The Reith Lectures, 2007
Lecture 1, 11 April
2007, “Bursting at the Seams”
SUE LAWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Royal Society in
London, a place where, since its foundation in 1660, great minds have
gathered to discuss the important scientific issues of the day. It's a
fitting place to introduce this year's Reith lecturer, a man who believes we
need a new enlightenment to solve many of the world's problems. The American
press has hailed him as one of the world's most influential people, a
plaudit due in some measure no doubt to the fact that he's not afraid to put
his theories to the test. Like one of his great heroes, John Maynard Keynes,
he's moved between the academic life and politics, working successfully with
governments in South America and Eastern Europe to help restore their broken
economies. In this series of Reith Lectures he'll be explaining how he
believes that with global co-operation our resources can be harnessed to
create a more equal and harmonious world. If we cannot achieve this, he
says, we will face catastrophe; we'll simply be overwhelmed by disease,
hunger, pollution, and the clash of civilisations.
In this, the first of his series of five lectures, he begins by setting the
scene, describing an over-populated world on the brink of devastating
change, a world that, as the title of the lecture says, is bursting at the
seams. Ladies and gentlemen will you please welcome the BBC's Reith Lecturer
2007 - Jeffrey Sachs.
JEFFREY SACHS: Thank you very much Sue, thanks to BBC, thanks to the Royal
Society, and thanks to all of you, ladies and gentlemen. Sue Lawley has it
right that this is a house that has assembled the world's greatest minds
throughout modern history, and many of them, as I look out, are in the room
tonight. What an extraordinary gathering, a unique gathering of leaders of
thought and action from so many disciplines, and it is with profound
humility that I speak to you, but also profound hope that maybe, by the
conversation that will commence tonight, and this fabulous opportunity of
the Reith Lectures to have a global conversation, we can move forward to a
world that is a bit safer than the one that we are now inhabiting. This is a
lecture series about choices, choices that our generation faces, choices
that will determine the nature of our lives and the lives of our children,
and of generations to come. We have some momentous choices to make and I
hope to describe them tonight and in the future Lectures.
I want to start with my favourite speech of the modern American Presidency
and I think one of the most important statements made in modern times, one
that truly did change the course of history. I'm referring to John Kennedy's
Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963. It was an
address that helped rescue the world from a path of self-destruction. It
came in the immediate wake of the Cuban missile crisis, when Kennedy and the
world had peered over the abyss, and what President John Kennedy said on
that day I think resonates today and is important for all of us in all parts
of the world. If you'll permit me to quote from it a little bit at length,
just at the beginning. I do believe it helps to set the stage.
First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is
impossible, too many think it is unreal, but that is a dangerous, defeatist
belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is
doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept
that view. Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man,
and man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond
human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly
unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the
absolute infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill of which some
fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams,
but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only
and immediate goal.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not
on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human
institutions, on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which
are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single simple key to this
peace, no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine
peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be
dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation,
for peace is a process, a way of solving problems.
I want to talk about the challenge of our generation. Ours is not the
generation that faced the challenge of Fascism, ours is not the generation
to have first grappled with the nuclear demon, though we still grapple with
it today. Ours is not the generation that faced the Cold War. Ours is not
the generation incidentally in which the greatest problem is the war on
terror, or Iran, or other ideas that are current. Our challenge, our
generation's unique challenge, is learning to live peacefully and
sustainably in an extraordinarily crowded world. Our planet is crowded to an
unprecendented degree. It is bursting at the seams. It's bursting at the
seams in human terms, in economic terms, and in ecological terms. This is
our greatest challenge: learning to live in a crowded and interconnected
world that is creating unprecedented pressures on human society and on the
physical environment. As John Kennedy said, we will need to solve these
problems, the ones that are unique to our generation, if we are to find
peace. Obviously we are not just in a cold war, we are in a hot war right
now, because we have failed to understand the challenges and we have failed
to take appropriate measures to face them. We don't need to dream. I am
going to talk about concrete actions, I am going to discuss, I hope,
effective agreements, and most importantly I want to talk about a way of
solving problems. It's a fascinating and crucial concept for us - peace as a
way of solving problems. We clearly are not on a path of problem solving now
with the world, we are on a path of increasing risk and increasing
instability, and by all objective measures the path of increasing hatred as
well. We have not yet found a way of solving problems that our generation
Most importantly for us on this crowded planet, facing the challenges of
living side by side as never before, and facing a common ecological
challenge, has never been upon us in human history until now. The way of
solving problems requires one fundamental change, a big one, and that is
learning that the challenges of our generation are not us versus them, they
are not us versus Islam, us versus the terrorists, us versus Iran, they are
us, all of us together on this planet against a set of shared and
increasingly urgent problems. By understanding those problems, understanding
them at their depth, understanding what we share with every part of this
world in the need to face these challenges, we can find peace. But we are
living in a cloud of confusion, where we have been told that the greatest
challenge on the planet is us versus them, a throwback to a tribalism that
we must escape for our own survival.
