Amy?Larkin,?the?author?of?Environmental Debt: The Hidden Costs of a Changing Global Economy,?was?for?25?years?a?volunteer?activist?and?sometimes?board?member?of?Greenpeace.?With?a?background?as?an?entrepreneur?and?producer?she?brings?a?unique?experience?to?environmental?action?and?shares?it?in?this?book.?Larkin?does?not?view?business?as?an?inherent?obstacle?to?sustainability,?unlike?some?in?the?environmental?community,?but?rather?as?a?potential?partner?in?finding?solutions?to?our?most?pressing?problems.?“My?worldview?connects?an?inherent?love?of?nature?with?an?abiding?respect?and?admiration?for?the?power?and?dynamism?of?business,”?she?explains.?“I?have?always?believed?that?robust?commerce?is?a?central?ingredient?to?a?stable?and?healthy?world?–?and?conversely,?that?commerce?is?inseparable?from?its?impact?on?the?world?around?it.”

Larkin’s?activism?took?a?new?turn?in?2005?when?she?became?the?director?of?Greenpeace?Solutions?(GS),?which?consists?of?the?organization’s?business?and?financial?initiatives.?GS?was?conceived?and?launched?in?the?immediate?aftermath?of?Hurricane?Katrina?and,?according?to?her?account?in?Environmental Debt,?was?the?result?of?an?Aha!?moment.?While?watching?an?episode?of?CNN?Money?featuring?several?meteorologists,?the?host,?Lou?Dobbs,?responded?to?the?scientists’ consensus that?the?frequency?of?intense?storms?was?likely?to?increase?by?saying,?“I?don’t?want?to?pay?for?that.”?It?then?hit Larkin:?“new?equations?were?being?born?as?climate?change?risks?to?business?were?becoming?more?easily?quantifiable.” From?the?self-obvious?premise that?“[a]ll?business,?all?economies,?all?living?and?man-made?systems?depend?on?nature”?she?concludes?that?“[g]rowing?an?economy?that?destabilizes?nature?is?just?plain?fool- hardy.”?She summarizes?this?neatly?with?three?pithy?and?memorable?slogans:

  • No?Nature,?No?Business
  • No?Healthy?Ecosystem,?No?Healthy?Economic?System
  • No?Environmental?Security,?No?National?Security

Heretofore,?business?has?operated?as?if?there?were?no?limits?to?resources?that?could?be?extracted?from?the?ground?and?atmosphere?and?no?limit?to?the?capacity?of?the?earth?to?absorb?industrial?wastes.?As?a?consequence,?business?has?benefited?substantially,?with?positive?financial?spreadsheets?and?well-compensated?corporate?executives.?But?it?has?not?recorded?the?cost?of?environmental?debts—the?overdrawing?and?fouling?of?water?resources,?the?overconsumption?of?fossil?fuels,?and?the?buildup?of?carbon?in?the?atmosphere,?to?name?just?a?few.

At?its?root?is?a?business-as-usual?framework?that?has?three?central?features:

  1. Pollution?is?largely?free?to?the?polluter.
  2. Earnings?statements?do?not?include?long-term?financial,?economic,?and?social?impacts.
  3. Governments?subsidize?business?with?no?concern?for?environmental?impact.

Displaying?familiarity?with both marketing?and?branding,?Larkin?calls?her?approach?the?Nature?Means?Business?(NMB)?framework.?It?is?essentially?the?negation?of?the?business-as-usual?framework?and?consists?of?the?following?three?pillars:

  1. Pollution?can?no?longer?be?free?and?can?no?longer?be?subsidized.
  2. The?long?view?must?guide?all?decision?making?and?accounting.
  3. Government?plays?a?vital?role?in?catalyzing?clean?technology?and?growth?while?preventing?environmental?destruction.

Larkin?is?upfront?about?the?possible?consequences?of?such?a?transformation,?which?is?refreshing,?but?this?only?underscores?the?significant?challenges?to?such?change.?She?makes?this?concrete?by?using?Apple?Computer?as?an?illustration.?In?2009,?Apple?resigned?its?membership?in?the?U.S.?Chamber?of?Commerce?because?of?the?Chamber’s?resistance?to?climate?change?legislation.?At?the?very?same?time?that?Apple?was?taking?this?high?road?on?climate?change,?the?press?was?exposing?the?appalling?work?conditions?at?the?company’s?manufacturing?facilities?in?China,?from?abusive?treatment?of?laborers?(including?children)?to?exceedingly?long?work?hours?that?involved?exposure?to?toxic?chemical?exposure.?The?reasonable?price?(relative?to?their?quality)?of?Apple?products,?which?we?as?consumers?benefit?from,?depends?on?these?conditions.?As?Larkin?says,?“As?Apple?transforms?its?factories,?its?computers?and?phones?will?become?more?expensive?to?produce.”

