Building a durable, sustainable, prosperous and just ecological civilization in the 21st and 22nd centuries is a healing response to our self-destructive global industrial civilization as climate catastrophe and mass extinction accelerate. An ecological turn does not require new inventions and technologies.

Nor does a sustainable future rest on the end of markets and entrepreneurship, or the embrace of degrowth to shrink the economy informed by the belief that economic growth is synonymous with ecological pillage.

The energetic application of the powers of democracy and markets can rapidly and effectively lead to a global convergence on sustainable and just norms for the common benefit.

This article makes the case that a global ecological economic growth system is the path forward. An ecological global growth system is based on a radical reduction in pollution, depletion and ecological damage resting on new sustainable market rules, laws and regulations within a guiding context of social and ecological justice.

It is a fundamental philosophical category error to conflate the negative consequences of economic growth with an increase in monetary value as most popularly measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Yes, our current system is an externality machine profiting from the ecological damage it inflicts and profits from. The 37 gigatons of global carbon dioxide emissions are generally in compliance with all rules and regulations and modestly, if at all, taxed on permitted emissions. This is a creature of existing industrial markets and the political and economic power of the polluters, and not an inherent feature of markets taking an ecological turn.

Three basic principles

We can build a civilization that is richer, fairer, ecologically and politically sustainable by the pursuit of three basic principles:

One: ecological value

The pursuit and monetization of ecological value are crucial for the success of sustainable market systems. An ecological profit system sends clear price signals to businesses, investors, financiers, customers, and consumers resulting in sustainable goods and services becoming less costly, gaining market share, and becoming more profitable.

There are there a number of mechanisms that can value and monetize ecological value that tips the scale of business and balance sheets decidedly toward ecological conduct making the sustainable business and profit path to doing both good and well.

Valuing and monetizing carbon-dioxide emission displacement by renewable energy resources, by increased efficiency, and by bio-energy negative emissions (NE)is a crucial step in accelerating the global ecological turn and mitigating the consequences of global warming and climate change.

Powerful ecological market transformation can be implemented quickly through the creation of a new regulatory asset, a Sustainability Credit (SC). A Sustainability Credit is based on the ecological value and consequences of displacing one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions with renewable energy and increased efficiency. The economic value has been studied by the Nation Academy of Sciences (NAS) and by the EPA valued at $150 a metric ton.

Unlike other familiar regulatory assets like Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) which represent an increase in consumer and utility costs for renewable development, Sustainability Credits (SCs) do not increase costs. They are a reflection of real ecological value. SCs are not a tax or a subsidy. They are a reality-based increase in ecological value. Sustainability Credits can be considered as the new gold and manifestation of sustainability in action.

The displacement of 37 gigatons (billion tons) of global carbon-dioxide emissions represents not just a dramatic decrease in pollution, depletion, and ecological damage, but if monetized a powerful positive economic signal.

Greenhouse gas displacement can be turned by law or regulation into money on the books of banks, credit unions, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) as paid-in capital and as cash on balance sheets.

The ordinary magic of banking allows ten dollars in investment for each dollar of own capital, Thus the total yearly potential of displacing 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide at $150 per metric ton is $55 trillion dollars annually for ongoing carbon dioxide displacement by renewables. This and other potential Green House Gas (GHG) reductions represent both the true ecological value being monetized and the economic basis for ecological transformation.

The IPCC goal is a 50% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. That would mean by 2030 a global potential yearly investment in the sustainability of $27.5 trillion. That’s what can be on the table to help finance a global ecological transformation. Balance sheet heaven.

Sustainability Credits will require a modification of the treatment of intangible assets under U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)and Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) that informs GAAP and International Accounting Standards (IAS) rules for financial statements to accommodate ecological realities and ecological value. The use of such monetized funds must be limited to productive investment in further GHG reductions and related ecological technologies. The dollars created by ecological investments become part of normal management by the Federal Reserve and other central banks.

Sustainability Credits will be certified to meet renewable standards and their yearly output verified, based on well-documented and recorded hourly output data. This will prevent double counting and the development of ecologically damaging system designs.

