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And what about natural capital? Peter Adriaens, a professor of environmental engineering and entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, formed Equarius Risk Analytics in 2013 to unlock market signals and asset risk valuation from environmental exposure. His firm, which has offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, specializes in water risk and not only provides detailed quantitative analysis of the systemic water risk that whole industries face but is able to drill down to identify the degree of volatility for the value of each company. This model could be expanded to virtually every form of environmental risk, such as extreme weather events, the dispersal of toxins, the deterioration of air quality and soil depletion — all of which could threaten the sustainability of companies and industries.

When it comes to the evolution of accounting, would a broadened form of the discipline lead us to a new definition of profitability, so that we could learn to avoid transactions that might create a large profit for financial capital even though they were generating a huge loss for natural stocks? Or, to put it differently, what would it mean if corporations set out to create profits in all the nonfinancial capitals, so that business became a system for the manufacture of endless joint gains — an engine that drives a virtuous cycle of ever-improving health and prosperity?

Every one of these questions, and hundreds like them, are now viewed as too complex to study, so we see only sporadic attempts. Indeed, despite our belief in our own sophistication, we settle too often into the senseless trap of asking only questions that we think we can answer or offering simple responses to complicated questions (both innate cognitive reflexes well documented by behavioral economists).

We could be doing something else. And we will. If the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Corporate Governance Network and the U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment could appear in the 1990s; if the Investor Network on Climate Risk and the inclusion of ESG information in Bloomberg terminals could happen in the 2000s; if the businesses and investors of the world start using the drive to decarbonize our economy and correct for inequality to rethink capitalism from the ground up in this decade, then where will we be — where could we be — ten years from now, in 2026? Or in 2036?

The complexity and force of the capital markets, combined with the culture-­shifting introduction of unthinkably vast computing capability, create a challenge not just for executives, investors and policymakers but for the whole of humanity. Instead of focusing on the narrow band of financial performance and bending reality to fit into our notions of what matters rather than the other way around, we now can ask the questions whose answers we really want to know — questions that would protect and advance not just our economies but our civilizations.

To do so might require — and prompt — an evolutionary surge of intelligence and awareness, but such things have happened before. The prize would be great, for it would provide new answers to one of our most pressing questions: Is capitalism primarily a cloaked transferal of human and natural capital from public value to private wealth, or, as the world faces more constraints and deeper problems, will it finally grow up and rescue both people and the planet with a wisdom commensurate with its power?

Bob Massie served as the president of Ceres from 1996 to 2003, was co-founder of the Global Reporting Initiative in 1998 and was the initiator of the Investor Network on Climate Risk in 2003. He is now executive director of the Sustainable Solutions Lab at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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