Autarky After the Roar

After the roar of the bull, how would an economic collapse affect planting trees?

When underlying values of investments are fragile, built on unprecedented and self-generating demand and on expectations of never-slowing growth, even a small shock will topple the house of cards. Experts don´t even know whether to fear inflation or deflation, and just like with global warming precipitating an ice age, we could have both, someday.

The global economy is relying on plummeting costs of manufactured goods to fuel a rise in stock values. Costs are in free fall, in turn, because of amazing new technologies. But when the biggest global economic locomotive of all, the USA, has 30% of its driving population using money they borrowed to command the highways inside absurdly expensive steel behemoths that get gas mileage scarcely better than… a locomotive, an economic hiccough is as nearby and easy as another assasination in Sarajevo and some empty pipelines. Price/earnings ratios in the hundreds and thousands don´t hold when oil costs USD $50 per barrel. Nothing can hold up a house of cards forever, not even high-tech.

Even if a crash never comes, shouldn’t we be ready? It’s nice to hope that some multi-billionaire will underwrite the successful planting of 80 billion trees in the next 20 years. But can´t this great reforesting endeavor acquire its own momentum, and pull its own economic weight?

The earth will be reforested no matter what happens to the global economy, and here’s how and why:

Combining forest operations with farming, water supply and treatment, power generation, waste disposal, fishing, education; this kind of integration can yield an enterprise that sustains itself. If there is a global economic collapse, it is these types of operations that would be most likely to achieve autarky, causing them to grow, since autarky would suddenly look pretty good. Producing their own timber, food, water and energy, they would be far less vulnerable to economic disasters. In a prosperous economy, such an operation would only need to sell a small surplus in order to guarantee itself financial independence and sustainable growth.

A locally controlled, polycultural agro-forestry plantation, once established, could prosper on its own, not affected by global economic catastrophe. Such a business could incorporate the best that high-tech has to offer, but without sacrificing ecological good sense. The alternative, and current trend, are massive, monocultural cash crop operations which not only ravage ecosystems, but are themselves wiped out routinely by even minor fluctuations in global commodity prices.

Creating a business plan for self-sufficient agro-forestry enterprises is relatively easy, if you´re willing to trade capricious but stupendous, cigar-chomping P/E ratios for slow, real growth in value that won’t stop. As long as we still have an internet, transmitting blueprints and operational guides to potential practitioners around the world is also dirt cheap.

No matter what happens to the global economy, and with or without charity, this planet can be reforested. Profit and enlightenment aren´t intrinsically at odds. We can plant 80 billion trees in the next 20 years, and make money, for all we know.

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