Saving Nature: the Missing Link

Something vital was missing from the campaigns to alert the world to the way our natural habitats were being wrecked.

NGOs like Greenpeace did a marvellous job of alerting us to the way in which icebergs were melting, species were being extinguished, the acidification of the oceans, the rate at which CO2 was being emitted into the heavens.

The collective consciousness was aroused, because the images on TV were dramatic. Governments were shamed into converging at global jamborees to sign declarations of intent: they would take action to save nature.

Today, they are reneging on their commitments. Despite the investments in clean technology, the process of wrecking habitats continues apace.


Something was missing from the mission to save the world. The problem was this: ecologists concentrated on the physics of the problem, rather than the finances that were driving the exploitation. Why does this matter?

Our world is in the grip of the rent-seeking culture. The eco-campaigns were a threat to that culture, which is why initiatives to save polar bears and savannah lions had to be safely channelled in directions that would not deprive the rent-seekers of their loot – the rents generated by the services of nature.

The failure of the eco-campaigns to animate people’s imaginations with the financial motives behind the wrecking of habitats was the get-out clause in the global declarations of intent. Governments could safely formulate policies that reinforced the grip of the rent-seekers on the stream of rents. Notably, they did this with tradeable permits, which represented the rental value of nature’s capacity to absorb waste emitted by the users of fossil fuels. Those rents were capitalised into the selling price of the permits. Banks started buying them up and hoarding them, to make a capital gain in the future! I tell this story in this video.

In other words, the rents of nature remained in the private domain. That made it possible to preserve the culture that is responsible for wrecking nature’s habitats. And now, under financial pressures from the land-led boom/bust that created the 2008 financial crisis, governments are reducing their investments in the R&D that we need if our climate is to be saved.

What to do?

The eco-NGOs need to relaunch their mission on the back of a new narrative. That means spelling out the rent-seeking motives that drives people to mistreat nature. How to do this is spelt out by nature conservationist Peter Smith in his chapter to a new book: Rent Unmasked.

In helping to save nature, we would also be saving society. The remedial measure: restructure the public’s finances away from taxing people’s earned incomes and fund our shared services out of the rents generated by nature and society.

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