More globally she expects that, “The?era?of?cheap?goods?is?over.?Changing?the?rules?of?an?economy?is?not?for?the?faint?of?heart.?Inflation,?social?unrest,?changed?expectations,?lifestyle?adjustments?and?food?short- ages?are?all?potential?consequences?of?the?re-pricing?of?goods.”

Each?chapter?of?Environmental Debt?is?a?mixture?of?warnings—clean water?is?scarce?and?becoming?more?so,?burning?fossil?fuels?are?oversaturating?the?atmosphere?with?carbon,?biodiversity?is?disappearing?because?of?development?in?sensitive?ecosystems—and?of?stories?detailing?collaborations?between?businesses?and?nongovernment?organizations?(NGOs),?including?Greenpeace,?that?respond?to?environmental?problem.?Each?story?also?illustrates?the?sorts?of?things?we?need?to?do?to?get?on?a?more?sustainable?path.

What?then?do?we?need?to?do??High?on?Larkin’s?list?of?necessary?reforms?is?changing?the?way?business?accounts?for?costs?and?profits,?specifically?advocating?for?unified?financial?reports?that?quantify?and?include?externalities?on?the?cost?side.?This?has?been?proposed?many?times?and?has?its?origins?in?the?work?of?the?early?twentieth?century?economist?Arthur?Pigou.?Larkin,?however,?includes?stories?of?companies?that?have?undertaken?this,?if?incompletely.?She?also?shares?an?enlightening?anecdote?that?underlies?why?government?policy?is?so?important?in?providing?the?necessary?guidance?for?business:?In?response?to?a?question?posed?by?Larkin,?the?director?of?environmental?sustainability?at

Frito?Lay,?a?division?of?PepsiCo,?said,?“If?the?financial?system?offered?the?incentives,?PepsiCo?would?only?build?state-of-the-art?facilities.”

Individual?initiative?plays?an?important?role?in?Larkin’s?narrative,?with?a?long?and?informative?chapter,?“Courage:?High?Risk,?High?Reward,”?devoted?to?the?positive?actions?of?executives?from?a?number?of?highly?visible?international?corporations.?For?example,?she?details?how?Bob?Langert,?McDonald’s?vice?president?of?corporate?social?responsibility,?worked?collaboratively?with?Greenpeace?over?allegations?that?Cargill,?a?McDonald’s?supplier,?was?encouraging?clear-cutting?of?the?Amazon?rain?forest?for?planting?of?soybean?farms.?As?a?result?McDonald’s?extended?its?beef?policy (no?purchases?from?suppliers?who?destroy?rain?forest)?to?its?soy?supply?chain.?Subsequently,?faced?with?pressure?from?McDonald’s,?Cargill?and?all?other?major?soy?producers,?including?Archer?Daniels?Midland?and?Bunge,?agreed?to?adhere?to?the?same?policy.

A?second?inspiring?story?of?individuals?taking?a?chance?describes?how?Mike?Kowalski,?the?CEO?of?Tiffany’s,?reached?out?to?Steve?D’Esposito,?at?the?time?director?of?NGO?Earthworks,?seeking?his?help?to?change?the?company’s?gold?supply?chain.?Not?content?simply?with?new?sources,?but?interested?as?well?in?reforming?the?industry,?Kowalski?and?D’Esposito?prevailed?on?mining?executives?to?spend?money?on?adopting?best?practices?in?the?industry. Other?case?studies?highlight?Walmart’s?phase-out?of?incandescent?light?bulbs,?General?Electric’s?“green”?refrigerator,?and?McKinsey’s?advocacy?of?“capitalism?for?the?long?term.”

Larkin?also?makes?the?more?systemic?case?for?moving?beyond?fossil?fuels.?Her?book?is?filled?with?the?usual?statistics?on?the?growth?of?solar?energy?production?and?other?renewables:?in?2012,?for?instance,?wind?power?supplied?3.25?percent?of?all?electricity?in?the?USA.?Larkin?is?optimistic?about?the?possibility?of?renewables?achieving?sufficiency—that?is,?fulfilling?our?genuine?energy?needs—in?the?foresee- able?future.?Part?of?the?way?to?getting?there,?she?quite?correctly?asserts,?has?to?come?from?reduced?consumption?by?households,?twenty?percent?by?her?estimation.?She?refers?to?the?contributions?that?each?person?or?family?can?make?as?the?individual energy sector.

