THE BLOG
05/22/2014 11:27 am ET | Updated Jul 22, 2014

Finding Ethical Alpha

This thought-leader gathering marked for me the end of the world as we know it. We were all drawn to St. Augustine by Hazel Henderson, the grande dame of new economic thinking since the '70s. Then featured on the cover of East-West Journal, predicting much of what has unfolded since, now Hazel embraces a global audience, beaming out rays of hopeful data from her internet site. She is tracking global spending on the new Green Economy... already rising up the fund raising thermometer chart in the trillions and accelerating. But the news in the room was not all warm and fuzzy. We are witnessing a time of global change that could prematurely end what Hazel calls the Age of the Anthropocene, as though humankind may become extinct like the dinosaurs.

It seemed there were two tracks out of the dark pool of discouraging data: one characterized by the simple wisdom of nature and Hazel's "exponential growth in consciousness" and the other characterized by the plethora of technological solutions already at hand. This is a time of global reckoning and the future is not known, but is more than ever in our own hands. The question is whether we will support the proliferation of ready solutions or continue to invest in the problems like Hazel's "prudent lemmings." If we do respond positively and embrace the energy of the sun, the wind, the rising tides (with 24 times the energy we currently are using) will we do it in a way that forgets the soul? Is the future of humanity going to be wedded with the living and dying rhythms of nature or somehow mechanized and digitized to the point that human error will become redundant and cyber-biotic beings will replace our gentle genus?

Lawrence Bloom set a deep tone for the discussions. Stating that financial health has to be wedded with social and environmental health to address the endemic crisis in social values and behind this a crisis in world views: i.e. who are we? Lawrence is the visionary best known for convincing Prince Charles to endorse his set of environmental standards for hotels. Adopted globally, each manager's bonus is linked to their hotel's green record. Bloom is now demonstrating an effective approach to waste and energy by marrying them. His proposed B.e Energy package for Paraguay, guaranteed by reinsurers, boasts a secured market and a built in commitment to the health and education of workers. The group challenged this brilliant, but seemingly "top-down" approach, reminding me how messy humans are in processing and accepting what may be good for us. For Lawrence, whose personal path led him from the heights of extreme financial success to the depths of existential despair, the distinction of top down or bottom up seemed to miss the point. If we focus on what the Buddha called "Right Action" it is all one and we don't have time to quibble.

Katherine Collins, the former head of research at Fidelity, in addressing the uncertainties of investing also reminded me of another step in Buddha's eight-fold path: "Right Livelihood." How can we not only invest in nature or like nature but as nature? She elegantly demonstrated that there is too much uncertainty about the future to depend on data from the past, and so we best order our investments with policies, procedures and processes that are at least in harmony with nature... in the how and the why of our investing.

Edgar Kahn also stressed the importance of how and why in our financial systems. He is the former speech writer for Bobby Kennedy, and founder of the Time Bank concept where everyone's gifting of time has equal currency and is accounted for. A doctor or lawyer can give an hour to help someone and a teenager in the same system can give them a Time Dollar hour back, celebrating the fact that we all equally flourish from each other's generosity. On the contrary, we get closer to social paralysis when lawyers push fear and investors demand financial certainty. The fundamental problem stems from the misconception that "more is better" and particularly that more money inherently improves the quality of life.

To change this culture our children need to be given ways to experience nature and the wisdom inherent in it. Hawthorne Valley's Visiting Farm program and the Willow School described how and why they are working.

Along with others, Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist , NASA Langley Research Center, interspersed the forum with reams of data, both thrilling in terms of immediate existing solutions that need investment and chilling in terms of disaster prediction, even if we do act now: e.g. using halophytes, plants that are prolific when irrigated with seawater, the Sahara is capable of providing sufficient biomass to replace all fossil carbon fuels, feed the hungry and provide fresh water for human use.

However, methane clouds are building that could trigger deadly tidal waves while 85 percent of our energy use is needlessly harmful to the planet. Will we wake? Will we invest to thrive? You decide!

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