From about the end of the 14th century, an accounting technique became widespread in the banks of northern Italy. Property was identified as capital: a ship about to cross the Atlantic, a barn full of grain, a field, a cart. What is “capital”? Broadly speaking, it is something that has to yield an income stream in the future, whose value today is deemed equal to the currently realizable sum of this future income, that is, if it were cashed in today. Such an operation might seem trivial, so widespread is it today. In fact, it underlies all financial transactions in markets, serves as a guiding principle for cost-benefit and risk analysis, and for all environmental economics. Without it, the economic system would collapse.
Now this operation is tantamount to flattening the future to the present: it consists in pretending that the future is entirely known to the capital’s owner, and that what counts is only the monetary income that this capital will be able to yield. The future is anticipated so perfectly that it can be quantified and that an exact value can be assigned to the source of this income: the present capital. No surprises in the future are tolerated, otherwise the present value of capital would be questioned. Time no longer exists. Neither does space, because the quantification of the capital’s monetary value claims to be universal and allows everything to be compared with it.
Is the Amazon burning? This is irrelevant if the expected profits from deforestation exceed what is believed to be estimated from a slowdown in global warming. And since some eminent economists persist in prophesying that a 6-degree centigrade rise in temperature would cost only 10 percent of real world GDP – despite repeated warnings from the scientific community that such warming would cause an apocalypse on Earth – the game is up: the Amazon capital is far more attractive as a stock of timber and arable land than as one of the Planet’s lungs.