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Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken
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Feb 28, 2009

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bookshelves: environment, food-justice, non-fiction

Libertarians will love this book.

“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us.” – Wendell Berry.

Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins open the book with this quote, which I agree with. Where Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins and I disagree is the path to getting there.

What is Natural Capitalism? Well, it has a lot to do with Natural Capital. You see, Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins want to correct Marx’s notions that natural resources and ecosystems are raw products which through the lands of labor are turned into commodities which produce wealth. Rather, natural resources and healthy ecosystems are themselves a form of capital – natural capital. They provide services necessary to the production of all wealth and they cannot be replaced.

Because of this, Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins believe that it is in the self-interest of businesses to preserve, conserve, and restore natural capital. They believe we are on the cusp of a revolution that will transform the world as much as the industrial revolution and that revolution is not at all like a revolution envisioned by Marx, but rather a revolution in natural Capital. This is the revolution that takes place as businesses realize the importance of investing in green technologies, the importance of asking for government regulation of the industry, even the importance of socio-economic justice.

Indeed, they tell us, “in a few decades, historians may write a history of our times that goes something like this: Now that the private sector has taken its proper place as the main implementer of sustainable practices, simply because they work better and cost less, the 1990s and 1980s approach of micromanagement by intensive government regulation is only a bad memory” (320).

Forgive me, but this sounds naïve. Does the corporate capital business model really have that much foresight? Is it rational to that extent? Will it ever sacrifice its own short term profit for the long term benefit of humanity? To what extent does this model depend on the good will, the good heart, the good morals and intentions of the world elites? Indeed, perhaps that is why the book is written as a utopic vision to convince the world’s elite who control those businesses that this is exactly the revolution at which they ought to be at the vanguard, in order to reap profits and also assuage guilt.

I say this not to attack green entrepreneurs or small local business owners. I just think its naïve to think that Shell will on its own realize its better to be ecologically friendly (rather than simply appear ecologically friendly). But let’s take a closer look at one of the examples they give for how this process unfolds…

“When the African writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and seven of his colleagues were hanged by the Nigerian military dictatorship after being convicted in a kangaroo court for leading the protests against the environmental degradation in Ogoniland caused by multinational petroleum companies, Shell stations in Germany were burned to the ground, boycotts in Holland slashed sales, and employees in London were chastised by family and friends. Since that time, Shell has begun to reexamine all its racial, economic, and environmental policies.”

Now contrast the vision of change they give above to the statement with which they end the book:

” Natural capitalism is not about fomenting social upheaval. On the contrary, that is the consequence that will surely arise if fundamental social and environmental problems are not responsibly addressed. Natural capitalism is about choices we can make that can start to tip economic and social outcomes in positive directions. And it is already occurring- because it is necessary, possible, and practical” (322).
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 28, 2009 – Shelved
February 28, 2009 – Shelved as: environment
February 28, 2009 – Shelved as: food-justice
February 28, 2009 – Shelved as: non-fiction
February 28, 2009 – Finished Reading

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