Thirteen thousand years ago, as trillion-ton ice-sheets retreated from North America's Pacific coast, barren desolation reigned. However, in the lingering glacial streams, the continent's revitalization had already begun. Proliferating river by river down the warming coast, the adventurous ancestors of today's salmon swan inland to deposit their eggs. Ever since, with each season, their energizing cycle has spun. Come Spring, the salmon roe hatch and emerge from the rocky river bed. The tiny fish gather their strength consuming insects and waterborne larvae. Come Summer, they set out on a journey to the ocean. Once arrived they feast on nutrient rich marine life. After several years, when they have reached their full size and strength, they are ready to head home. Come Fall, millions of salmon retrace their river route and an entire ecosystem revels in their return. Bears, eagles and humans gather for grand fishing feasts. Even the bugs partake! The remnants of consumed carcasses nourish the very insects upon which the salmon first fed. Meanwhile, those salmon that slipped by, continue to the waters where they were born. Using the last of their strength, they deposit their eggs in the gravel. The salmon then die; their decomposition a final nutrient gift to the now rich and diverse river ecosystem that their roe will soon run.
OVER THE LAST MILLENNIUM, the Wet'suwet'en people of North America's Pacific coast have lived alongside the salmon's masterful management of energy. Observing and learning from the salmon, the Wet'suwet'en gained the ecological understanding to preside over the steady enrichment of their land. Today, we too have much to learn from the salmon— and from the Wet'suwet'en. As we shall see, the way in which they patterned their lives upon the salmon’s outward spiral of energy provides a green path forward for us and our modern enterprises. Indeed, the geometric pattern that both the Wet'suwet'en and the salmon share, mirrors the energetic pattern by which Earth itself greened. This resonance, provides us with the basis for our second Earthen ethic. With the help of its lens, we can observe clearly the pattern of systemic ecological depletion that underlies our modern for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises. However, far more importantly, the geometry of the second Earthen ethic provides the foundation by which we may structure our enterprises to ensure that they are in fact social and ecological contributors.
To begin, let us return once again to our planet's primordial origins and take a closer look at its characteristic pattern of energetic flow.
As we saw in Earth's stellar story, over the last four billion years, the energy of the Sun's relentless blaze coursed through Earth's cycles of geology, ocean and atmosphere. Driven by the rigid dictates of thermodynamics and guided by Earth's unique cosmological character, cycles unfurled that ever better dissipated the Sun's energy. Steadily, configurations of matter organically emerged that gathered, stored, then dispersed energy ever outwards towards equilibrium.⁶⁶
Before long, the sun’s shine was being stored in complex, energy-dense molecules that were interchangeable among cellular systems. As organisms lived and died, these nutrients were consumed and used by others. Gaining the energy of those before them, organisms reproduced and proliferated; each cycle steadily spinning nutrient energy outwards across the planet’s surface. From organism to ecosystem, from ecosystem to biome, energy spiraled ever outwards towards the enrichment of all.⁶⁷
And Earth’s biosphere blossomed!
Returning to the salmon, we can see that the character of its cycles are a magnificent reflection of Earth’s.
Just as Earth’s absorption of solar energy powered an endless procession of cycles across its surface, so too did the salmon's absorption of marine nutrients power the endless cycle of its generations.
Just as the Earth's cycles steadily spun the sun's energy out across the planet's surface, so too did the salmon cycles steadily spin nutrient energy out to its ecosystem.⁶⁸
And just as Earth’s outwards energetic spiral steadily greened its biosphere, so too did the salmon's outwards dispersion of nutrients relentlessly contribute to the enrichment of its biome— a common home for which countless other creatures could flourish.⁶⁹
And so too the salmon!
As the bears, bugs, eagles and humans with whom it shared interdependence thrived, the living conditions for future salmon generations steadily improved. As the cycles of all these creatures more often than naught also spiraled outwards also, they synced, intertwined and reverberated.⁷⁰ Steadily the once barren coastal interior steadily flourished. Salmon populations increased and their spiraling cycle spun with ever more abundance and vitality.⁷¹
Within this great green unfolding, we find our second Earthen ethic.
Just as the salmon and Earth tended their cycles towards the spin of energy outwards to all, so too must we intend and achieve with our own. Only when the intention and the result of our cyclical processes is the net-outwards distribution of energy, is this second Earthen ethic met. Only then can our enterprises be considered an ecological contribution— and green.
As we emphasized in Tractatus Ayyew: Book One, certain great green nations, ancient and ongoing, have long embodied this pattern of ecological contribution. In particular: cyclocentric cultures. As we saw, such societies are distinguished by their priority of syncing with the cycles of plants and animals around them— beings whom they perceived as kindred relations. These cultures, rather than view human endeavour as exceptional and separate from their fellow creatures, instead understood all their enterprises to be congruent contributions to a shared system.
And, so too the Wet'suwet'en.
From the Wet'suwet'en view of the world, the salmon were not just kindred creatures. They were ecological elders and respected teachers.⁷²
Over the millennia the Wet'suwet'en learned from the salmon. Over countless generations, they wove the salmon's spiral pattern of energy management into their stories, traditions and values⁷³
In Wet'suwet'en culture, the very first salmon caught each Autumn is shared within the community or family unit. In this tradition, a morsel of the fish is meticulously distributed among each member, while each and every bone is taken back and returned to the river. This pattern is then followed in the seasonal harvest of tens of thousands of salmon. Only as much salmon required by each family is taken, while the vast majority are allowed to pass through to lay their eggs and be consumed by other creatures. Surplus catch are shared among the community as needed, while all the bones are brought back to the water ⁷⁴. So ingrained is this spirit of dispersal, that in the Wetʼsuwetʼen language the very word for 'salmon' is a grammatical exception: it is impossible to speak of 'my salmon' only of 'our salmon'.
