Thursday, July 8, 2010

Economists Need Insights Into Nature to Save the Plundered Planet

Here is this week's column for NetGreen News. All my columns are here.

I agree with a lot of what Paul Collier says in his new book, The Plundered Planet: Why We Must - And How We Can - Manage Nature for Global Prosperity. He proposes an alliance between economists and environmentalists that works to disregard and discredit "ostriches" who plunder the world and "romantics" who seek to preserve all the world's natural resources.

"A number of environmentalists in the developed world are wary of the spread of global prosperity, arguing that it would wreck the planet. Conversely, in the poorer countries of the world, many people are wary of environmentalism, seeing it as an attempt by rich countries" to get richer.

"The romantics are right that we are seriously mismanaging nature and that our practices are indefensible. The ostriches are right that much of what is said about nature is ridiculously pious, casting the rich world as the villains and the rest of the world as their victims. But they are also each half wrong. Both will take us to oblivion, albeit by different routes."

Collier, an adherent of economist Lord Nicholas Stern, believes any economic models should be deemed failures if they neglect to eradicate poverty with an ethical approach to the natural world. He claims to write The Plundered Planet for all the people who are neither ostriches nor romantics.

One major area of concern: the demand for raw materials has driven up the prices of natural resources and food, which has triggered a new scramble for Africa. China's arrival on the African scene has been largely welcomed by Africans who don't have a preconceived notion of the Chinese as colonizers. The rich countries, and former colonizers, view China's arrival there as an undermining of governance reforms of extractive industries.

"The opportunity that nature presents to the countries of the bottom billion [most impoverished people] is the enormous value of their natural assets." The sale of carbon rights is one path to create "new natural assets." Since Lord Stern's review was issued in 2006, global warming has "slammed into the economic mainstream." That said, economists still treat nature as they do any other asset, which is "to be exploited for the benefit of mankind."

For true success, the next economic models must introduce what has traditionally been a fundamental oversight: "nature is special. Our rights over the natural world are not the same as our rights over the man-made world. Economists need that insight."

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