You see the developing world moving fast out of poverty, but call for sustainable use of resources. How can these be reconciled?
It won’t be easy, but the path is laid out clearly before us. Aggregate investments in renewables by developing countries now exceed investments in renewables in the developed world. Just as mobile telephones spread far more quickly and far more extensively than anyone predicted, and most of all in the developing countries – they’re doing the same thing with solar and wind in country after country.
But that growth that has been so stunning in developing and emerging economies in the last few decades is threatened by a continuation of our present course on energy. Subsistence agriculture is at risk, the disruptive consequences of these larger and more destructive storms are slicing percentage points off the growth potential for lots of countries that suffer these disasters more and more frequently. The consequences of pollution are multiple, people moving out of Beijing and Shanghai because they don’t want to condemn their children to lung diseases. These are very real threats.
They simply can’t go in that direction. Growth would come to a halt. By contrast, there are many more jobs now in the U.S. in wind than in coal. There is a boom in e-commerce in developing countries as these nearly ubiquitous mobile phones become smarter. You look at the way Kenya has used even non-smart mobile phones to empower electronic commerce, it is quite amazing. So the growth in the future is going to be, more likely than not, according to this new sustainable model.
Climate change is last in your list. Still a challenge above all?
Well, yes, in my view it certainly is, simply because it is an existential threat to the future of civilization. I wanted to put the climate issue in the broader context of the sweeping global change that we are now trying to deal with. And, let me also say that the biologists, almost to a person, will tell you that the extinction crisis is the most serious one we face. I see it as yet another challenge that is all wrapped up in the climate crisis.
When you look at a catastrophe like the collapsed factory in Bangladesh, do you lose hope?
Look at the outpouring from developed-country consumers for Bangladesh factories to enforce standards that protect those who are working there. We’ve seen that previously with the employees at Foxconn in China and the employees making Nike shoes. There are literally hundreds of other examples. A growing awareness of our connection to the people who make these low-priced goods is turning into a stronger demand for the goods to be made in ways that are consistent with our deepest human values. I think that’s inevitable. I think that tension will be with us for some time and, of course, some of these issues look different in the developing countries.
These are low-wage jobs that are nevertheless some of the highest-wage jobs available there, and yet there is a coming together because the voices in Bangladesh are now growing under- standably more strident and saying this is injustice, this is unacceptable. I think there is a shared consciousness in advanced countries and the developing countries about the need for better standards within “Earth Inc.” to protect labour and to protect the environment. I think that’s an unstoppable trend.
You’re skeptical about the White House on climate change.