Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Counting It

How can our system of extreme consumerism be tamed so that we can live within our planetary means? How do we save the trees? One approach is to look at the whole picture and begin to take into account the costs of consumerism.

The Prince of Wales is now ramping up his 20-year charity patronage to emphasize the impact that consumerism is having on the planet's natural resources an forests. He's started up a new initiative called Accounting for Sustainability that frames this problem as an economic crisis as well.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a global initiative focused on drawing attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity. It has produced a study that begins to measure the value of the planetary ecosystem. The study, "Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business” was commissioned by the TEEB for Business Coalition to identify the world’s largest natural capital risks and opportunities for business and their investors. The report, authored by Trucost, quantifies environmental externalities such as damages from climate change, pollution, land conversion and depletion of natural resources, across business sectors and at a regional level. It demonstrates that the profits of high impact business sectors would be wiped out if the costs of environmental damage and unsustainable natural resource use are accounted for. This report highlights the urgent need for businesses to manage natural capital assets and reduce liabilities. Businesses and investors can take account of natural capital impacts in decision making to manage risk and gain competitive advantage.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity provides a detailed breakdown of the parts of the ecosystem that provides the life-sustaining sources of water, air and food. This is the kind of accounting that takes place with Natural Capital, which doesn't leave most of the impacts of energy, transportation and production off the books.

The study is an important benchmark for business, but how does it get put into play by the business community and the corporate sector? There needs to be a call to action made by the people who purchase these products and services, who rely on the natural world for their existence, after all is said and done. One person raising awareness of this entire interconnected web of existence is Billy Talen.

In his book, The End of the World, Talen has written sermons to wake people up about the climate crisis, destruction of biodiversity, and catastrophic consumption orchestrated by global capitalism. He is taking the argument to the people, using creative methods in his activism to wake people up to the destructiveness of our modern existence. He has partnered with groups of people to get the message out:

There is a quiet revolution taking place right now. It’s a hell of a challenge. Forestry scientists know that we are experiencing a worldwide die-off of trees. Forests store 40 percent of the CO2 on land. They are the great cleaners of the air because the greenhouse gases are held inside trees. The forests all over the world are dying and the scientists do not know how to tell people they are stuck with that big false beautiful movie of the forest. To reconstitute the forests and the sea we will have to make the big banks back down. They are decimating us by industrial agriculture, financing five massive hydroelectric dams like in Chile near the Pascua and Baker Rivers. That development that destroys the forests and the planet earth must be stopped. Hallelujah. Amen.