I'm going to talk about three common problems that we face. They are
inter-connected, they build on each other in ways that amplify or create
abrupt change, abrupt risk, and highly non-linear responses to the threats
we face. The first challenge that I'll talk about is the challenge of what
Paul Crutzen has magnificently called the Anthropocene. That is the idea
that for the first time in history the physical systems of the planet --
chemical fluxes, the climate, habitats, biodiversity, evolutionary processes
-- are to an incredible and unrecognised extent under human forcings that
now dominate a large measure of the most central ecological, chemical and
bio-physical processes on the planet - the hydrological cycle, the carbon
cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the location and extinction of species, and basic
physical habitats. Of course human forcings have always played their role.
We know that the hominids already controlled fire a million or more years
ago, and therefore changed landscapes, even before the rise of homo sapiens.
But never has the control of such fundamental processes been determined by
human forcings, and we've barely awakened to that reality.
The second common challenge is a challenge of geo-politics, a challenge that
I'm going to call the Age of Convergence. In many ways it's wonderful news.
It's the notion that in a world that is more connected than ever before, a
world where economic development, at least for the last two hundred and
fifty years, has been driven by technology, and now a world where those
technologies diffuse rapidly around the world, we have the fabulous prospect
for the rapid closing of economic gaps that now exist between the rich and
the poor. One result is that there will be in our time a fundamental shift
of economic power, and the political power that goes along with it. We
started this decade with a fantasy, the fantasy of the United States as the
world's sole superpower, the fantasy of the United States as the sole
indispensable power, it was called, the fantasy which we should have known
from history always to be wrong and dangerous, of the United States as the
New Rome, being urged on to take on the imperial mantle even by some who
ought to know a lot better. But it was a fantasy because just as this was
being proclaimed, China, India, and other regional powers were bound to be
increasing their influence and their economic weight in the world by virtue
of the shared capacity to benefit from technology, which is the foundation
of economic development. As an economist, I subscribe to a philosophy that
was first initiated by Adam Smith in 1776, which is why I'm so happy that
these Reith Lectures will take us to Edinburgh - no accident. Smith talked
about how global markets and international trade can be a fundamental
diffusion mechanism for these technologies, and now that is happening. But
we're not ready for it.
I want to call the third of our common challenges the challenge of the
weakest links. In an interconnected world, all parts of the world are
affected by what happens in all other parts of the world, and sometimes
surprisingly so. We cannot be surprised when events in some far off and
distant place - and I'm not talking about Central Europe, I'm talking about
halfway around the world in the landmass of Eurasia - can be of fundamental
significance even for survival, for the spending of hundreds of billions, if
not trillions, of dollars for the direction of global politics. In an
interconnected world we have great need and basic responsibility, for our
own survival, to attend to the weakest links. By that I mean those places in
the world that suffer, those places in the world where people die because
they are too poor to stay alive, those parts of the world which -- by virtue
of physical geography, epidemiology, climate stress, rain-fed agriculture
and drought-prone savannah climates for example -- face horrific challenges
to even get onto the ladder of development. One billion people on the planet
are too poor, too hungry, too disease-burdened, too bereft of the most basic
infrastructure even to get on the ladder of development. The rich world
seems to be believe, despite all the fine speeches (and there have been
many), that this doesn't really matter, because the actions of the rich
countries don't begin to address this problem. We are leaving ten million
people to die every year because they are too poor to stay alive. Fine
speeches will not solve that problem.
Our challenge is to understand these common problems, to see that the whole
world is arrayed on the same side of them; to understand that a leader in
Iran, or in Korea, or in Sudan, or in other places where we've made it a
point not even to have a conversation, much less a negotiation or an attempt
at peaceful solution, is facing problems of water supply, climate change,
food production, poverty, and disease burden, many of which impinge directly
on us. Can it be true incidentally that because we don't want to talk to
Iran, H5N1 won't pass through Iran, that we won't have to deal with avian
'flu in places we don't want to speak to, where we have put pre-conditions
to negotiations, because we can't see the commonality of our problems? Can
it really be, ladies and gentlemen, that the solution to Darfur, one of the
most urgent crises on the planet, is all about peacekeepers and troops and
sanctions, when we know that in Western Darfur the rebellion started because
this is just about the poorest place on the whole planet, because there is
not enough water to keep people alive, the livestock have no veterinary
care, there's no basic infrastructure, and the electricity grid is hundreds
of miles away? Can we really think that peacekeeping troops and sanctions
will solve this problem? I do think we have a fundamental re-thinking to do
in each of these areas.
