Years ago, a woman I knew sent me what I thought at the time was a very clever and unconventional document as her statement of her 'net worth.' Rather than list what you might expect - her bank balances or even her physical attributes - she instead named things like her relationships with her good friends as her strongest 'assets.'
At the time I thought it a cute and interesting idea, but now I wonder if she was actually decades ahead of her time. The mission of the not for profit that I helped to create was "to transform the ways businesses appraise, engage, and enhance human, ecological, and financial resources." In short, what we hoped to achieve was to get people to take a critical examination of the criteria and systems we to measure and compare the true value of what matters; and to get a real handle on what the true 'costs' and 'benefits' associated with our actions.
This came to mind in a discussion that was having with Joss Tantram, a Partner at Terrafiniti LLP about a project they have developed to explore the idea of what an Initial Public Offering (IPO) for the Earth - an EPO - might look like.
Beyond a clever way of asking people to look at both the 'assets' and 'liabilities' associated with our planet, they see this as a pretty serious attempt to get intelligent and thoughtful financial professionals who regularly engage in sophisticated calculations to value complex and interdependent properties to start to apply their skills to innovating how we value our home planet. The hope is that, given such innovation, economics and finance would be naturally motivated to sustain the diversity, complexity and quality of life on Earth, something upon which all our futures depend, because they would be motivated to sustain the existence of a functioning market.
Early in their discussions one person responded "It is a good investment but not under the current management" which, while clever, pre-supposes that humans are in charge of the fate of the planet. I would argue that we are more akin to middle managers; rather than senior leaders. We do our best to interpret what the larger forces are telling us and act accordingly. How we choose to respond to changing weather patterns or political and social upheavals around the world indicates whether or not we will be 'fired' from our position. After all, just as ignoring imperatives from the corporate headquarters can result in terminations, so too the Earth has shrugged off entire species and classes of plants and animals over the course of its history.
In terms of our ability to overcome nature, it is best to remember that Charles Darwin did not say that it was survival of the largest or the strongest, but rather the most adaptable (fittest). Author Arthur C. Clarke put it "Human judges can show mercy. But against the laws of nature, there is no appeal."
We must stop ignoring the fact that we humans, as much as we like to think we are 'in charge,' are often surprised and sometimes laid low by a whole manner of threats; from the tiny viruses and bacteria that are so small that we cannot see them (with the naked eye) to larger patterns in weather and politics that we either cannot or do not see coming. The current political and social unrest in certain countries are part of a pattern that we have ignored for too long.
In short, we are indulging in the incredible conceit that the Earth relies on us for its survival rather that the opposite truth; we are completely dependent on the Earth and our survival depends on both our own conscious actions and the whims of nature (i.e. natural disasters, floods, Earthquakes) that are completely outside of our control.
Joss goes on to state that "to my mind a natural 'management takeover' or 'share buyback' might be an interesting area of philosophical investigation - "Are humans the only potential shareholders of the Earth?" Also - it could be that the market would de-list the shares as a vote of no confidence."
Finally and perhaps the most importantly; if you question whether or not Earth, Inc. is a good investment consider this - you are "all in" already because whether you like it or not, you are 100 percent invested in the future of this planet. Therefore, the only way to make this a good investment is to be an active shareholder; and make sure that management reflects your best long term interests. Otherwise, you're just along for the ride...and there's no guarantee that you'll like where we're going.
Follow John Friedman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@JohnFriedman