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The Green Holy Trinity (6/6)

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

In the climate-changed and climate-challenged 21st century, we’re ditching coal – an 18th-century way of generating electricity.


That’s obvious.


We’re also greening up Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ – another 18th-century standard. Yes; carbon credits, emissions trading schemes, and carbon offsets are market tools of the ‘green invisible hand,’ which is our modern version of Smith’s concept.


And just like electricity stays, but the way we get it and use it greens up…


Capitalism and market-based economy stay, but the way we “do” them greens up.


There are blind spots though…


Overreliance on the ‘green invisible hand’ – with its four strong fingers – is dangerous.


We need the Green Holy Trinity.




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Note: this video covers the same topic.



This is our sixth and final article in the green invisible hand’ series so we’ll briefly look in the rear-view mirror before introducing the ‘Green Holy Trinity.’


The journey began with the first article/vid titled ‘From Dark Ages To Green Ages? Carbon Markets & Environmental Sins.’


We flashbacked to the 1400s when sinners wanting to avoid hell in the afterlife and pass through purgatory paid fees (called religious indulgences) to Catholic priests who “cleansed” them. Putting a price on “sin,” and “sin markets” led to greed, corruption, gluttony, and opulence in the Catholic Church and contributed to revolts that climaxed in the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther at the helm.


We contrasted medieval religious indulgences with carbon markets and carbon trading, which are our modern attempts to purge ourselves of environmental sins (= planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions).


Today, we also want to avoid HELL. This time though, it’s literal hell – the planet that is too warm


(Both “sins” share the same root – that you must pay for bad behaviour, for a harmful activity to cleanse, and purify yourself. It’s not the same as paying penalties/fines because those are only punishments - sticks but not carrots.)


Naturally, this payment-for-sin practice led us to the second article/vid, titled ‘Adam Smith, the “Green Invisible Hand” & Carbon Markets.’ There, we’re taking Smith’s original 18th-century ‘invisible hand’ – the founding principle of capitalism – and putting it in a green glove because we’re talking carbon pricing.


Carbon pricing and carbon credits/markets/trading/offsets are powerful decarbonization tools (“purgatory”) because we live in a global market-based economy.


Carbon markets do the “invisible green hand” work of incentivising low-carbon “good” behaviour, business practices, materials, and services while simultaneously penalizing high-carbon “bad” behaviour, business practices, materials, and services (pricing them out of the system).


And we saw New Zealand farmers now earning five times more by planting trees (low-carbon activity) on their farms than by breeding sheep (high-carbon activity).


But this market-based approach, with its singular focus on getting rid of carbon under the doctrine of decarbonization, leads to paradoxical situations where we had to ask: ‘Keeping Forests Or Mining EV-Minerals Beneath? The Green Invisible Hand Castrates’ in the third article/vid.


Biodiverse-rich forests, such as Jarrah (WA, Aus.) and the Congo Basin, are being destroyed because of cobalt, palladium, nickel, and bauxite needed for EV batteries and wind turbines. And the global demand for these “green” minerals is expected to increase by 500%.


Destruction of forests by mining is easily understood…


…but way murkier are activities such as reforestation & carbon offsets; they all look as though they’re helping the planet…


…and are used by mining and other companies to make up for their environmental sins.


Therefore, in the fourth article, ‘Carbon Offsets/Reforestation Pitfalls | The Green Invisible Hand Handles & Mishandles,’ we poked at the many tree planting projects going ahead these days … they’re growing like weeds (pardon the pun) as the decarbonization efforts scale up.


Because we’re in a carbon market-based environment, monocultures are chosen for these projects, often at the expense of native vegetation. It’s easier and cheaper to plant hundreds of hectares with two standardized crops of hardy, straight, and fast-growing trees (e.g. Acacias, Eucalypts), instead of trying to replicate the native biodiverse-rich ecosystem.


The priority should always be the protection and preservation of the existing, structurally complex forests, and planting carbon plantations should be the last resort because…


…these “green deserts” are biodiversity disasters…


…which is why in the preceding article/vid, we asked - ‘The Doctrine of Decarbonization – What About Biodiversity?


Unlike decarbonization, where the ‘green invisible hand’ has four strong fingers of (1) a Clear and singular goal of reducing greenhouse gases, (2) Clear targets of 1.5C/net-zero by 2050, (3) a Clear metric of tCO2/tCO2e, and (4) it’s global … biodiversity doesn’t have one singular goal, one target, one metric, and it’s not global but localized.


This puts biodiversity on the back burner


But without biodiversity, there’s no life, no food, and no livelihoods. Farmers need crops; crops need pollination; pollinators need biodiversity. Therefore, farmers depend on biodiversity for their livelihood and everyone else for food.



Okay.


We explored the ‘green invisible hand’ under the doctrine of decarbonization


The key point was that the ‘green invisible hand’ – our modern market tool for greening-up capitalism – can and does change business behaviour from high-carbon to low-carbon … but ‘low-carbon’ doesn't necessarily mean ‘environmentally friendly.’


So the (carbon) market approach per se is not the silver bullet, it’s not the holy grail


This realization leads us to the natural next step…


The Holy Trinity


Three major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share the same Abrahamic root of ONE omnipresent and omniscient God.


But unlike Judaism and Islam, which retained their unitarian belief system, Christianity developed a trinitarian belief system with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:



All three entities are equally represented, they’re tri-united in one God who acts as a three-fold entity, not as a singular entity


The Father is the creator/judge/lord, the Son is incarnated God (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit is the “essence” or “divine presence,” after Jesus’s departure.


How is that related to climate change?


This trinitarian idea is present in the Triple Bottom Line framework where the economic, environmental, and social pillars are equally represented. What we call ‘sustainable’ is the intersection of these three pillars. They too are tri-united in one entity.



We have three entities - not just the economy or just the environment or just the society.


And that’s why we can’t leave dealing with climate change and environmental issues to the markets, even though they’re becoming “green” (which never happened before).


The Green Holy Trinity


We need to tri-unite our approach in the Green Holy Trinity:


1) Market approach (‘green invisible hand’, carbon markets/trading, carbon pricing, and yes, even offsets as the last resort)

2) Direct action (where concerned individuals drive sustainable action, e.g. by reducing meat, flying less, changing pension funds, etc.)

3) Regulation (where governments use “carrots” such as rebates for rainwater tanks or solar panels, or “sticks” such as plastic bag bans or fines for illegal dumping)





Like Christianity with its Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … like the Triple Bottom Line with its environmental, social, and economic pillars …


Market approach (1), direct action (2), and regulation (3) need to be equally represented – tri-united – for us to see the big picture, the context, the wide and broad landscape, instead of the narrow – although very focused – ‘green invisible hand’ picture.


The Green Holy Trinity sees the forest, but decarbonization only sees the tree/s (in the carbon plantation, not even a forest).


If we have the climate change action tri-united in those three entities, I believe, we’re less likely to be deceived by hypey “net zero by 2030!” proclamations. And less likely to sacrifice threatened species, forests, and Indigenous communities to a singular god of decarbonization.


We’ll be less likely to commodify, instrumentalize and reduce nature to “carbon sinks” and we’ll be more likely to value it for what it is, not just for what we get out of it.




Following the medieval dark ages, where sins were traded on a sin market and where opponents of such practices burned at the stake …


Following the period of environmental dark ages …


Are we entering the Green Ages?



Thanks for reading/watching.


Jan



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