Exploitation is Not Enterprise

Our study of the natural world is providing ever more detailed data about human impact on natural systems and the effect of these impacts on human health and wellbeing and the stability of institutions. Without major improvements across a broad spectrum of sustainability metrics, we will face serious degradation of both ecosystems and human security by 2050.

Industries accustomed to reducing their own capital costs by asking society and natural systems to absorb unpaid-for pollution are unsettled by the emergence of policies and business models that make the resulting impacts evident. They should, however, welcome this transition.

There is no reason enterprise must be treated as synonymous with exploitation. In fact, in many ways, the two ways of working are mutually exclusive.

  • To be enterprising is to apply talent and resources to meet a need and expand a pool of value.
  • To be exploitative is to refuse to compete in that way and instead require absorption of harm without consent.
  • It is irrational to assume that exploitation will continue to be tolerated, if there is any way to prevent or redress it.

The IPBES reported earlier this year that 1 million species face extinction. It is estimated that 60% of all animals have been wiped out since 1970. Pollinators are vanishing from cropland, in part because the diversity of plantlife in the surrounding ecosystems is being degraded by industrial farming practices and climate disruption.

The IPCC reported in August that degradation of land and climate disruption are mutually reinforcing. Land use change is critical to ensuring we can slow climate disruption and prevent collapse of the human food supply.

Regenerative soil management can vastly expand soil biology, creating safeguards against biodiversity loss and helping to slow the climate crisis. Achieving this at scale, across the world, requires recognition of a few core insights:

Biodiversity is a security issue. Living systems are connected. In the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster traces of both oil and dispersant chemicals were found far inland, in both plants and animal species, and migrating birds were affected and in turn affected remote ecosystems. Climate disruption is altering disease vectors, crop pests, water supplies, and food security, putting national economies at risk.

Resilience is always existential. Resilience isn’t a luxury; it is a measure of health and wellbeing. Markets don’t measure the value of all underlying systems, but the health and resilience of ecosystems, and of communities and micro-economies, determine whether or not an enterprise, or a population, can exist when and where they wish to.

Biodiversity fosters resilience and adaptability. Biodiverse local ecosystems in agricultural regions harbor healthier and more abundant wild pollinating insects. Planting of diverse patches of wildflowers has been shown to increase the diversity and resilience of pollinators, with a resulting increase in crop yields. Richer ecosystems and soil ecology make farmland more resistant to degradation and more adaptable to replanting (in the event of a severe crop pest event).

Resilience is highly investable. Because we cannot afford to let life-sustaining systems fail, all investment everywhere has a stake in resilience-building efforts. Claiming even a small segment of that larger, more decentralized, faster innovating market means earning from food production, distribution, and consumption, and from the data services that make everyone more efficient.

  • Whether we are talking about Iowa, Ethiopia, Ireland, or Kazakhstan, the need for more resilient farming is everywhere. By removing chemical fertilizer and moving to regenerative techniques, biomass in the soil can be greatly expanded (possibly 1,000-fold in some places).
  • The resulting higher-value land and farmed goods can help markets optimize investment to create vast new pools of wealth. The farmers will earn more, and be less susceptible to crop-pests and crop failure. Traders and distributors can earn more from better, healthier organic food.
  • Insurers can earn more and provide more affordable rates — both to farmers and to people whose health will be improved by better food production. Local soil ecology finance corporations are all that is needed to ensure this new farm finance revolution comes to fruition.

We have only 30 harvests left until 2050, when unchecked climate disruption is expected to make simultaneous crop failure in multiple breadbasket regions much more likely. The need to move from unaccountable exploitation to sustainable enterprise, in all areas, is evident. Finance will lead or follow, but it will eventually enforce this new standard.

In the face of deepening climate emergency, science-based sustainable finance and enterprise hold by far the most value-building potential.