The great thing about the dilemma we're in is that we get to re-imagine every single thing we do...There isn't a single thing that doesn't require a complete remake. There are two ways of looking at that. One is: Oh my gosh, what a big burden. The other way, which I prefer, is: What a great time to be born! What a great time to be alive! Because this generation gets to essentially completely change the world.
It is critical to realize that underlying the extermination of nature is the marginalization of human beings. If we are to save what is wild, what is irreparable and majestic in nature, then we will ironically have to turn to each other and take care of all the human beings here on Earth. There is no boundary that will protect an environment from a suffering humanity.
We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich; it is a way to be rich.
And also, more and more businesses really want to do the right thing. They feel better about themselves, their workers feel better, and so do their customers. I think this is equally true in the transnational corporations, but it is harder to express in those situations.
We need to revise our economic thinking to give full value to our natural resources. This revised economics will stabilize both the theory and the practice of free-market capitalism. It will provide business and public policy with a powerful new tool for economic development, profitability, and the promotion of the public good.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.
When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.
When the planes still swoop down and aerial spray a field in order to kill a predator insect with pesticides, we are in the Dark Ages of commerce. Maybe one thousandth of this aerial insecticide actually prevents the infestation. The balance goes to the leaves, into the soil, into the water, into all forms of wildlife, into ourselves. What is good for the balance sheet is wasteful of resources and harmful to life.
While there may be no "right" way to value a forest or a river, there is a wrong way, which is to give it no value at all. How do we decide the value of a 700-year-old tree? We need only to ask how much it would cost to make a new one, or a new river, or even a new atmosphere.
We have reached a point where the value we do add to our economy is now being outweighed by the value we are removing, not only from future generations in terms of diminished resources, but from ourselves in terms of unlivable cities, deadening jobs, deteriorating health, and rising crime. In biological terms, we have become a parasite and are devouring our host.
Sustainability is an economic state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations. It can also be expressed in the simple terms of an economic golden rule for the restorative economy: Leave the world better than you found it, take no more than you need, try not to harm life or the environment, make amends if you do.