwoven with management
  • Holism harmonised with reductionism
  • Interconnectedness beyond seperatedness
  • Nature as inspiration on top of nature as capital

Often, we become overwhelmed and all-consumed by the very real human problems facing us in these challenging times ranging from climate change to poverty.  Yet these challenges bring opportunities – opportunities to change our prevailing view of the world and life itself.  If we seek to solve the plethora of human and non-human challenges with anthropocentric thinking, then we may do well in solving some of our current challenges yet only to find they have been replaced by other challenges as this incomplete thinking leads to incomplete solutions.

The core to a ‘Green Economy’ or for that matter a new business paradigm is in our relationship with ourselves (our human nature) and our human relationship with nature.

The wise words of Confucius, 500 BC, speak volumes ‘He who is in harmony with nature hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking’.

Let’s have hope and faith that humanity shall apply at least as much effort into understanding nature as it does into understanding the value of nature to humanity.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Wm.Powlesland, P.Eng. permalink
    July 24, 2012 2:22 pm

    I agree whole-heartedly with your thesis. When we realize and accept that we are all ONE, then our human ego will take a back seat and the “knowing” that lives in our hearts will lead us back into harmony with the ‘all that is’.

    Thank you for sharing your gift of understanding.

    Blessings to all,


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