For the Wet'suwet'en, this ethic culminates in the potlatch (a tradition shared with virtually every other first nation on the North West coast and interior). In this seasonal ceremony, the community comes together to distribute items of value, function and beauty that had been accumulated by some more than others. Everything from food, to blankets, to jewelery to currency are brought to be gifted at the ceremony. In the potlatch, the more that a family or an individual can distribute out to others, the more respect and honor is gained.⁷⁵
Over the millennia, by embodying this pattern in both their social and ecological ways, the Wet'suwet'en have passed a steadily richer and more abundant biome down to their children. In their land the salmon have always returned, the bears, eagles and forest have thrived in diversity, abundance and vitality.
Today, as our modern enterprises strive to go green, the Wet'suwet'en show us the way forward.
Inspired by their understanding of social and ecological energy as one and the same, we can address the human-centric assumption embedded in our modern understanding of enterprise and economy. In particular, the view that financial energy is separate and exceptional to Earthen planetary dynamics. This modern economic axiom is a logical consequence of the deep rooted anthropocentricism that underlies the modern view of the world— an ontological foundation that, as we argued in Chapter 5, has been long shown to be empirically faulty and scientifically fallacious.
And long overdue for excision.
With an updated understanding of our economies as inextricably immersed within Earth’s systems, we can see our financial energy flows anew. In fact, our economy and enterprises are subset energy systems of the planet's biosphere, and, most significantly, are subject to the same planetary principles.
Whether it is an organism or enterprise, an ecosystem or an economy, as each system spins, their pattern of energetic give and take tends their cycles either inward our outward. The spiral that emerges either inclines inwards towards the concentration of energy into themselves or outwards towards the dispersal of energy to their encompassing system.⁷⁶
When it comes to our human enterprises, their pattern of energy management is determined by the purpose for which the enterprise is established. The for of an enterprise determines how and why it receives revenues and expends expenses— as well as the how and why of its ecological give and take.
While most enterprises operate with the purpose of meeting human wants and needs— such as for the provision of products and for the delivery of services, modern enterprises tend to be structured for a deeper reason. Namely, for the purpose of profit: generating more energy for themselves (i.e. their owners or shareholders) than they give back. This surplus, is defined strictly from a paradigm of financial energy: profit and loss, revenues and expenses.
Within this profit paradigm, such for-profit enterprises may provide products, services and even environmental contributions. However their underlying structure dictates that their financial surpluses are directed back to themselves at the end of each financial cycle. The result is an inwards spiral of accumulation that over many financial cycles, steadily depletes its encompassing ecological and social systems.⁷⁷
Such a spin is in opposition to Earth's pattern. No matter how green-intentioned and no matter how "green" its short-term impacts may seem, the net-effect of a for-profit enterprise is inevitably that of systematic ecological depletion.
Of course, not all modern enterprises operate for-profit.
Today, more and more enterprises are aware of the depleting dynamic of profit in-and-of-itself. In order to contribute socially and environmentally, many enterprises choose a ‘not-for-profit’ energetic structure. These enterprises strive to return their financial surpluses back to the pursuit of their social or environmental purpose.
However, insofar as a not-for-profit enterprise remains fully immersed within the profit paradigm— where energy is accounted for strictly as financial give and take— their energetic structure is insufficient to be green.
While a not-for-profit enterprise may ensure that all its revenues goes out to its social or environmental purpose, insofar as its energy is accounted for solely in financial terms, it will fail to account of its ecological give and take. In particular: its give and take of carbon, its support or depletion of biodiversity and its raising or lowering of awareness (our next three Earthen ethics). In this way, while a not-for-profit enterprise may return all of its financial energy back to its social purpose (or even environmental purpose) without stepping out of the profit-paradigm, it fails to embody our second Earthen ethic.
After all, while an enterprise may sequester much carbon and support many species— it could very well be that more carbon is emitted and more diversity depleted to achieve these short-term results! Without a systemic accounting thereof, one cannot be certain whether its net-impact is in fact a net-green contribution.
In other words, without both an intention of contributing socially and ecologically— and an accounting and disclosure of both— an enterprise will remain complicit in a dynamic of systematic ecological depletion.
However, with Earth's example as our guide, the path ahead has never been more clear.
Just as just as the Wet'suwet'en understood human and ecological energy as one, so too must we. And just as a salmon's energetic pattern is embeded deep in its DNA, so too must the Earthen pattern be embodied in the very structure of our keen green enterprises. In particular, a cyclical pattern of directing surplus energy to the benefit of both our fellow humans and our kindred relations: not-for-profit enterprises purposed for the enrichment of our common home. Such a for-Earth structure must be publically declared and accounted for— ensuring that the enterprises's surpluses go towards fulfilling and meeting the other four Earthen ethics.
That said, the outwards spiral of energy is only one half of Earth's spiral pattern of enrichment.
There is yet the matter of our matter.
Our next Earthen ethic.