I'll discuss the Anthropocene in Beijing, China, which soon will be the
country that is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet, and one
that faces its own profound challenges of water stress, which will worsen,
perhaps immeasurably, as the glaciers of the Himalayas melt and as the
seasonal timing of snow melt from the Himalayas changes the river flow of
the Yangtze and Yellow rivers and other rivers of Asia. The Anthropocene
tells us that it's not just about one problem, as Sir Nicholas Stern, one of
the intellectual leaders of our time, has brilliantly exposed in his report
for the UK government. It's not only the problem of mass extinctions, or
only the problem of the mass destruction of fisheries in the North Atlantic
and in many other parts of the world. We are weighing so heavily on the
Earth's systems, not only through carbon dioxide emissions changing climate
but through carbon dioxide emissions acidifying oceans, through destruction
of habitat, which is literally driving perhaps millions of species right off
the planet. We are over-hunting, over-fishing, and over-gathering just about
anything that grows slowly or moves slowly. If we can catch it we kill it.
Our capacity in the Anthropocene is unprecedented, poorly understood, out of
control, and a grave and common threat.
The illusions about geo-politics which I mentioned prevent us from solving
these problems as well. The United States, my own country, has been in a
fantasy of "going it alone," when our problems are so fundamentally global
and shared. How do you address climate change, even if you recognised it, by
yourself? The U.S. Government solved that problem temporarily by not
recognising it. But when they do recognise it they're going to have to
recognise it in a shared and global way.
And how can it be, ladies and gentlemen, that we think we can be safe? We
think we can be safe when we leave a billion people to struggle literally
for their daily survival, the poorest billion for whom every day is a fight
to secure enough nutrients, a fight against the pathogen in the water that
can kill them or their child, a fight against a mosquito bite carrying
malaria or another killer disease for which no medicine is available, though
the medicines exist and are low cost, thus letting malaria kill one or two
million children this year. How can this be safe? How can we choose, as we
do in the United States, to have a budget request this year of $623 billion
for the military - more than all the rest of the world combined - and just
$4.5 billion for all assistance to Africa and think that this is prudent?
One might say it is science fiction that a zoonotic disease could arise and
somehow spread throughout the world, except that AIDS is exactly that. How
many examples do we need to understand the linkages, and the common threats,
and the recklessness of leaving people to die -- recklessness of spirit, of
human heart, and of geo-political safety for us?
President Kennedy talked about a way of solving problems, and that too will
be a theme of these Lectures. We are entering I believe a new politics, and
potentially a hopeful politics. I'm going to call it open-source leadership.
If Wikipedia and Linux can be built in an open source manner, politics can
be done in that manner as well. We are going to need a new way to address
and to solve global problems, but our connectivity will bring us tools
unimaginable even just a few years ago. I'm going to try to explain how this
can be done, how without a global government we can still get global
co-operation, how initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals can be
an organising principle for the world -- though there is no single
implementing authority -- and how it is possible to coalesce around shared
goals. I am going to explain how scientists can play a fundamental role in
this, such as they do in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The world is hungry for serious knowledge, for the information from what are
sometimes called epistemic communities - that is communities of expertise -
that can help to bring the best information to bear on the most crucial
problems that affect the survival and the livelihoods and the well-being of
people around the world. I'm going to talk about how our governments can be
re-organised and need to be re-organised because we are living with
nineteenth and twentieth century government structures for twenty-first
century problems. Our governments simply do not understand the nature of
these problems. Ministries generally are like stove pipes, narrowly defined.
That's often true in academia as well. But the problems I will discuss cross
disciplines and areas of knowledge, and inherently require
cross-disciplinary and novel thinking, whether they are problems of poverty,
disease, climate change, energy systems, war and peace, or Darfur. These
problems cannot be left to the normal ways of operation, but that is what we
are doing. That is why we see our governments flailing about blindly. These
are not just "intelligence" failures, in the sense of our spy agencies,
though surely those exist and are serious. We are experiencing the deep
incapacities of our government to understand these challenges. We need some
fundamental re-organisation, which I'll discuss.
We need, as President Kennedy said, concrete actions. I will discuss those,
because there is no sense in theory if there is not something to do,
starting today. There are things to do in all of these areas that can make a
difference, a life and death difference. We need -- this is the possibility
of our inter-connected, socially networked internet-empowered age
--involvement from all of us. We all play a role. It doesn't just go through
government, and if government remains as impervious to evidence and
knowledge and capacity as it is right now, we're going to have to go
increasingly around government. Perhaps that's inevitable, perhaps that's
just a particular failing of our immediate times, I'm not sure. But we are
going to have to play unique roles in terms of corporate social
responsibility, civil society, and as individuals as well.