Bio-energy systems not only displace carbon emissions but remove carbon from the atmosphere and ocean in Negative Emissions (NE). The bio-energy systems should receive a cash multiplier for both displacing carbon emissions and removing atmospheric carbon as part of the ecological imperative to return the atmosphere to pre-industrial carbon levels of below 300 parts per million carbon dioxide.

For example, the use of agricultural and food waste heated under reduced oxygen to create biochar to be buried as fertilizer that remains as sequestered carbon for hundreds of years or more. Other bio-energy NE technologies include farm digester systems producing biogas and fertilizer as well as sewage-based systems. Many gigatons of carbon can be moved from the air and oceans and become a crucial part of an ecological turn.

The monetizing of ecological value should become a central feature of the 21st-century economy and the basis of facilitating and encouraging the development of an ecological civilization.

Two: ownership, making energy users, energy owners

An ecological civilization cannot be built in a world where a handful of billionaires own more than billions of poor. Our current system is working exceeding well in helping the rich to get richer. This need not be. The power of the rich and the global nature of markets have facilitated the ability of the rich to avoid taxes, take advantage of obscure offshore financial schemes and get around normal social democratic economic tools.

An ecologically and socially transformative policy is to make it possible for all renewable energy users to also become energy owners of the key global efficient renewable energy systems of the 21st century. The good news is there are available tools to make this happen economically and effectively.

The development of models for widespread ownership is a transformative tool that broadly increases the general welfare. $60 trillion is estimated to be spent by 2050 for a global renewable energy transformation from fossil fuels

This $60 trillion dollar investment instead of largely becoming the property of billionaires on the path to becoming trillionaires can instead be transformed into a path to broad community ownership including renters and the poor. All will gain equity.

Energy users can become energy owners using available and existing financial tools by taking advantage of tax equity and depreciation rules applied for common community benefit in year six after solar systems are installed. The opportunity also applies to communities that are the hosts for renewable energy development. The model includes maintaining farmland by installing dual-use solar above pasture and row crops. Farms become a major source of both renewable energy and food that increases farmer income and at the same time ownership by the users of the power.

This is more than just an exercise of fairness and justice. In practice, broad renewable energy ownership helps establish the basis for common people to have a seat at the decision-making table in controlling the future shape of local and global renewables to optimize our collective interest.

$27 billion in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA ) funds, for example, are currently directed to benefit low-income census tracks. The use of the IRA grants can leverage IRA benefits by helping support organizing muni/coop/association actions to take advantage of available financial tools.

Financial tools

Municipals, coops, or associations as entities enter into contracts with renewable developers for long-term agreements to buy renewable power. The energy users put up zero money. This long-term contract reduces interest rates for developers. The agreement enables the future affordable purchase of solar systems by energy users.

Commercial solar development is driven by extensive tax credits in the first five years. In year six, the 30% to 70% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) benefits under the IRA are “exhausted” along with the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) depreciation. Beneficiaries of the tax credits must own and operate the system to keep the tax credit and accelerated depreciation benefits until year six after solar construction.

Under U.S. IRS rules, solar developers can receive an investment tax credit (ITC) of at least 30% of their capital costs (which now includes interconnection and storage costs) and can reach 50% under the new IRA if more than half of the benefits are shared with residents in low-income census tracks, and 70% meeting domestic content and prevailing wage rules. In addition, the new energy user owners will receive accelerated MACRS depreciation based on the value of the system purchase.

Steps to energy user-owned renewable ownership at almost any scale

  1. A municipality or cooperative or association contracts with a renewable developer of their choice, for example, a Solar Developer (SD) to buy solar power for at least 20 years at defined prices. The negotiated price will cover SD’s capital cost to build, pay loan interest, operation and maintenance, and insurance. SD will work with interested banks or credit unions or Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), during the contracting process. The agreement with Muni/coop/Association is key to finance at a reasonable rate for SD. The agreement could include in addition to solar, also wind, geothermal, bio-energy and free-standing storage. Coops and associations operate on the basis of one member one vote, not one dollar on a vote.

