Natural Capitalism? Quaker Radicalism?

Having been challenged by a Natural Capitalist in a Twitter conversation in response to a Tweet from the World Development Movement, I was convicted of a knee-jerk, unthinking sort of a mindset. It is too easy to get drawn into “which side are you” politics, rather than real thinking, and praying, for justice.

Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital (manufactured means of production) to goods and services relating to the natural environment. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. For example, a stock of trees or fish provides a flow of new trees or fish, a flow which can be indefinitely sustainable. Natural capital may also provide services like recycling wastes or water catchment and erosion control. Since the flow of services from ecosystems requires that they function as whole systems, the structure and diversity of the system are important components of natural capital.”, as quoted from The Encyclopedia of Earth. (

Source: Wikipedia

Quakers have been thinking about this, too. The Quaker Institute for the Future have produced an excellent pamphlet entitled How on Earth Do We Live Now? Natural Capital, Deep Ecology, and the Commons (download PDF) and another, more recent one, Beyond the Growth Dilemma: Toward an Ecologically Integrated Economy (download PDF). They say (BGD p.93):

Our hopes for the future begin with a clear understanding of the potential for an ecologically integrated economy. We must chart a way toward that future, working together for changes at all levels of society to help build a new creation that is inclusive of all and fits within the physical capacities of Earth.

Of course, not all Quakers agree. (Would you expect them to?!) Quaker Earth Care have an interesting, if much shorter, set of pieces in Quaker Eco-Bulletin Vol. 10 No.3, criticising the basis of the Natural Capitalism movement as inherently flawed just because they are based in the same economic assumptions that drove the Industrial Revolution. “The problem with the natural capital solution is that there really is no Earth restored, just more economy.” (download PDF)

Quaker thinking is, and should be, always divided on subjects like this. It is in the creative tension between them, held in silence rather than in debate, as in Meeting for Worship for Business, that we will begin to discern where we are being led. It is all too easy to adopt a party line; because we agree with a party on one point of policy we shouldn’t assume that all their policies are equally good. Many of us in the peace movement made that mistake with the Communist Party in the 60s and 70s – and before! We Quakers too easily forget that Joseph Rowntree and John Cadbury were Friends, as were the founders of Barclays and Lloyds banks. Some in business today have not forgotten – I was moved to read an article by Sir Dominic Cadbury, former Chairman of Cadburys, and fascinated to read the article in Forbes linked to earlier, on Doing Business The Quaker Way.

Paradox, except in formal logic, is not something to be solved or resolved: inherent in the whole nature of the universe, as physics is beginning to realise, is something we experience as paradoxical, yet is itself consistent, as Dragoljub A. Cucić explains (download PDF). Mystics have understood this for many centuries – Quakers (of whom I am the worst!) should not forget so easily…

1 thought on “Natural Capitalism? Quaker Radicalism?

  1. Craig Barnett

    Dear Mike,
    Many thanks for these links, and for the beautiful writings on this blog, which I am enjoying reading regularly.
    In Friendship,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s