I'm an optimist, though you might not detect it! You might not hear it in
this first lecture, because I want you to sit up, with open eyes. You know
many or all of the things I'm saying, and certainly if there is one
introductory note it is that we must not for one moment think that we're on
an acceptable course right now. I want to stress, however, that
fundamentally we have choices, and we actually have some terrific choices.
We have the ability to do things at much lower cost, and much greater
efficacy, than almost any of us can know, unless we are lucky enough to be
engaged in epistemic communities that allow us to hear the wonderful news.
I'm a partisan, for example, of anti-malaria bed nets, and I'll just give
you one fact. There are three hundred million sleeping sites in Africa that
need protection from malaria. Anti-malaria bed nets last five years, and
cost a mere five dollars - one dollar per year. Often more than one child
sleeps under a net. Economists are reasonably good at multiplication, so for
three hundred million sleeping sites at five dollars per net, I calculate
$1.5 billion. I also am acceptably good at long division. $620 billion of
military budget, divided by 365 days, tells me that we are now spending $1.7
billion per day on the Pentagon. John Kennedy said in his world changing
speech, "for we are both devoting massive sums of money to weapons that
could be better devoted to combat ignorance, poverty and disease," and my
little calculation has shown you that one day's Pentagon spending could
cover every sleeping site in Africa for five years with anti-malaria bed
nets. And yet we have not found our way to that bargain, the most amazing
one of our time. We do have choices -- they are good ones if we take them.
I want to close with what President Kennedy said about that. I regard these
among the most beautiful lines ever uttered by a world leader. First he
said, "In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union
and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace,
and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of
the Soviet Union as well as ours, and even the most hostile nations can be
relied upon to accept and to keep those treaty obligations, and only those
treaty obligations, which are in their own interest." He uttered those words
and within a few weeks the limited test ban treaty was negotiated. He
changed the course of history by showing that there was a path for peace
that was mutually acceptable. But then he said this, and what could be more
important for the challenges of our generation?
So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention
to our common interests, and the means by which those differences can be
resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help
make the world safe for diversity, for in the final analysis our most basic
common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the
same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal.
Thank you very much.
Lecture 2, 18 April
in the Anthropocene”
SUE LAWLEY: Hello and welcome to Beijing for the second
in this year's series of Reith Lectures entitled 'Bursting At The Seams'.
Today we're in the Room of the Ten Thousand Masses, at the China Centre for
Economic Research at Peking University - and yes, the university is still
called Peking University. It's the first time the BBC has recorded a Reith
Lecture in China, and we couldn't be in a more appropriate place at a more
appropriate time. Last week our lecturer Jeffrey Sachs, the international
economist, set the scene for his argument, that all the world's great powers
can and must co-operate if our planet is not to descend into disease-ridden,
poverty-stricken devastation. Nowhere is more important in this process than
China, a country of 1.3 billion people, now being transformed into a global
power of enormous influence and strength. What China chooses to do, and more
importantly how she chooses to do it, will be crucial in the next phase of
the world's development.
This recent great leap forward of China's has already come at a price, not
least in the damage that's been done to its environment. It's still a one
party state without democratic elections, and many in the West believe that
it can't play a full part on the world stage until it address matters of
individual liberty and human rights. Peking University has a reputation in
the People's Republic for revolutionary thinking, and with us in our
audience tonight are many of its students, as well as academics,
journalists, and businessmen, with whom we'll discuss these issues. But
first, will you please welcome this year's BBC Reith lecturer, Jeffrey
JEFFREY SACHS: Good evening everybody, and what a thrill it is to be at
Peking University, and to be together with you. And what a thrill it is for
me to have the chance to give this unique lecture series, the Reith
Lectures, and to take part in a global discussion, a discussion that we must
have in the beginning years of our new century, if we are to achieve what we
hope to achieve -- shared peace and prosperity around the planet. I think we
all sense that we are at very important decision points in the planet, with
obvious risks and huge opportunities. As Sue just said, there is no place on
the planet of more significance for these choices -- for its own sake as
well as for the world's sake -- as China today, a country that calls for
superlatives in its role, its dimensions, and the stakes for the world. Here
we are in the famous, beautiful, magnificent Hall of the Ten Thousand
Masses, as it's called, but to account for China's vastness we would need a
hundred thirty thousand such halls of ten thousand people each to
accommodate the 1.3 billion people of this country, which makes up one fifth
of the world's population and is quickly becoming an absolute epicentre of
the global economy as well as many of the challenges that I'll discuss
China has been at the centre of world history for millennia, and for large
stretches of world history China has been the leading power. Roughly from
500 AD to 1500 AD China was clearly the dominant economic power and the
dominant progenitor of fundamental and leading technologies of all sorts,
which empowered the world and changed it in magnificently positive ways. And
of course we all see and expect China to play that role in the twenty-first
century as well. After a long period of difficulty, economic hiatus and
internally and externally caused disarray, China clearly is in the
ascendancy in this century. It is far and away the most dramatic case of
economic growth in the history of the world. Never before have we seen rates
of economic progress, and what they signify -- deep improvements of human
well-being taking place at not only the pace but obviously the scale that
we're seeing now, with each decade bringing a doubling or more of living
standards -- in a country of these vast proportions.