On?the?other?hand,?and?importantly,?Larkin?is?realistic?about?costs.?As?she?puts?it,?“Cheap?energy?sounds?very?appealing,?but?at?the?moment?it?does?not?exist.?Happily,?a?handful?of?pioneers?in?technology,?business?and?policy?have?finally?demonstrated?enough?success?in?bringing?renewable?energy?to?scale?that?a?path?forward?is?emerging.?If?we?can?build?a?strong?infrastructure (including?a?smart?grid?and?new?storage?capacity?technology),?these?‘free’?fuels?(wind,?sun,?geothermal,?wave)?may?become?quite?cheap?in?the?future.?But?don’t?let?anyone?tell?you?that?getting there?will?be?cheap.?It?will?not.”?As?she?usefully?points?out,?trillions?of?dollars?will?be?spent?in?the?public,?private,?and?individual?sectors?on?energy.?Thus,?the?choice?is?not?whether?to?spend?money?on?energy,?but?how?to?spend?it.

Larkin?also?spends?time?exploring?innovations?that?emerge?from?the?labs?of?corporations?and?universities?as?well?as?novel?business?practices?and?governmental?policies.?These?range?from?applications?of?biomimicry (copying?the?ways?of?nature)?in?the?carpet?industry?to?new?approaches?for?meeting infrastructure?needs.?(Unfortunately?the?company?she?focuses?on?by?way?of?illustration,?Betterplace,?in?the?electric?car?space,?has?since?gone?bankrupt.).?Larkin?discusses?material?recapture?and?waste?reduction?and?the?possibility?for?government?policies?that?would?allow?several?companies?to?jointly?develop?new?products?and?services?and?then?share?patents.

It?is?clear?from?her?story?about?the?origin?of?Greenpeace?Solutions?that?she?understands?how?business?can?work?constructively?with?environmentalists?when?sustainability?initiatives?coincide?with?good?business?practice?and?profit- ability.?But?it?would?have?been?helpful?if?she?had?regularly?spiraled?back?to?this?insight.?In?this?regard,?the?book?should?be?read?in?tandem?with?Robert?Reich’s?Super Capitalism.?There,?Reich?makes?the?point?that?corporations?are?not?people,?that?there?is?no?such?thing?as?corporate?social?responsibility,?and?that?the?sole?responsibility?of?corporations?is?to?maximize?value?for?its?shareholders?within?the?laws?enacted?by?government.?On?the?other?hand,?it?is?our?responsibility?as?citizens?to?establish?those?rules?and?regulations?and?decide?how?much?of?the?wealth?created?by?corporations?might?be?taxed?away.

On?the?whole, Environmental Debt?is?filled?with?inspiring?and?encouraging?stories.?But?how?do?we?get?from?business-as-usual?to?the?nature-means-business?framework??Larkin’s?ultimate?chapter?makes?explicit?that?government?is?where?the?action?has?to?be,?laying?out?a?transition?agenda: “Only when?more?of?us?better?understand?the?role?of?government?in?the?food/water/energy?nexus?will?governments?offer?incentives?and?support?for?green?innovation?instead?of?antiquated?subsidies?that?increase?environmental?debt.”

But?ultimately,?getting?government?to?enact?the?sorts?of?things?that?need?to?be?done—carbon?taxes,?accounting?rules?that?incorporate?externalities,?massive?subsidies?to?renewable?energy—would?probably?appear,?to?even?a?casual?observer?of?U.S.?politics to be?a?Sisyphean?task.?Perhaps?to?offer?some?degree?of?hope,?in?her?chapter?on?courageous?individuals?Larkin?tells?the?story?of?how?Ed?Muskie,?Democratic?Senator?from?Maine?and?chair?of?the?Energy?and?Commerce?Committee,?worked?collaboratively?with?Republican?Howard?Baker,?both?risking?their?political?futures,?to?sponsor?the?Clean?Air?Act?of?1970.?In?the?face?of?enormous?opposition?from?oil?producers,?the?major?auto?companies,?paper?manufacturers,?and?many?industries,?they?nonetheless?prevailed.?However,?inspiring?as?this?story?is,?it?has?little?relevance?to?the?present?situation.

The?final?chapter?is?devoted?to?creating?a?transition?agenda?through?a?crowdsourcing?process.?The?process?is?to?be?facilitated?by?RESOLVE,?an?organization?that?“specializes?in?bringing?together?people,?business,?and?civil?society?organizations?that?seriously?disagree?with?each?other?into?a?solution-building?mode.”?Described?in?some?detail?is?how this?process?will?unfold?and,?if?it?is?implemented?as?described,?how?it?will?result?in?many?excellent?reports?with?worthwhile?suggestions?for?individual?action?and?policy?proposals.?However,?there?is?already?no?shortage?of?desirable?proposals?for?a?sustainable?world.?The?main?problem?is?how?to?translate?good?ideas?into?governmental?action,?and?that?will?have?to?await?another?book.

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Bruce Cooperstein

Bruce Cooperstein is professor of mathematics at University of California, Santa Cruz, where he has taught since 1975. In addition to his mathematical specialties in group theory and incidence geometry,...

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