Answering Frank Putman

Dear John,

With interest I saw your documentary yesterday on Dutch national television.

I’m working in a totally different field, namely financial markets. I have one question for you, if money from this sector would be put to work what return would they be able to make over say 10 years? I would like to see if this could compete with other investments they do. In order to be able to take this to the next level this would be the kind of money that would be needed.

If this could work I will see if I can get this off the ground.

Kind regards

Frank Putman

Dear Frank:

This is a complicated question and one that is being explored in several places.

Personally I believe that in real terms investment in restoration has the highest possible return because it is sustainable and aligns with natural evolutionary trends that create living matter from sunlight, water and minerals. While this is of incredible value and the basis of air, water, food and energy, the existing economic system does not actually include this because it is not built on logic or science but on historical precedent. Sadly the precedents include feudalism, slavery, imperialism and colonization. This legacy is the one we need to change so that future generations don’t inherit this error even further compounded.

If it were simply a scientific issue about hydrological dysfunction, loss of fertility and loss of biodiversity that could be solved through investment then it would be much simpler. I could just estimate that an investment of approximately 5000 Euros per hectare would be needed to ensure infiltration and retention of rainfall. Then logically we must divide ecological and economic land so that biodiversity survives into future generations in the ecological land and we can raise food, fiber and fuel in sustainable optimized ways in the economic land. Then you could multiply 5000 by 2 Billion hectares of degraded land and get a rough estimate of what global restoration would cost.

However, it is not that easy. The problem is that the majority of people on the Earth are acting in what they believe is their individual interest even when this erodes the global commons. There are 7 billion people on the Earth. Some of them have huge amounts of money. Think Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or others in that league and also other people with lots of money but not quite that much. Then there is a middle class with many aspiring people hoping to join the rich. Finally there are billions of others with virtually nothing. Where has this money come from? Why are there some rich people, some middle class / working class people and billions of poor people?

What my research suggests is that the current degradation of the environment and the current disparity between the wealthy and the poor are caused by the current global economic system. By valuing products and services and now financial speculation above natural ecological function, human society has built into the economy a perverse incentive to degrade the natural environment. Human society also created an economic system that has been imposed on billions of indigenous people around the world without their consent, leaving them trying to survive in degraded landscapes. These vast degraded areas have been degraded in the enriching of others on the other side of the world. The system also requires infinite growth to provide jobs and consumables for the ever more people clawing their way up the social and economic ladder. This is impossible. This analysis suggests that the current global human economy is illogical, immoral and impossible.

I believe that the existing economy will change in one of two ways. Either it will fail because of its inherent problems or it will change because we consciously build a fair and sustainable system.

The biophysical aspects can be fixed if we understand them and act rationally to align with natural systems. The moral and historical problems are the true causes for the degradation and the poverty and they require that we change the intention of society away from selfishness toward collaboration.

So rather quickly we need to stimulate enlightenment on a planetary scale so that everyone understands that it is not in our own interest to impoverish anyone and that ecological function is vastly more valuable than production and consumption of goods and services.

I hope that this helps to answer your question. My email is if you would like to discuss this further with me.


2 Responses to “Answering Frank Putman”

  • Dear John,
    I have placed the movie on our website ande your Dutch TV-programm as well. I have sent recommandations to the Jewish World Committee and the European Committee also. I am very impressed about the desertification-project, because the Jewish Torah is ordering us to do as you are doing.
    I will try to ask Jewish universities to pay attention to this project in relation with our tikkoen olam (hebrew of recovering the world).
    It surely will be a part of the curriculum in our new “Academia Ars Vitae”. I also will make a contact with IUCN Netherlands.
    If you give me your emailaddress I will send you the letter.

    My best regards and shalom ou-v’racha,

    Gideon Benavraham,
    prof.em. Systematical Hermeneutics

  • Alex French:

    Right now I’m studying environmental economics in graduate school and I’ve been wondering a lot about this issue. I feel that there should be a real financial incentive for restoration work. I wonder – if someone invests in reforestation, could they sell the offset carbon as credits in 10 years as long as the project was professionally monitored? Could universities use student labor and research to do the monitoring? Hopefully carbon taxes will be mandated in the near future so credits may be in high demand.

    Another idea/question that I have is about insurance (though I’m really not versed well enough in many of these issues). I know there is a lot of work going on right now concerning wetlands and flood insurance. If an investor restores wetlands outside of a city, and later on the city is subject to a flood, would it be possible to estimate how much damage was avoided due to the restoration work? If it could be quantified, then it seems to me that the investor would be entitled to a percentage of the insurance money that wasn’t spent. The insurance company would still be saving money, the investor would make money, and the city would be more resilient (a Pareto improvement in economics). I think the same could apply for disaster funds during a drought. This would create an incentive for investment in areas that are most prone to damages from climate change.

    Thanks for humoring my utopic imagination,

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