So the superlatives of the economy are well known and they cross lips around
the world every day, but we're going to talk about another aspect of that
challenge this evening, and that's the superlatives of the environmental
challenge that China faces. Not only is it the world's most populous
country, it is one of the world's most crowded countries, and it is
certainly one of the world's most environmentally stressed regions. This is
a challenge that has existed throughout China's history, but what has
happened in recent decades and what will happen in the decades to come poses
qualitatively new challenges that are emblematic of the unique environmental
stresses that we all face on the planet together -- some because of the
special role that China will play in the future, and some because China is
experiencing the same kinds of phenomena as in other parts of the world.
I called my lecture today 'The Anthropocene' - a term that is spectacularly
vivid, a term invented by one of the great scientists of our age, Paul
Crutzen, to signify the fact that human beings for the first time have taken
hold not only of the economy and of population dynamics, but of the planet's
physical systems, Anthropocene meaning human created era of Earth's history.
The geologists call our time the holocene --the period of the last thirteen
thousand years or so since the last Ice Age -- but Crutzen wisely and
perhaps shockingly noted that the last two hundred years are really a unique
era, not only in human history but in the Earth's physical history as well.
The Anthropocene is the period when human activity has overtaken vast parts
of the natural cycles on the planet, and has done so in ways that disrupt
those cycles and fundamentally threaten us in the years ahead.
Now considering how we're going to face the dual challenge of continued
economic progress, which we dearly hope for in this country and in other
parts of the developing world, and continued economic well-being of course
and progress, in today's high income world, with the profound and growing
environmental dangers that we face, is the subject of our Reith Lecture
Let me set the stage. Our era is unique. We've never before experienced
anything like the human pressures on the environment as well as the human
successes in sustained and broad-based improvements of well-being. Ensuring
that we can continue those successes without going right over the cliff will
prove to be our generation's greatest challenge. Since the start of the
Industrial Revolution, which we could date roughly to the beginning of the
nineteenth century - 1800 or so, perhaps a few decades earlier by some
historians' accounts, a couple of decades later in most places in the world
- the human impact on the environment has increased approximately one
hundredfold. Human population has risen from six or seven hundred million in
the middle of the eighteenth century to our 6.6 billion today, roughly a
tenfold increase. Per capita economic activity -- that is how much each of
us on the planet consumes, produces, draws upon natural resources for our
sustenance and well-being -- has also risen by typical statistical account,
as hard as it is to compare over the course of two centuries, roughly
tenfold as well. With ten times more people, each of whom is engaged in ten
times more economic activity, we have two orders of magnitude, or one
hundred times, the influence of human activity on the planet. And this is
coming at unprecedented cost to physical earth systems. What's absolutely
striking, and the puzzle we need to solve, is this basic fact: What we are
already doing on the planet in terms of effects on physical systems is
unsustainable. We cannot go on doing what we're doing. We have already
reached a point of literal unsustainability, in the sense that if we
continue on our current path, using resources the way we use them now at the
scale we use them now, we will hit very harsh boundaries that will do great
damage to human well-being, to the earth, and to vast numbers, literally
millions, of other species on the planet. But we have an even harder problem
to solve than that one, and that is that we do not want to stop here in
terms of consumption or economic activity. The developing countries -- and
we're in the most populous of them today -- which together make up five
sixths of humanity, rightly and understandably and from my point of view
absolutely accountably and responsibly, say they would like their place in
the sun as well. If the high income world has achieved certain levels of
wealth, comfort, safety and life expectancy, what about the rest of
humanity? From my point of view as a development economist, something
absolutely wonderful is happening, something that I think we could even dub
the Age of Convergence, and that is that the measure of economic
development, the methods, the institutions, the processes, the adaptation of
advanced technologies, are becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Now tragically
not every part of the world is yet part of that phenomenon, and I will have
the chance to discuss that in a later lecture, when we talk about the
poorest of the poor who are still not part of this dynamism. But the
wonderful news is that large parts of the planet are part of this dynamism -
China of course is at the very forefront in an unprecedented manner --
catching up in technology, economic activity, and human well-being. Let's
not doubt the improvements of living, not only of conventionally measured
living standards but of human well-being and life expectancy, in nutrition,
in opportunities, in chances to fulfill life's hopes that come along with
this economic improvement.
