We are driven by what seems to be obvious and clear imperatives. We respond to work-a-day imperatives to make money, advance projects, feed our families, survive in a pandemic, buy and consume, and find love and pleasure where we can.

But as a society from the local to the global, as a people, as a civilization, we seldom, other than in times of crisis, face deeper questions about the direction of our collective futures. These are the questions that can and do lead to epochal changes. The times that try our souls, as Tom Paine wrote in 1776 in “The American Crisis”.

It’s an unpredictable and yet recurrent theme. For example, the threat of global nuclear war reached a fever point in the Cold War from the 1950s to the 1980s. As an elementary school student in Public School 217 on Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn, we practiced hiding under our desks to protect ourselves in the case of a nuclear attack on our building soon to be vaporized by a hydrogen bomb. But nuclear terror led to the rise of a global peace movement of millions in the streets. Then, the willingness of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to embrace a series of arms control measures followed by the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Today we are at another inflection point. The rapidly worsening global climate crisis requires immediate transformative global action. The sudden August 2022 passage of the strong climate bill by the Biden Administration, just when it seemed that all hope was lost, was an enormous surprise and a major step that encourages further action. Perhaps the worse, the global collapse of our civilization, will be averted and the door to a more nuanced future is opening.

An Ecological civilization

Globally, a countervailing and healing response to climate change is gaining momentum. What this may mean in epochal terms is the global transformation of an industrial to an ecological civilization.

This is change on the scale and impact is significant as the transformation of an agricultural to an industrial civilization. This next great transformation will similarly proceed by stops and starts, be messy, confused, a matter of hope, fear and struggle, and only in retrospect will be considered inevitable.

The scope of that transition from industrial to ecological civilization is comprehensive. It is philosophical, social and spiritual as well as transforming all aspects of what and how we do things and value things. It is comprehensive because it is necessary based on the relentless assault on the ecosphere by global industrialism.

An ecological civilization engages all goods and services, industrial ecology, energy, agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and how we value, count and account for actions. Centrally, it is humanity acting as self-conscious participants in the fundamental global dynamic of sustainability as the ecosphere and planet co-evolve in response to all influences in the interest of life.

Let’s cast this article as a subset of that transformation. It’s not just about machines. It's about how and why we live and what we choose and for what ends. It’s a path to transform our economy and politics to potentiate actions that result in ecological improvement as well as social and ecological justice and a global convergence on sustainable norms for all.

This expression of an ecological civilization that we will consider is based on:

  • The comprehensive pursuit of sustainability
  • An ecological market system that is both sustainable and richer, not collapsing and poorer
  • Creation of sustainable ecological wealth, not degrowth and contraction
  • The global convergence of ecological norms by all
  • The expression of democratic norms as a balance of both freedom and community.

It’s important to understand that we will build the road toward an ecological civilization as we travel. Such a civilization imagined here can be sustainable, richer, fairer, more peaceful.

We do not have to abandon markets, or democracy, or imagine we will vanquish greed and the seven deadly sins. Rather, we can use and perfect markets and democracy in accord with sustainable, ecological norms. Businesses will still pursue wealth and profit but are conditioned by clear market signals that make sustainable goods and services cheaper, gain market share and become more profitable. This, of course, means not just new market rules, but a supporting framework of law, regulation, social values and ethics, and ecological accounting and valuation.

We make no assumptions about virtuous behavior or self-equilibrating markets and invisible hands. An ecological system is one that must, on an ongoing basis, eliminate so-called externalities. That is pollution, depletion, and ecological damage by the comprehensive application of ecological market rules, laws, regulations and social ethics that support sustainable conduct and ecological and social justice for all.

The principles characterizing this market – democratic - justice and fairness - freedom and community-model for a global ecological civilization include:

  • Economic growth resulting in ecological improvement and the restoration of the ecosphere, which includes reducing global carbon dioxide to pre-industrial levels below 300 ppm.;
  • Pursuit of sustainability and of social and ecological justice as a fundamental guide;
  • Global convergence on sustainable norms for all the world’s people that includes a global convergence on yearly per person carbon emissions at a sustainable 2 tons per person per year level;
  • A zero waste, zero pollution economic system, where all outputs become inputs for other processes in a global industrial ecology system;
  • Improvement of efficiency by orders of magnitude, to do much more with much less;
  • The integration and balance of both freedom and community as supportive and balancing social norms in what amounts to a social cybernetic feedback system for continuous response to ever-changing needs and challenges;
  • Sustainability supported by new market rules, laws, regulations and ethics;
  • Ecological market system that makes sustainable goods and services cheaper, gain market share and become more profitable;
  • Sustainable conduct and its consequences are valued and monetized on balance sheets as paid-in capital and as cash to be used for further sustainable investments;
  • All energy users can become energy owners of the global renewable energy infrastructure;
  • Cooperative ownership and governance as an important expression of ownership and governance of all aspects of lives in an ownership society including business, education, housing, health et. al.;
  • Global commons regime where rights to use the global commons (air, earth and water) is balanced by the responsibility to protect and maintain the commons by law and practice;
  • A comprehensive ecological accounting system to properly measure and value all goods and services on the basis of ecological and social justice and sustainability.

