“The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi criminal, semi pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists of mental disease.”
—John Maynard Keynes, economist and founder of modern macroeconomic theory
Yanomami elder Davi Kopenawa once said that we in the civilized world were beholden to “sad leaves” — money, money on whose altar we have practically slain the only life-supporting planet of this kind in the universe. In your hands flows the wealth of the wealthiest 1 percent of the human species and yet in your hands revolves more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth. None of the United Nations biodiversity targets have been met, that is why your actions to help the green zones of the planet may mean survival or not for all future generations. Some of you are generous and many of you give to your favorite causes. But now the earth is in shambles. You need to give as if your life and soul depended on it. More than give. You need to restore life. Or you will find yourself in an early 21st century version of Jean Paul Sartre’s masterpiece “No Exit.” How you respond will determine whether we make it to 2030, let alone 2050, forget about the 22nd century.
The earth is simply in enormous jeopardy. Some of you took off to New Zealand to get away from it all. Some of you hunkered down in bunkers, waiting for the worst of the coronavirus to dissipate, a time worthy of a zombie apocalypse. I hope it was fun. You endured. But eventually you surfaced and came up to breathe. Welcome back. The rest of the world was waiting for your imminent return.
In the old days, during the Middle Ages, you would have given 10 percent of your earnings to the church, a tithe. That doesn’t make sense anymore. I recommend you give 40 to 60 percent to the planet because if you don’t you won’t make it to 2040, and neither will your children. They may have some funds, they may play in some off-the-beaten path in the Caribbean or the Pacific like Marlon Brando did. But they will still grieve because their future too will have been stabbed in the back and all the money in the world won’t hold back fires and floods and droughts and perhaps even famines. You billionaires never thought we would get here. Neither did anyone else. But now what you possess, what you must possess is not mere earning power but the power to yearn for a better world. The best place to put your money overall is in conservation because that subsumes all other categories. Your children can go the best colleges, but if there are no jobs, viruses are rampaging and basically no opportunities around the globe because of systemic ecological collapse, how will you be able to dream of your dream house?
Thoreau’s dictum “What’s the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on” is more relevant than it ever was. Your children will wonder, what could you have done. Because now according to the U.N. report, the world, the human world has missed all 20 biodiversity targets for preserving the world. It is a massive failure. No one can hide anymore. Least of all those of you who are the Atlas of the financial world. Many of you have helped fund the oil and gas and coal industries over the last few years. Now we are potentially on track to a hothouse earth.
But we can change. As you can. To those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Like the entire course of the future of life on earth. Set the ship aright. Use your voice, your money to change the infrastructure of the world this decade. It will be worth trillions. Accelerate industry to sequester carbon. Trillions of dollars invested now will realign civilization. Persuade the governments of the world to act, especially when it comes to the very thing you can make the most impact on — the environment. Give to forest management and rangers. Give to Arctic science. Give to regeneration of wetlands everywhere. Give to climate mitigation. Perhaps help the military do work in conservation around the world. Give to anti-poaching efforts worldwide before the animals that your children cherish disappear in a blink of an eye.
We’ve lost almost 70 percent of the wildlife of the planet in the last several generations. Your children will want to know that frogs and polar bears and whales still go about their business. Because if these species and the insects go, so will entire ecosystems. The kids won’t have anything to look forward to. And then what will be the point of a job — to make money? But there won’t be anything left to spend it on.
You could do really good work preserving what is left of the world because soon we could find ourselves completely overwhelmed. We won’t be able to spend $750 billion on weapons of mass incineration when forests will be burning by the tens of millions of acres at every turn. And you know what, your house will burn too if you’re not very, very careful. Nature won’t discriminate between your bank account and the poor guy down the street who lives in a tent.
We are living in simply extraordinary times. You probably didn’t see it coming. Giving away a good portion of what you have made needs volition and vision and vigor now. Talk to those diplomats and make your voice heard when it comes to saving the last remaining rainforests, the last mangroves, the last primates on Earth. See what you are bequeathing the human species as patrimony with those astronomically incalculable dollars you built up that could end up like quicksand if the world’s life support system isn’t rescued, starting right about 20 years ago.
A few Hollywood celebrities who fund well-meaning documentaries and an "Avatar" here and there is not going to do it. We need military-grade vision, merged with compassion. Making a killing, has I’m afraid to say helped to kill the very thing we were supposed to love the most, our home. The really big one, not the mansion in Beverley Hills, that’s the small one. I mean the Big One, the one without which your children are deciding to not even have kids.
Years ago, when Henry Miller wrote, “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” He was betting that his book “The Tropic of Cancer” would be more than a book, but an oracle, a “kick in the pants to God, man, destiny, time, love, beauty … what you will.” Now we have arrived at the point when we must decide whether we want to survive or grovel. He continued, “It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop. Away with lamentation, Away with elegies, and dirges, Away with biographies, and histories and libraries and museums!”
Now it is time for those who have bent the arc of time to their will, to redirect their blood-curdling wealth to such groups as the TEEB, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, and other conservation groups. Without the Earth’s resources, profits will die an agonizing death. So will capitalism and the markets and everything ever cherished in human history. Now is the time for rich men who happen to be brave men to come to the rescue because their financial muscle directed in a laser-guided way will reach their target and provide the moral and political wherewithal to fight the biggest fight in the history of our species. Anything less guarantees insolvency and possible collapse. You get to choose.
“To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money, or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or don't have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money?”
Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.