The processes now are made powerful by the strong winds of globalization --
the market forces and the ability of ideas and technology to flow across
national boundaries at an unprecedented rate. The world economy is now
growing at approximately five per cent per annum, and that is four per cent
approximately of per capita income increases, and one per cent per year
roughly of global population increase. That means we are on course for a
massive increase of economic activity, just what we would like to see in the
still poor countries of the world, those who aspire to have the chances that
technology and science have brought us. It is fair to say that, given
current trends, we have a powerful force of economic convergence in most
parts of the world, and if the processes of convergence continue to operate
as they have in recent decades, one could expect that perhaps the average
per person income on the planet could rise as much as four times between now
and mid-century. If the average income as measured by economists,
statisticians, taking into account the purchasing power of income in
different parts of the world, is roughly eight thousand dollars per person,
one could expect perhaps that that would reach thirty thousand dollars by
mid-century, given the powerful and positive forces of economic development.
Population of course, though increasing more slowly in proportional terms
than it did in the second half of the twentieth century, is still increasing
in absolute terms by an astounding amount of 70 to 80 million people per
year. And on the medium forecast of the UN Population Division, that leads
to a projection of roughly an increase of another two and a half billion
people on the planet by the year 2050. That is a world population increase
of roughly fifty per cent, with income on a path, barring various disasters,
to increase approximately fourfold. Multiplying one and a half by four
suggests that the current trajectory would lead to an increase of world
economic activity of six times between now and 2050. That is the goal from
the point of view of economic development, but think about the paradox, if
we already are on an unsustainable trajectory and yet China, India, and
large parts of Asia are successfully barrelling ahead with rapid economic
development at an unprecedented rate. We are asking our planet to somehow
absorb a manyfold increase of economic activity on top of an already
existing degree of environmental stress that we've never before seen on the
It is possible that we will not be able to increase sixfold in economic
activity with current technologies before the environmental catastrophes
would choke off the economic growth. The hardships in water stress,
deforestation, hunger, and species extinction, would cause this process to
go awry, even before we are able to do more damage to the planet. But that
does pose the fundamental question - what will give in the end? Many people
think the only thing that can give are living standards in the high income
world, whereas others believe that we are bound for a bitter struggle
between the rich and the poor in the years ahead. I want to argue that the
only viable, peaceful way forward is a change of the way we live that allows
for continued improvement of living standards in all parts of the world and
for catching up, but that also permits us to square the circle of
environmental stress and economic development.
The Anthropocene is felt in so many areas -- habitat destruction, rising
greenhouse gases that are changing the climate and threatening us
profoundly, water stress, human dominance of the natural nitrogen cycle
through heavy use of manmade fertilisers that allow us to feed a world
population of 6.5 billion people on its way to 9 billion, new diseases that
emerge when human populations and animal populations come into contact in
new ways, and of course in the vast over-fishing, over-hunting,
over-gathering, and over-exploitation of natural resources in large parts of
the planet, leading to population collapses and species extinction.
I want to touch on one of these many aspects, because it is not only of
central importance, but helps to illuminate the challenge of squaring the
circle of development and environmental sustainability. Climate change, a
vast challenge that reflects at the core the fact that modern economic
growth since the Industrial Revolution has been built on the use of fossil
fuels , which leads to the emission of carbon dioxide and , through the
greenhouse effect, the warming of the planet and fundamental changes to the
earth's climate. The effect was identified more than a century ago, in 1896,
but it has only come to our attention in recent years, because it is only in
the last couple of decades that we have come to understand just how big the
human effect is on the growing concentrations of carbon dioxide and a number
of other such greenhouse gases, and on our changing climate.
This is a case where what we are doing today is not sustainable, because
each year we are raising the carbon concentration in the atmosphere by two
or more parts per million of molecules in the atmosphere. When projected
over the course of this century, that rate of emission would lead to such a
high level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the climate would be
changed, we now understand, to the point of dire risk for us and for vast
parts of the global eco-system. Species extinction, extreme weather events,
massive changes of precipitation, grave risks to food production, disease
transmission and the like, would all reach harrowing levels later in this
century if we merely continue to do what we're doing now. But here comes the
puzzle. With the world economy barrelling ahead, the amount of energy use is
also rising dramatically, and so too the use of fossil fuels, which will be
in sufficient abundance long enough for us to wreck the climate before we
run out. And so if the concentration of carbon dioxide is increasing by
roughly two parts per million each year, it could easily be four parts per
million in a few decades, with the rate increasing over time. The
projections are that by mid-century we might have doubled the pre-industrial
concentration of carbon dioxide. By the end of this century, if we continue
on a business as usual course with the economic development we so hope for
in this country and in the rest of the developing world, perhaps the
concentration will have tripled or quadrupled. We know, as we learned once
again by the recent scientific consensus of the inter-governmental panel on
climate change, which reported in its fourth assessment round beginning in
February of this year, that the effects of that kind of increase pose risks
to this planet that we simply cannot afford to take.
