(Co-written with Dr. Michael Tobias, a leading ecologist and naturalist)

Ecological pillage is profit. Ecological sustainability is a cost. This is business as usual driven by the steel triangle of industrialism resting on technique, hierarchy, and progress as a cult, employed for profit, endless growth and concentration of wealth and power. The biosphere is input for industrial ends and valued through its destruction for industrial profit. The consequences of such ecological ruination are the central problem not, per sé, the pursuit of profit if subject to market rules and laws that support ecological restoration, fairness, and justice.

The current system of ecological self-oblivion and unprecedented intra- and interspecies injustice is overseen by a blind accountant who cannot envision the horrendous consequences of this rampage upon the biosphere and all its inhabitants. This syndrome of pollution is a closed system. Despite nearly 250 years of societal awareness of the consequences of its outright hostilities to the natural world, in 2023 we continue to ignore or recklessly obfuscate the pernicious, largely fatal repercussions of our inflictions. We merely depreciate the value, the measures of worth and the intellectual arguments that would otherwise race to calculate our extinction-level externalities in any rational economic equations.

I can “profit” by clear-cutting an ancient redwood forest, destroying habitat for thousands of species and the livelihoods of those living in and with the forest, while triggering floods, landslides, and general devastation on land no longer protected by the root systems of that former forest. I could profit on the furnishings produced from the best redwood. Chip the rest for toilet paper or send it to biomass power plants. The ballet of mechanical invasion can quickly destroy 1,000 years of sylvan perfection in a blink. We blindly engage in this murderous conquest, manifest in the unchecked power of feller-bunchers armed with spinning circular saw blades grabbing and cutting down the life of the forest. Then, giant skidders haul the trees highest on the Dimension Index, and any so-called champions, to trucks that will take the corpses to the mills. This greed-driven holocaust - which any child who has watched an environmentally-oriented animation film will be familiar with - represents one emblem of escalating stupidity - three trillion missing trees across the planet - propelled by unchecked battalions by which our kind has waged its unrelenting war against the world. So morbid and depressing a state of emergency that the one constant truly worth wrapping our personal lives around is: What can we do about it today?

There is little time left to suggest hope’s fast-waning caveat, “until”. Until we wake up from the slumbers of so much studied indifference; until we properly value and monetize sustainability; until we re-trace and utterly reform the collective complacency, of these continuing crimes against the earth, we remain complicit and irretrievably on the path to the final hours. Words like biocide or injustice cannot remedy mindsets or unconscious selection biases in anywhere near the time needed to retool our penchants, attitudes, fundamental orientations, or demographic habits - at 8 billion rapacious consumers and counting. An ecological and saving turn can only begin when we act to make ecological terrorism no longer affordable or perceived as an essential utility of 21st-century human life.

Any sensible reviewer of current corporate and private betrayal - as just noted -must gaze in awe upon the myriad losses. Yet, some hold out faith, true faith, in such basics as sustainability in every guise, the equivalent of suggesting that the best, testable model for its prime motives is the working physiology of any vertebrate, invertebrate, or vascular plant, and the ten-thousand homeostatic mechanisms that give life. We might, without squandering the similes, add enduring value and net profit to the obvious analogies between nature’s economy and some version of it across human civilizations. Our muddled economics, shorn of excess, primed to function as the agency of biological pertinacity, can - and at this penultimate hour must - be embraced with, shall we say a new integrity. What does that mean, practically?

It - an authentic new human nature commensurate with poly-crisis - should abide by systems of market pricing that intelligently, and empathetically respond to new market rules and regulations. They are borne of signals, powerful economic cues, that make sustainability both the high-profit center and the basis for the pursuit of social and ecological justice. Only in that global convergence of new and tenable norms, can the physiological poesis find an ethical economy. As John Ruskin speculated in his four essays, Unto This Last (early 1860s) monetary value is an arbitrary expedience which gains in fairness and humanity what it loses should profit become its only measure. Ruskin was spared the realization that dehumanization through profit would form the perfect model for our conquest of the earth. But through his marked influence on Mahatma Gandhi, his ideas - and those of many others - would and may still shape a stunning new narrative at the instant in human history it is most urgently required.

