Compared to the worldwide value of commodities, stocks are nothing. Consider the underutilized “Earth Market,” the trading of values which in aggregate are as vast as the earth itself. Consider tradeable rights to emit pollution, to mine ore, to take stocks of fisheries; financial futures pegged to the value of specific forests, forest index futures, forest derivatives. The Earth Market is an unstoppable force. Growing the Earth Market could become a very bright interpretation of capitalism. Enlightened financial killings are to be made, as technology makes production more and more pollution free, and permits to pollute are bought up by conservation groups. Within 20 years there would be no pollution, no overfishing, no overharvesting. Is this just a dream of some right-wing environmentalist?
The danger in the dream is that its implementation could be just as totalitarian as the leftist alternative. Imagine what it might take to make global emissions trading work in the real world. A supra-national government agency would be necessary to verify trades, set parameters, police against abuse. The Earth Market is real, but best allowed to grow by simply evolving. Otherwise the extremes meet. Right is Left.
In WorldWatch Magazine’s November 1998 issue, there is an article entitled “Last Tango In Buenos Aires,” which describes slow progress made (or is it evolution?) at the last world conference on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The conference veered into more general topics such as reducing all greenhouse emissions, as well as discussions of possible global emissions trading schemes. In true evolutionary fashion, we dance around the edges of the idea. The Earth Market awakens.
Commodities such as forests generate real value simply by growing. Owners of forests can earn dividends simply by selling select trees from sections of their forests at a sustainable rate. Access to information and instantaneous low-cost fund transfers via the internet allow ownership in ecologically correct “EC” projects to disperse, allowing much more capital (in smaller increments!) to identify and focus on the investments that work. According to the green-consumer advocacy group Co-op America, already over 25% of American consumers are earth conscious consumers, looking for the “EC” deal.
While electric cars aren’t economical yet (if even ecologically correct, when one assesses the impact of dead batteries and new generating plants), hybrid vehicles are another story. They get incredible gas mileage, up to 100 mpg, and hybrid vehicles, which use a small internal combustion engine along with a electric motor / electric generator system, don’t pollute, and they don’t cost much anymore. They’re already a hit in Japan. Buses using hybrid propulsion systems ought to be getting built and sent to Tegucigalpa, and elsewhere in the rebuilding after Hurricane Mitch.
In Honduras and elsewhere in Central America, the recent hurricane was so fierce that in vast areas even the topsoil was blown away. Not many millions, but many billions of trees are necessary to stabilize an area as vast as an entire country, even if it is only 30,000 square miles or so. Huge percentages of trees don’t survive their first year, and in the harsh landscape of storm-scoured ground, the first generation of replacement trees will be stunted, requiring higher than normal densities of mature trees.
Why shouldn’t an Earth Market exist for tradeable futures in Honduran forests? This approach can open a whole new area of environmentally conscious investing, and a whole new way of financing new forests. Charitable environmental groups might actually purchase covenants on the forest holdings, allowing them to limit the density of harvests and the areas harvested, pushing up the value of the remaining lumber.
The Earth Market can emerge without necessarily requiring a whole new layer of global eco-cop world government power. Around the world, the Earth Market can emerge in the wake of technology’s direct effects; increased education, increased integration, increased liberation, increased communication. The Earth Market can evolve harmoniously into prominent existence, unpredictable and unstoppable, sidestepping tyranny. The sooner it arrives, the more we will save, and the richer our world will be.