What can we do? Do we have to end economic growth? Do we have to end the
hopes of the developing world? Do we need dire cutbacks in living
conditions, inevitable in today's rich world? I believe that there is
another course, and it's the course we must take. There are at least three
ways out of this conundrum. First of course is fuel and energy efficiency,
so that we can get more economic output with less direct use of fossil
fuels. Second of course is the substitution of non-fossil fuels for fossil
fuels, so that per unit of energy the emissions of carbon dioxide can be
reduced, whether it's with safely deployed nuclear power, or more economical
solar power, or wind, or bio-mass, there's definitely a role, though perhaps
not as dramatic as we might hope, for non-fossil fuels.
There's a third alternative as well, and that is to learn to use our
existing fossil fuels safely. And for China and India this is perhaps the
single most important hope for these countries and for the planet. One idea
on the drawing board which needs to get into demonstration and production in
this country as soon as possible - and that means nearly immediately - is
the idea of power plants that burn coal to generate electricity, capturing
the carbon dioxide that they would otherwise emit, pumping it into pipelines
and safely storing it in safe geologic reservoirs in the earth.
The big question for the planet is the unprecedented challenge to move to a
sustainable energy system, requiring a great degree of co-operation,
foresight, and planning, over a time span of decades. Can we do it? Can we
find that level of public understanding, political consensus, direction and
determination? We may fake it with nice speeches, but the climate will
change whether we fake it or not. There is no spinning this one. This one is
dependent on what we actually do, not what we say we do.
I want to mention one hopeful analogy, and that is how we have successfully
as a world avoided what was another desperate risk, and that was the
depletion of the ozone layer. That was also discovered by Paul Crutzen, the
scientist who brought us the Anthropocene. He and two colleagues, Sherwood
Rowland and Mario Molina, discovered, accidentally as it were, that the
chemicals that we use for refrigeration and for our aerosols, the chloro-fluorocarbons,
or CFCs, posed a grave risk to survival on the planet because of their
accidental interactions in the stratosphere that could have destroyed the
ozone layer. It was an accidental, brilliant discovery. It took some years
for the public to become aware of it. When the scientists said it, the
makers of the CFCs said that it was junk science, that they'd heard it
before. They went into denial. But then NASA in the United States snapped a
picture from one of its remarkable satellites, showing the hole in the ozone
layer. In a way it may be the picture that saved the world, because as soon
as people saw that hole with their own eyes, they weren't listening to the
Chairman of DuPont anymore, they were thinking about their survival and the
survival of their children. The public awareness soared, the pressure for
action increased. At that point DuPont and other companies' scientists went
to work. They determined there was an alternative to the CFCs, there were
other safer chemicals that could be refrigerants and aerosols. Then a fourth
step took place. The companies whispered in the ears of the politicians,
"it's okay, you can reach an international agreement, we can handle this."
And quickly, -- from the basic science to the international agreements took
about fifteen years -- by 1990 a global framework was in place that called
for the phasing out of the chloro-fluorocarbons and has put us on a path of
at least relative safety with regard to that risk.
With climate I believe we have the same prospects now. It is a much more
difficult issue, a problem that gets to the core of the functioning of the
world economy, so it cannot be solved from one day to the next, requiring a
basic change of our infrastructure and our energy systems which will take
decades to complete, but a process nonetheless that I think is underway in
the same way. First came the science, back in 1896, and then the modern
science in the last twenty-five years. And as soon as the science came, came
the companies with the vested interests claiming junk science, because their
instinct is to start lobbying. But you don't lobby against nature. Nature
has its principles: it doesn't matter what the boards of these companies
say. What matters is the actual physical mechanisms. The science was right,
it becomes more and more known.
Now like the ozone crisis, public awareness has been the second step. For a
long time climate change was discussed as something for the far future. Now
it's understood as something that imperils us today as well. The heatwave in
Europe in 2003, claiming more than twenty thousand lives; Hurricane Katrina,
a storm of devastating proportions, shocking the American people and the
world about what climate can do; the mega-drought in Australia that took
place this year, and destroyed a substantial part of Australia's export
crop; the massive typhoons being experienced by this country, as well as the
warming taking place in large parts of this country, and severe droughts in
the interior of China - have all made climate change an immediate issue, an
understandable issue, and one that of course will get worse, no matter what
we do right now, for a while, because we are on a trajectory of worsening
climate change stresses that is locked in place for the near term.
