Michelle Rafferty, Publicity Assistant
Which is more important: saving the environment or fixing global poverty? Economist Paul Collier argues that we can find a middle ground and do both in his new book The Plundered Planet: Why We Must—and How We Can—Manage Nature for Global Prosperity. A former director of Development Research at the World Bank and author of the widely acclaimed and award winning The Bottom Billion, Collier’s The Plundered Planet continues his life mission of advocating for the world’s poorest billion people.
Collier made a quick stop in NYC recently and I was able to ask him a few questions about his new book. In Segment 4 he discusses how he believes young people are key in the movement to reconcile nature with prosperity. (Planeteers, slight change of plans. Green-haired leader’s immortal words still apply.) You can check out the rest of the series here.
Michelle Rafferty: I was wondering if you can tell us how you think young people—who have a huge influence on the sustainability movement—can come into play and what concessions you think they might have to make?
Paul Collier: They need to get on the right side of history. There are two big issues that face the world. One is indeed the protection of the planet, but the other is the escape from poverty. There’s still a billion people living in societies that are not offering credible hope to their citizens. And we mustn’t get into a mindset in which we have to sacrifice the interest of the poorest people on earth in order to protect the planet. And so, I invite young people to come up with a shared agenda of poverty alleviation and protection of the planet. The book could be sub-titled “how to reconcile nature with prosperity.” That’s the theme. The energy, passion, intelligence of young people needs to be harnessed for that dual agenda—of a genuine ethics of nature, which is not the same as a romantic attachment to preservation at all costs.
Rafferty: So what kinds of things can young people be doing to help fix this problem?
Collier: They can do a lot. They can do more than I can because what the book argues is that ultimately the solution is to build a critical mass of informed opinion, society by society. That’s why I wrote The Plundered Planet—it’s to get that process started of building a critical mass of informed opinion. But young people are much more familiar with the new technologies of how to communicate with other people than I am. One of the famous ideas is that there are only 6 degrees of separation between any two people on earth. We’ve suddenly got the technology which enables us to leap through those 6 degrees of separation very, very fast.
One of the ideas that I put out in The Bottom Billion is called Natural Resource Charter—get a website which explains the decision chain in harnessing natural assets. The Plundered Planet describes how citizens around the world came together and did that. That website now exists. So what we need now is to take that website out and its information out to ordinary citizens in the low income resource rich countries. One of the first talks I gave on this, a young woman came up and said, “Well I hope you put it on YouTube.” I hadn’t thought of it now. She sent me an e-mail the next day, she says, “It’s on there now.” So, all the things that are natural, come naturally to young people, are not natural to people like me. You are in a better position than I am to ignite the process that builds this critical mass of informed opinion.