Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Nature's Fortune

Incorporating the economic benefits of Nature--ecosystem services--into economic calculations has been difficult to do. We can come up with numbers for how much it would cost us to provide the services that ecosystems already provide, like clean water and pollinators. Yet, determining how much to invest in Nature is difficult.

Mart Tercek (with science writer Jonathan Adams) tackle the question of the benefits of investing in Nature in their book "Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature".

The advance praise for the book is an amazing list of individuals. It's hard to ignore a book like this considering how important the question is.

Mark is CEO of The Nature Conservancy. I feel some affinity to the author. His background is pretty similar to mine. We both grew up in Cleveland and shoveled snow and delivered papers as kids.

Our paths diverged somewhere around college, though. He went to business school and on to Goldman Sachs. I went to graduate school and on to...well not Goldman Sachs.

The heart of the book are case examples of where investing in the natural world pays economic dividends.

The examples are timely and pertinent to understand.

For example, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi found benefits in investing in their water supplies, just like New York City did, for example.

The book is tricky though. Depending on how you read it, it is less a directive to the business community to begin to invest in nature than it is for governments to do so.

What is clear from almost every example is that the dividends in investing in Nature are reaped most by societies. It's governments, not businesses that are best suited to generate this investment.

The commons can have tragedies, but also generate fortunes** for the common folk.

**How often do you hear about the "fortunes of the commons"?

What I read is that businesses should invest only when governments fail to do so. Every example of businesses investing just show where governments had failed to do so.

So now where is the call from this book (and the TNC by proxy)? Is it for greater self-interest in investment by corporations, taking over the purview of government? Or is it a call to invigorate government to invest as it should?

Where this book fails to transcend is in its end, for it does neither.

The conclusion can be summarized as "Nature has value, people need to be exposed to Nature, Nature is resilient." The final paragraph has words like hope, renewed, care, stewardship, respect.

That ending, to me, is a very soft thud of a promising start to a book.

A truly transcendent book would lay out a plan only like an investment banker can do for governments and corporations to invest.

Corporations have formula they use for R&D investment. Why not nature investment?

And governments? They decide the level of funding for military security. Why not natural capital security?

Any book should be a call to action. Its rhetorical purpose should not just be to inform, but to compel and guide into action.

End a book with "The continued resilience of many threatened ecosystems gives us hope."?


Lay out a global plan for investment by governments and corporations to protect and develop?


Let's hope the 2nd edition can accomplish this.

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