The one thing we must get about Nature
Almost 20 years ago, I went through the master gardening program offered by King County Cooperative Extension in Seattle Washington. This may seem like an odd foundation for somebody working in business, but it turns out I was onto something.
The late senator Gaylord Nelson famously said that all of business and economics is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment. And we learned in the master gardening program that everything that takes place in a landscape is connected to everything else. It turns out that the same thing applies to economics. Current debate about trade wars and data privacy and oil prices and immigration show we are all tied together in a three-legged race into the future.
A favorite line that we learned in Master Gardening was: "if you eliminate a species, you inherit its work." I first understood this as a cute, parochial phrase about beneficial insects that related only to organic gardening. I now understand it has much broader, economic consequence.
From all the good science that has gone into understanding ecosystem services and quantifying the economic value of natural capital, we understand that all of humanity, and all of our startups and technology, rest on a healthy functioning ecosystem. And by ecosystem, I mean the real ecosystem...not the way the Silicon Valley word wizards use the term these days which contorts it to refer to strictly human systems of technology, policy, finance, Etc. (I find it ironic that the contemporary use of the term ecosystem, ignores actual, ecological ecosystems.)
The state of bees around the world is a popular example. They contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the global economy and we would be hard-pressed to replace them. Some attempts in China at pollination by hand have not been successful. Of course these are just one small example of which we could list many others including reptiles, bats, forests, soils, and atmosphere.
The one thing we have to get about nature is so simple, and maybe that's why we miss it. We can see where we live on Google Maps or Google Earth and we can zoom out and if we keep going we quickly see that, small town or major city, we are part of a blue-green planet. It is indeed true that all of our endeavors and business and economics are dependent on the health of our ultimate holding company, the Earth.
And so it is also true what I learned in that Master gardening program 20 years ago. If we lose species, like the bees, or if we lose parts of our real ecosystem, we will inherit their work. Trying to pollinate by hand or produce oxygen or manage the climate, these are not likely to be done well by humans. We would do better to safeguard the assets of our holding company so they continue to produce value, rather than produce liabilities that further erode their capability of doing so.
In closing, I think of the famous book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The wealthy accumulate assets while the poor accumulate liabilities, Kiyosaki says. So we are talking about old knowledge here, old wisdom, nothing new and yet applied in a new way. What we must get about nature is that it is an asset, not a resource. Like savings or an investment or an endowment or real estate that we own, it must be safeguarded. Then we reap the harvest and the returns and the abundance.