Earth Systems Investing
Third Nature is based on the core concept that we need to be investing in the most promising innovations and technologies that seek to address urgent and massive challenges we face within our most critical earth systems.
We depend on nature, or earth’s natural systems, for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food and materials we use, and for our health and happiness.
The Stockholm Center for Resiliency has identified nine critical natural systems on earth, which they call Planetary Boundaries. They’ve published evidence that if those systems break down, our hospitable and stable home will become an unpredictable and unstable environment.
Of the nine Planetary Boundaries, we have already transgressed more than half, including biodiversity loss, nitrogen cycle change, groundwater reserves depletion, ocean acidification, and phosphorus scarcity. Each of these could be considered a crisis by itself. Together, along with climate change, they present the gravest threat to humanity in the history of our time on earth.
We must fundamentally rethink not just our fossil-fueled society and economy, but our entire relationship with nature and these critical earth systems.
What are "Earth Systems"?
The earth — our only home — is a single, reverberating system made up of many interconnected and interdependent systems with feedback loops and tipping points that, once breached, shift these natural systems from a stable and predictable state into an unstable and unpredictable state. What effects one, effects all.
We all know that rising levels of carbon emissions have caused massive and growing changes to our climate. But climate is just one element of earth’s natural systems — if we focus on climate alone, we will misunderstand the interactions and complexities it has with earth’s other systems, and underestimate the threat to our planet.
That’s why we think of the totality of the systems — which we call Earth Systems.
Why do we need a systems approach?
Carbon emissions are a singular problem. A problem can often be solved with a single innovation or technology solution from singularly focused experts. Earth's simultaneously shifting natural systems are facing more than a problem — they are facing a multidimensional, multifaceted predicament.
The clear challenge for humanity in the twenty-first century is to learn how to operate within the environmental limits of our planet and to restore the resilience of our essential ecosystems while also advancing global human prosperity through more earth-positive business, social, industrial, and economic activities. That’s a much more complex challenge, and it requires a new perspective, one that can help us perceive these complex relationships between human actions and global impacts that affect the natural state of our planet. This approach is difficult, but we see it as an essential foundation for effective transformation.
We need to bring together diverse perspectives, wide-ranging domain knowledge, deep and nuanced insights, and a flexible set of resources that in total can seek out unique insights and take potential actions that lead to positive shifts that deliver systems improvements.
While environmental degradation continues, we also see signs that we are beginning a transition towards an ecologically sustainable future.
The transition starts with the knowledge that’s newly available to us. We’re now able to track the exponential increase in human pressure and the consequent degradation of natural systems, but we also now better understand the interdependencies of earth’s life support systems and their limits.
Knowledge fosters change. We should be energized by the fact that humankind has awakened to the opportunity we now have to harness the full potential of human innovation that brings our activity into harmony with our natural world, and in a partnership with our planet. This requires the deepest cultural and behavioral shifts humanity has ever faced.
We’re seeing tremendous demand for defining and developing earth solutions. This demand amounts to the single largest investment opportunity in the history of humankind — a $200 trillion opportunity that will transition us to a new economy.
Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose.
And whenever the conscious mind clings to hard and fast concepts and gets caught in its own rules and regulations — as is unavoidable and of the essence of civilized consciousness — nature pops up with her inescapable demands.
How do we get there?
First, we start with the massive, urgent, and interconnected planetary challenges and let our insights into those challenges drive our investment into “earth tech,” a broad umbrella of thematic solutions that address them. These relate to climate change, and addresses, more broadly, “earth change.” Earth tech investing is going all in on innovations that harness human ingenuity, but also work in harmony with nature and to the benefit of its restoration.
But earth tech can’t be a copy of what Silicon Valley tech has become — with massive capital raises, rapid scale-ups, and quick flips to an acquirer or into public markets. We can’t do it just with a small set of narrowly focused entrepreneurs focused only in their spaces, sectors, and siloes.
Earth tech needs to be inclusive of people located in all corners of the world — bold entrepreneurs for sure, but also biologists and scientists who understand atoms to complement the technologists who understand bits and industrialists who aren’t overwhelmed by the complexity of scaling massive hard-tech solutions. It will take policy experts who can support the nuances of market transitions and how it impacts domestic and international trading systems and philanthropic and NGO leaders who can be a voice for those previously left behind to assure that we are creating not just a more sustainable world, but a world that is equitable and inclusive of all. Earth tech will need to both transform some of the most massive and entrenched systems and industries, but also define and build entirely new industries and markets.
Yes, this will take more money, it will take more time, and be more difficult, but this is our one chance to do what needs to be done, while also delivering, unequivocally, the single largest investment opportunity of our lifetime.