Nature's Limit: How to Not Emit More than Nature Can Sustain with MERIT Tokens

Merit Valdsalu
August 16, 2022

It’s time to face it: none of the current solutions in place to mitigate climate change have put the world on the right track to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. At a time when we should be heading towards a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, our emissions still grow every year. 

We’ve overexploited nature, the very thing keeping humankind alive. This means there’s no time for idealistic solutions — we simply don’t have that luxury anymore.

If we want to turn around the extensive biodiversity loss and climate change and keep Earth habitable for humans, there’s a need for a solution that preserves existing ecosystems and that fits into our everyday lives. 

Let’s explore this solution. 

Nature sequesters carbon naturally, but with a limit

Carbon sequestration is part of the carbon cycle. It’s when carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored. When enough of it happens, nature keeps its natural balance. This has happened for much of Earth’s history and for a long time, it’s kept the planet’s atmosphere in a condition that optimally supports life. 

That is, until humankind started exploiting the planet for its natural resources, resulting in more and more greenhouse gasses being emitted into the atmosphere. Since 1950, more than 662 million hectares of forest have been lost, and carbon concentration in the atmosphere has almost doubled. 

Nature plays a big part in halting climate change, as a great deal of carbon is sequestered by grasslands, forests, farms, and in biomass. 

Nature can sequester a certain amount of carbon naturally, but the amount of CO2 it can absorb from the atmosphere is limited — that’s the net neutral line.

The current situation is dire

We don’t necessarily have to reach net zero emissions, but we need to become net neutral. This means we don’t emit more greenhouse gasses than what nature can absorb. 

That’s where the limit theory comes in. Nature has a limited capacity to sequester carbon. And that limit is what we have to fit our economy into. 

The problem is that the economy doesn’t currently fit into it because humankind is overexploiting nature’s resources. The same goes for using nature in any way — as raw materials or consuming natural resources in any form. 

Humankind’s overexploitation of nature is illustrated by Earth’s Overshoot Day, the day humanity exceeds the Earth’s annual resource budget. In 1971, it was at the end of the year, but it’s quickly occurring earlier, as seen in the graph below. In 2022, it was on the 28th of July. 

From overshootday.org

Of course, we can use natural resources, but there’s a limit. We need to do it in a way that doesn’t destroy nature but enables it to regenerate and stay in this neutral zone. The goal should be to avoid losing nature because we consume too much of it. 

“Of course, we can use natural resources, but there’s a limit. We need to do it in a way that doesn’t destroy nature but enables it to regenerate.”

What if we used only as much of Earth’s natural resources as nature can sustain? 

Nature allows us to use its resources, but only to a certain extent. 

There are two problems:

  1. No one has effectively defined nature’s limit.
  2. Everybody is trying to expand the limit instead of trying to fit the big economy into the small limit. 

What we do differently at Single.Earth is we start by defining the limit. 

The goal is to describe how much nature can sustain, and we do it by emitting MERIT tokens based on the work nature does. We limit the number of MERIT tokens in circulation based on how much nature can sustain, not the other way around. The amount of MERIT tokens always fits inside the limit.

Now, if the economy is too big, it won’t fit within the limit. In a perfect world all would be balanced — humans would only use as much of Earth’s natural resources as nature could sustain. The limit would be filled, not overflowing. 

This isn’t the reality. But it can become one. 

Using carbon offsets so they benefit nature

If we succeed with goal number 1 — fitting the economy into this limit — and we still want to emit more greenhouse gasses, then we need to start expanding the limit. That’s where carbon offsets come into play. 

Carbon offsets allow the limit to expand, but it’s critical to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt any other ecosystem services, otherwise the limit won’t actually change. That’s because in some ways it would be better (carbon is sequestered), but in others it would be worse (biodiversity is lost or ecosystem services are harmed), and as a result the limit would stay the same. 

“Carbon offsets allow the limit to expand, but it’s critical to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt any other ecosystem services.”

For example, if the goal is to emit more greenhouse gasses, we have to create additional carbon sequestration. That’s what carbon offsets aim to do: add more to what nature can sustain.

There are two types of carbon offsets that have the potential to become the future of offsets. 

First are technology-based solutions, like machines that suck CO2 from the atmosphere. That's purely additional — you can suck a certain amount of CO2 and that’s it. Nobody gets hurt during the process. 

Second are the natural climate solutions: restoration projects. They fall under carbon offsetting. For example, someone restores a peatland that was dug up years ago. This is additional carbon offsetting, as someone has done additional work to suck more CO2 out of the atmosphere. By doing that, we can expand the limit. 

Single.Earth is changing the way nature is perceived

The problem is that right now everyone’s only focusing on expanding the limit, and no one is focusing on fitting the economy into the limit.

It’s like the size of the economy is a given, but engineering nature to accommodate it is impossible. The economy is overusing and wasting nature’s resources, and nature can’t sustain it. 

“The economy is overusing and wasting nature’s resources, and nature can’t sustain it.” 

We need to turn it upside down: use nature as a baseline, and fit the economy into that. If we want to grow the economy, we have to find ways to use existing materials to create more economic value. If we want to use more natural resources, then we have to expand nature as well, or use technology to mimic nature’s activities. 

Using nature as a baseline is critical to save humankind from biodiversity loss and climate change. That’s what we’re trying to communicate in a simple way so people can understand the gravity of the situation. 

And that’s why Single.Earth is building MERIT tokens. We help preserve existing ecosystems by making nature protection profitable and accessible with nature-backed MERIT tokens.

Join the MERIT token waitlist now to be among the first to make a difference: click here to join the waitlist.

Save nature with MERIT tokens