Current Administration’s Doctrine Won’t Deliver Economic Capital

By Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network

Later this month, I look forward to meeting with government ministers, business figures and committed people from a range of environmental organizations at the World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh. The focus will be on how we value and better protect the precious and limited resources like oceans, soil, and woodlands. This is the natural capital that human enterprise depends on.

In gauging how we can best measure and manage our dependence on nature, including on our natural capital resources, one of the areas I will be addressing is how we go beyond carbon and look at the entire nexus through the Ecological Footprint. This focuses on a central question: how much nature do we have, and how much do we use? Life, including human life, competes for biologically productive areas. By looking at all competing demands on the biosphere, we will have a far better chance to find solutions that will serve us. Understanding our context enables us to be better informed about potential challenges and opportunities.

This approach is vital, not just for promoting sustainability but also for the long-term viability and success of the global economy. It is certainly one that would serve President Trump well in his pledge to ‘make America great again.’ His administration’s efforts to bring back coal-mining to a number of states along with its infrastructure re-building proposals suggest otherwise. Rather than restoring economic success for small pockets of the U.S., Trump’s failure to grasp the opportunity could result in the majority of his citizens paying a high price through further decline.

President Trump claimed his undoing of the Clean Power Plan earlier this year, put in place by his predecessor, would help the economy and bring back coal jobs. In reality his administration’s environmental policy threatens to position the United States as a laggard stuck in the 20th century as the rest of the world recognizes the need for a fossil-free future. The decision also runs counter to significant gains the United States has made in recent years by decoupling economic expansion from fossil fuels emissions.

Rebuilding some of America’s flagging infrastructure, another of Trump’s key election pledges, is also in danger of becoming a lost opportunity. This is the ideal moment to apply foresight and ensure the developments are fit to serve the needs of the 21st century. Otherwise, infrastructure not compatible with one-planet prosperity may easily become stranded – losing value exactly when we need that value most. Like much of the Trump doctrine, however, his administration’s focus on re-building bridges and roads and other public amenities appears to be more in line with the practices of the 1950s. Wasting all the valuable investments on rebuilding an obsolete past rather than the U.S. Americans will need in order to succeed certainly will not enable “America’s Greatness.”

This apparent lack of foresight, further underlined by the U.S. administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is fortunately not shared by many prominent business leaders in the U.S. CEOs from many leading American companies are instead developing business models which are compatible with one-planet prosperity, meaning they work to the benefit of both humanity and long term economic viability. These companies will be more successful, on average, because they will have the needed products and services that are derived from sources of natural capital and, as a result, will be able to attract investors, talent, and customers.

An example of a company taking this approach is Schneider Electric, a business with over 100,000 employees and one with which Global Footprint Network has developed a close working partnership. By basing many of its key business decisions around the Ecological Footprint and one-planet prosperity, Schneider Electric has seen direct benefits to its bottom line by focusing on doing what is also right for the global environment and for humanity.

The challenge now is to apply this type of thinking across the world economy, to develop and adapt modern innovations to the consumption/production patterns required today. The journey is being led by innovative companies whose demonstrable success through valuing and protecting resources for their future viability will inspire others.

President Trump’s short-term thinking around fossils fuels and development of what could become stranded and irrelevant infrastructure puts America last rather than first.

The focus we are seeing from many of America’s companies as well as state and civic leaders in promoting one-planet prosperity is increasingly being shown to be the approach that will provide a win for the economy as well as humanity. Let’s commit to our success, because your sustainability success will ultimately also be mine.

For more details on the World Forum on Natural Capital, visit: www.naturalcapitalforum.com

Image credit: Flickr / Rennett Stowe

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