Biodiversity extinction markets break down as prices soar.
Like the global carbon offset program, the international biodiversity extinction credit market is designed to organize the private sector’s responsibility to pay for the environmental consequences of their business activity. The specific goal is to incentivize companies to reach net-zero extinction-causing behavior.
Under the global extinction credit framework, any private enterprise that causes the extinction of a "non-intelligent" species is required to surrender one credit. But if it's an "intelligent" species that has been lost, the responsible company must pay the heftier price of 13 credits to offset the extinction.
As you know, we’re generally fans of innovative market-based approaches to scaling environmental solutions. The extinction offset market seemed like it should work. But now we cannot ignore signs that things have gone badly awry.
Up to this point, our main concern with the program was that offset prices were too low, failing to capture the true costs of extinction. We worried that species-destroying enterprises would view the costs of extinction as manageable and feel no pressure to ameliorate their damaging ways. But now the tides have turned.
Pervasive hacking issues, speculative credit trading and the recent destruction of the DNA-bio-bank-species backup system have sent the markets into a tailspin. Credit prices are soaring, traders with shorts face devastating settlements, and extinction-causing companies are being hit with huge financial penalties. The entire program is at risk.
If all of that sounds fantastical, it’s because it is.
There are no extinction offset markets (at least not yet!). But they do drive the storyline in a superb new novel, Venomous Lumpsucker by the talented and creative Ned Beauman. We highly recommend this book as an end-of-summer beach read. If you liked our earlier cli-fi recommendations such as Ministry for the Future or Termination Shock, this one is a must too.
Here’s a little preview:
The Bhramasamudram Mining company may have inadvertently wiped out the venomous lumpsucker fish species.
Karin, a Swiss German biologist, is evaluating whether the lumpsucker constitutes an “intelligent species.”
Mark, the company’s "environmental impact coordinator" is charged with keeping the company’s extinction costs down.
Together, they travel a dystopian landscape (think horrific climate, poisoned seas, capitalism that’s run amuck, scary pandemics, and every other bad eco-outcome you fear) searching for any remaining fish.
Sound bleak? Well, it is. But Beauman is so talented that it's also fun, scary, and highly provocative all at the same time.
In addition to being an engaging read, one reason we at The Instigator particularly liked the book is the way it uses fiction to challenge our point of view. One of our greatest concerns about the environmental outlook is not that no one will care or be willing to do the right thing. It’s that our overconfidence in “theories of change” — however well intentioned — will end up thwarting coalition-building and slowing down progress.
All of us who pay attention to and care for nature know very well that most things don't go according to plan. So let's all try harder to keep open minds and to understand differing points of view. We'll have more to say about this in future issues. But, in the meantime, reading Venomous Lumpsucker will help. Let us know what you think and please send along other recommendations.
Editor's Note: We're taking the rest of the summer off. Enjoy the remaining weeks of August and spend as much time outdoors as you can. We’ll see you after Labor Day.