This ecological civilization is a market /democratic /justice and fairness system for eliminating so-called externalities, that is self-destructive pollution, depletion and ecological and social damage. Externalities were seen from the start by Adam Smith as a fly-in-the-market ointment.

Markets are moral and legal creations governed by market rules, law regulation, ethics and philosophy, not self-adjusting independent engines. Now set on autopilot to destroy ourselves by continuing horrendous actions, e.g., fossil fuel extraction and combustion releasing gigatons of GHG that are somehow legal and comply with all rules and laws. That self-destruction is central to global industrialism does not make it inherent in all forms of markets and market regulation.

Markets and capitalism have conducted themselves and have been allowed to conduct themselves for 250 years as profitable externality machines. If this continues self-destruction and tragedy await. There is a plethora of both existing and new innovations to transform industrial market systems into sustainable market systems that send clear price signals for sustainable conduct supported by clear law, regulation, mandates and social values. This is more than just a combination of familiar carrots and sticks. Carrots that reward ecological conduct with lower taxes but also can monetize improved ecological value, such as Sustainability Credits (SC) based on the value of the number of tons of carbon dioxide displaced by renewables or efficiency. Sticks discourage unsustainable conduct through ecological taxation such as higher rates for pollution, depletion, and ecological damage. These can be imposed on sources and sinks of ecological damage or as an ecological value-added tax on goods and services that increases on unsustainable products. At the bottom, an ecological value system transcends familiar profits and losses and arises from accounting for the three basic aspects of sustainability, the ecological, the economic and the social.

Fundamental choice

Humanity is being posed with a fundamental choice between self-destruction and collapse or acting as a self-conscious participant in the fundamental co-evolutionary global dynamic of sustainability where the biosphere responds to all influences in ways that improve conditions for the cavalcade of life, all life, not just a particular species, certainly not just ours. This is the process that has enabled life on this planet to withstand periodic mass extinctions and climate disasters once again thrive. Evolutionarily, it is only in retrospect that the humblest of ancestors evolve to become a prolific and temporarily dominant species.

Sustainability is the property of a global system. By definition, that's what ecological and social sustainability means, the healing response to all influences. Can we create a system that wrestles with these questions on an ongoing basis for good ends and create an ecological civilization? This means building pervasive and ever-evolving ecological market rules, law, regulations, philosophy, and ethics that deals with all aspects of what, how, and why we do things.

Industrialism is just a destructive blip in time. Can we escape its self-destructive clutches in time with what costs and suffering?

How can our lives mean less and less negative ecological and social consequences, more love and joy, less war and agony? How can we condition economic growth so that it leads to ecological improvement and increased social and ecological justice? For example, the global replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy and making energy users owners of renewable energy systems.

It is clear we have to drastically reduce ecological pillage and pollution. That can mean a different and not a smaller economy. It can mean less negative ecological and social consequences, more love and joy and less war and agony. It means economic growth that leads to ecological improvement and increased social and ecological justice. It means a global convergence on sustainable and just means for all to meet ecological and justice ends.

It means a fundamental disconnect between an increase in dollar capital and the destruction of so-called natural capital. This means working toward a zero pollution/zero waste industrial ecology where all outputs become inputs to new processes. It means an increase of efficiency in many realms by orders of magnitude to do things not just smarter, but differently. How can we do less and enjoy life more? This means building an economic and social system that values and monetizes sustainable conduct and devalues self-destructive and unsustainable conduct.

These calls are a reflection of the global movement toward guaranteed income for all in a social and economic system that reduces ecological harm and human misery, where productive work becomes both duty and art.


We are facing a crisis of the imagination. Yes, it is insane to continue to allow 37 billion tons annually of carbon dioxide to pour into the atmosphere. If we continue, we will unleash geophysical forces that will afflict our planet for many millennia. This is a prospect not yet a reality.

We can build a dynamic, rich and sustainable ecological civilization that will be richer, fairer and more just based on ecological markets and social and ecological justice. Our future is in our hands. Work, life, art and a sustainable transformation converge. We have no time to waste.


Roy Morrison, Dec 1, 2021. The pursuit of an ecological future: is there another way? Transforming our tax system for economic growth and ecological improvement..
Roy Morrison, Feb. 1, 2022. Three climate change futures. Could we be heading for a dystopian polar existence?
The Green Tax Revolution Csaba László, University of Budapest, Hungary.
Climate crisis is becoming higher on the agenda of the decision-makers of the world. A huge amount of resources have been dedicated to green projects, however far less emphasis has been put on tax policy opportunities. Carbon pricing can increase the burden of CO2producers, but this does not appear to be enough. We need a Green Tax Reform which focuses on the Pigouvian approach and can correct the distortions of different climate hurting activities. Through tax policy tools, the price structure should be drastically changed and serious incentives should be provided to change the behaviours of the consumers and producers to achieve green policy goals.
Jacques Richard, 2022. Radical Ecological Economics and Accounting to Save the Planet The Failure of Mainstream Economists. Routledge Studies in Ecological Economics.
“The solutions and tools generally offered to policymakers on environmental issues – such as carbon pricing and environmental taxation – most often emanate from neoclassical economists. This book shows that the tools of these economists are ineffective for the job and must be replaced by methods from the sphere of ecological accounting.”