Natural Capital

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I hope you enjoyed a restful and meaningful Labor Day.

We spent the holiday weekend at our ranch, and the rains finally came to us there after several months of daily baking heat with hardly a drop.  On my most recent trips there, I have been alarmed at the condition of trees and grasses, as they looked very, very stressed in a way that is unusual even for summer in Texas.  Blackjack oaks, a very hardy and stubborn oak that likes poor and rocky soils (we have some of that) have been struggling, and a number are dying including this beloved one that shades the playground upon which my two children have grown up.  The place where happy and joyous sounds have emitted, is now facing the sad death of a shade giving blackjack oak.

Still, it is not as bad as 2011 was.  That year, as I recall, the rain stopped suddenly in February, and almost none arrived again until October.  That terrifying drought affected almost all of Texas, with Houston’s Memorial Park and Arboretum losing many of its trophy Loblolly Southern pines, normally a very hardy and drought resistant tree. 

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Most stunning, however, was the complete obliteration of the Lost Pines, an entire micro-ecosystem of pines centered around Bastrop, Texas.  In the heat and drought-stricken summer of 2011, much of Bastrop went up in flames as one of the most beautiful forests in Texas was literally lost, if not forever, then for several lifetimes.

I thought the destruction of Lost Pines might cause most Texans to conclude that a changing climate brought on by human actions was simply not worth the potential risks, much less the actual costs.  And yet in the politics of 2018, the issue of climate change seems to have disappeared almost entirely from public discourse as the country boils instead in its current Civil Crisis, as I refer to it.  Regardless, while many of us are no longer listening to each other, Mother Nature will undoubtedly listen to none of us, and CO2 levels and temperatures will continue to rise.  The news of startlingly hot weather across the globe and the perilous results it brings continues unabated.

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In 2011, at our ranch, we lost many mature cedars (so misnamed by Spanish settlers, they are in reality junipers).  Beautiful trees up to two feet in diameter began to die and had to be logged to at least redeem some value for their lives.  It was terribly painful to me, a lover of trees, to see deep green forests of fragrant old growth cedars, the largest I have seen, reduced to chain saw slash on my own property.

Sound economic policies, in any economic system, must support both the preservation and growth of all forms of capital, not just money capital.  On earth, the most important and abundant form of capital is natural capital - the earth’s land, water, and air – without which no other capital formation is possible.  We must understand that to have a sustainable economy, we must always account for the costs of all forms of capital use that attach to projects, or else we will make poor investment decisions.  Although there are no panaceas, If you want to take steps in your portfolio to contribute to trying to avoid more Lost Pines, we can discuss with you investments that may be more congruent with a sustainable future.

Back at the ranch, I have gotten over the emotional shock of the mass die off of cedars.  Happily, on another part of the property, a single mature pine has propagated a new young and thriving forest of saplings, which are perfectly at ease in the hot dry conditions this summer.  I heartily welcome these new inhabitants and look forward to the day soon (as these are among the fastest growing trees) when I hear the wind whistling through them. 

But I still miss the cedars.

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