  2. SD will finalize negotiations with the financial institutions for construction funding to be transformed into a long-term mortgage following the commercial operation date (COD).

  3. At COD, renewable power flows to the Town, and income flows to SD to pay its mortgage and maintain the solar and storage system.

  4. The contract with the Muni/Coop/Association gives them the right to buy a full or partial interest in the solar system plus storage beginning in year six when tax equity is exhausted.

  5. Opting to buy the system in year six takes advantage of the stream of income from existing energy purchase contracts for the system and profit for SD. The value of the system in year six is substantially reduced after-tax equity and MACRS exhausted. A negotiated fair price can be part of reaching an agreement with SD.

  6. The muni/coop/association will have its financial plan to be implemented for the year six purchases. Although there is no ITC for the energy user purchase, there is new MACRS depreciation based on the value of the purchase price. Built into the purchase analysis will be provided for an unexpected potential high number of people unable to pay their electric bills, which is generally small. Unless they are destitute in the midst of economic calamity, people strive to keep the lights on.

  7. Each coop/association member will have their own capital account and ownership share based on annual distributions based on their share of energy purchases and their share of profits based on energy sales and additional income from storage sales and participation in Virtual Power Plant (VPP) income. Payment for power by energy users by credit card or bank account payments.

Members can use their equity interest for finance.

The ownership model can of course be extended through society to include housing, hospitals, businesses supported by revenue bonds, community banks, credit unions, CDFIs and entrepreneurial cooperative institutions.

Three: justice

Social and ecological justice rests upon a global convergence of sustainable norms for all. This means, for example, that global carbon dioxide emissions per person per year must be around 2 metric tons per person to be at a global level that will maintain carbon dioxide at sustainable levels as part of the global Negative emissions program.

The U.S. is now around 15.5 tons per person per year. Puerto Rico, in contrast, is .22 Laos is .66. Uganda is .13.What is clear is that the high-polluting industrialized world must aid the low-polluting world in the transformation to renewable energy and avoid following the high-polluting path which will mean a continuation of the path toward ecological self-destruction. The world cannot be half sustainable and half polluted. We must be one of the other.

This is the reality of the necessity for a global convergence upon sustainable norms for all. This is the basis for social and ecological justice. It is a global necessity, not charity. The industrialization of India with a population of 1.4 billion, and soon to eclipse China as the global population leader, has 1.3 tons per person of carbon dioxide emissions. For India alone to follow a fossil fuel path will be catastrophic globally.

A global pursuit of sustainability and prosperity for all is based on a global convergence of sustainable norms for all. This means sustainability based on fairness and justice that each person is entitled to adequate food, clean water, housing, health care, safe working conditions, relaxation, and good family life. Over time there will be a global convergence toward sustainable averages that include the choice to pursue much more than economic growth.


At the core of ecological change is constructive action shaped by new ecological market rules, laws and regulations shaped by ongoing democratic choices that respond to all influences as humanity takes its necessary place in the global co-evolutionary process of sustainability. Humanity has the opportunity and mission of becoming a self-conscious participant in this fundamental dynamic of the ecosphere. Our actions have the opportunity to pursue sustainability and ecological restoration guided by the imperatives for ecological and social justice as an inescapable foundation for building an ecological civilization.

Socially an ecological civilization embraces and maintains a balance of both freedom and community. A community without freedom bends toward dictatorship. Freedom without community bends toward license. Democracy is the ongoing equilibrating and corrective force.

This is a civilization that will be richer, more just, more peaceful, and driven by the interconnection and cooperation of billions in pursuit of their own flavors and varieties of ecological, economic, and social goals.


Yearly Tons of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Capita, Statistica. Average per capita carbon dioxide emissions worldwide from 1960 to 2021(in metric tons).
Virtual Power Plants. Liza Martin, Kevin Brehm, Rocky Mountain Institute, 2023. “Clean Energy 101: Virtual Power Plants.” Clean Energy 101: Virtual Power Plants - RMI.
Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Tax Credit Rules. McGuireWoods, February 2023. “Inflation Reduction Act Extends and Modifies Tax Credits for Solar Projects”.