There are the well-known millennium guides, 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and countless overlapping indices of ecosystem health. The multiple natural sciences that engage quantum physics, biosemiotics, cellular biology, geoinformation mapping and all facets of so-called directed evolution are not adequate to the task of staunching ill-begotten human gains. Opening our eyes and implementing ecological economic market rules and tools to make the pursuit of profit and price methodology send sustainable market signals can effectively engender wealth that is akin to shared ecological value. Nothing else can save us.

The premise upon which this presumption of a mandate is unleashed pivots, to reiterate, the common-sense horrors revealed by our ecological damage, in its partly unfathomable dimensions. That increasingly irreversible monster of lacunae is the financially valuable pollution system that we have bred, not in ignorance. Even in the sleepless nights of our thirst for this demon called making a killing has steadfastly revealed that it is a closed, diseased apparatus of fast-diminishing yields. Any sustainable market approach that we can build, and quickly, must be an open system. This is the only path toward ecological restoration and social justice, beyond mere verbiage.

Removing subsidies and waivers from hydrocarbon and other malignant energy sources is but one of the multitudinous new revisionist codes of the industry that test our true resilience of mind. This is the inchoate purpose of any ethical conviction. The facts are self-evident. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academy of Sciences have valued the displacement of fossil fuel pollution by renewable energy at $150 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalents. A sustainable and just market system would be based on valuing these ecological benefits and monetizing them as regulatory assets.

For instance, Sustainability Credits as paid in capital and as cash on the books of banks used for further investments in all things relevant and ecologically vetted. Interest, dividends, and whatever is credited in the sphere of profits, are not just predicated on what can be hewn from the fickle miasmas of market pricing. Rather, the monetized value of sustainability will catalyze tens of trillions of dollars annually in further investment in ecological and social benefits: all those human and Other species components embodied in the many UN and other international quality-of-life initiatives for communities and nations. Renewable power sources are but one prime example after many decades of successful practice. But for every specific biocultural and biotic tier there is a concomitant remediation and stabilization practice waiting to be energized. To be fulfilled in terms of safeguards. Liberated from extinction.

We do not concur that the overwhelming share of such benefits is the intellectual or physical property of our species. There are at least 100 million Other species desperate for their fair share. That is the crucial domain of animal and habitat liberation. Of a human and other-than-human targeted biodiversity initiative that is global, coherent in its messaging, and humble enough to sense that humility is for those who deserve to be humble.

On the energy front, the 37 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2021 going forward might still be cut in half to possibly avoid the worst of the worst. How? This can be made possible through the existing terms of the Inflation Reduction Act, for example, that allows 30% to 40% investment tax credits to be immediately converted into cash for every stakeholder. This includes those without wealth and a so-called tax appetite that to date has recklessly allowed the rich to avoid taxes and thereby get richer. Turning tax credits into cash helps open the door for broad ownership of the $trillions in planned renewable energy investments. This is the creation of capital providing sufficient levels of funding to efficiently and humanely empower social choices that will intelligently moderate consumption and violence, as has been articulated in many (fragmented) hundreds of international environmental treaties. And, by example, the nearly 300,000 protected terrestrial and aquatic spaces on Earth. Not enough to even come close to the 30/30, let alone half-earth paradigms proposed by biologists, but certainly evidence that our species understands where we need to be headed.

Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) and other like-minded human exceptionalists (Karl Marx among them) have, looking backward, utterly failed posterity. Our market system has shown itself to be inherently entropic; and the accompanying politics have never been so distracted, anthropic, entitled, self-enthralled and by performance, if not intent, rotten to the core. The healing truth, and strange paradox, is that it is the global market system that can and must act to save itself and wield the price system as an irresistible ecological tool. New market rules and regulations must make what is sustainable less expensive, gain robust market shares, and be more profitable - not for development's sake, but for a restrained quality of global life. This a mandate not for a small percentage of the wealthy to further enrich themselves while they still think they have the time, but for a global convergence upon sustainable norms and fairness for all. The essential context is ecological and social justice leading to environmental remediation and restoration and the first true glimmers of a global ecological civilization arising.

Sustainability credits monetize ecological improvement. This is a useful contrast to Conservation Banking for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation Banking allows landowners to protect significant land holdings subject to ESA regulation of development that could result in a “taking” of endangered species, a rueful formula as it often plays out. Through a complex process and approval of relevant Federal and State agencies that agree with protection and development plans, the landowners are permitted to sell easements to other developers based on the cost required to help protect endangered species within the Conservation Bank’s land or water holdings. Biological ledgers afford some succor in the daily tally of extinctions and risk, as monitored closely by those deeply enough concerned to have taken serious note. But with over 2 trillion vertebrates and invertebrates slaughtered by humans annually; and the vast majority of habitat and biomass now commandeered by our species, such modest economic gains as suggested above, if they are to devolve to the primary recipients, all those Other than humans. It’s tragically clear that we must agree to build day by day a humane, compassionate, non-violent economy, aware that a Doomsday Clock like no other shadows us all.

The combined sciences and humanities to date have clearly reiterated what needs to happen if our species is to save what’s left of its own health and dignity. The 2023 Earth Commission Report on Global Health from 40 leading scientists, for example, quantifies five key biophysical processes and systems that regulate the health of the Earth’s finite dynamics. The global climate emergency; industrial pollutants of all forms; the fast-mounting injuries - many permanent - to the biosphere; diminishing freshwaters for all; and mass fertilizer and nutrient despoliation. By these insistent breaches, we have consented to the continued arrogation and appropriation by Homo sapiens of the net primary producers and all those species whose primordial fountain of youth has until now been hailed as the products of photosynthesis. It is a reckless path that cannot continue. Our permission to destroy must never again be granted.

“Justice is a necessity for humanity to live within planetary limits... It is not a political choice. Overwhelming evidence shows that a just and equitable approach is essential to planetary stability. We cannot have a biophysically safe planet without justice,” concludes Johan Rockström, Earth Commission Co-Chair, lead author and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Aware of what is looming, a 200,000-year hot house earth manifesting an ecological mass extinction and end of times, we recognize that any human economy that aspires to model itself functionally after what Nature has extolled must be prepared for what earlier generations insisted was sacrificed. Today we know that the conversation around sacrifice zones is very different than sacrifice. Think of the tens-of-thousands of seemingly minor oil and chemical spills each year - as well as the enormous ones; the 1,336 Superfund sites in the U.S. and thousands of unfettered development projects throughout the world ending in diseased moonscapes. These all tell of a very different, destructive legacy. One that is entirely self-serving, with no notion of sacrifice, just piracy. We must open our eyes and make our mission, our markets, our science, and our aspirations those that would follow pathways to ecological restoration and economic justice. We can do it. Is it clearly the only serious choice? Markets must mean deliverance.

If we are to truly endure as a species, we must do far more than sacrifice through non-violent restraint and innovation. Most importantly, we need to hold on to the precious composites of life that remain. We are in a capable position to do so; to disown our missteps and make them right moving forward.


17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. United Nations. Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development..
Earth Commission Report Just World on a Safe Planet, Johan Rockström et. al., 2023. “Safe and just Earth system boundaries.” Nature. May 31 2023.
Random Homeostasis On Nature of Contingent Reality, Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison, 2023. Random Homeostasis – On the Nature of Contingent Reality, Nova Science Publishers. First comprehensive exploration of theoretical biology in the context of hybrid, real-time evolution within an ethical and philosophical context.