The good news is that the scientists and the engineers are now scurrying.
Technological alternatives are being developed. Carbon capture and
sequestration is beginning to be put into place in demonstration projects.
So too are alternative non-fossil fuel energy sources, and so too remarkable
breakthroughs in energy efficiency, such as hybrid and plug-in hybrid
automobiles, which promise us vast efficiency gains, more distance per unit
The good news is that those technological breakthroughs are similarly
leading the companies to whisper in the ears of the politicians - "it's
okay, we can handle this." And that's the best news of all. Companies around
the world are now in the lead of their politicians. In fact they're telling
the politicians we have to act, we want a framework, we need an incentive
mechanism, we need a price structure so that we can move ahead with
sustainable energy. I believe we're going to get there. Global negotiations
on a truly global framework open in December of this year, in Bali,
Indonesia. We've agreed in principle on a Framework Convention on Climate
Change, that we must stabilise greenhouse gases. We took an early small step
in the so-called Kyoto Protocol, but this only involved a very small set of
commitments for a limited part of the world - mainly Europe, because the
United States did not even join. Now in December we must have the US and
China, and India, and the European Union, and other parts of the world, all
coming together and saying we must do this for ourselves and for the future.
Nature has spoken more loudly than vested interests. This is not a matter of
vested interests, it is a matter of common interest. These steps, from the
science to the public awareness, to the technological alternatives, to the
international agreements, are the very steps that we will need for all
aspects of the Anthropocene. This will be the mark of our new era -
science-based global policy-making based on worldwide public awareness.
That's going to be true for saving the rain forests, for saving our oceans
from over-fishing, for managing water stress, and for choosing population
alternatives that are sound for the planet and sound for individuals as
well. We don't have to accept the population trends, because people would
choose fertility reduction voluntarily in large parts of the developing
world, if the alternatives were made available to them. We can do this, and
we will learn that the costs of action are tiny, compared with the risks of
inaction. Climate change can be solved, according to the best current
estimates, for less than one per cent of world income each year, and perhaps
well under that, where the potential costs are a devastating multiple of
several per cent of world income if we continue on the business as usual
I want to end where I started the first lecture, with my favourite speech by
President John F. Kennedy. He talked about the challenge of peace. That is
our biggest challenge on the planet. And peace is also threatened by
environmental risk. But he also told us in that speech that we have chances.
He said, and I repeat because I think it is our common thread: "Our problems
are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as
he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason
and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they
can do it again."4 That is the spirit of the Anthropocene.
Thank you very much.
Lecture 3, 25 April
SUE LAWLEY: Hello and welcome to New York for the third
in this series of Reith Lectures. We are at the Earth Institute at Columbia
University, whose Director is this year's Reith lecturer, Jeffrey Sachs. The
Earth Institute was set up to analyse, investigate, and most importantly,
try to find solutions to the environmental and economic problems facing the
world today. In his first lecture, Professor Sachs set out his argument that
through international co-operation, the world can rid itself of disease,
poverty and pollution. Last week in China he explained the role that it, the
world's most rapidly developing economy, needs to play in this process.
Tonight, on his home territory, he'll talk about the United States, a
country at the zenith of its economic power, facing colossal changes as the
emerging nations of Asia seek to take their turn on the world stage. What
must America do? How should it behave? Here to discuss these questions is an
audience of politicians, academics, students, and, if there is such a thing,
ordinary New Yorkers. But first ladies and gentlemen please will you welcome
the BBC's Reith lecturer 2007, Jeffrey Sachs. Our generation's challenge is
of a planet bursting at the seams. There are 6.6 billion of us crowded on
the planet today, and the numbers continue to rise. The UN has recently
estimated that we will total 9.2 billion by 2050 if we maintain our current
demographic trajectory. Unprecedented economic growth in Asia offers the
vista of a richer world, indeed of shared prosperity around the planet. The
end of extreme poverty is within reach. But unless we come to grips with the
dangerous aspects of our technological prowess and demographic trends, we
might instead face the prospect of an ecologically wrecked planet, one
gripped by man-made climate change, the massive human-led extinction of
other species, and the grave insecurity of a planet divided as never before
between the extreme rich and the extreme poor. The hopes of shared
prosperity could instead become a nightmare of shared insecurity.
JEFFREY SACHS: I believe that we can find our way through this thicket, that
we can solve even the toughest of these problems. Practical answers to the
challenges of climate change, the conservation of biological diversity,
extreme poverty, emerging epidemic diseases, and food insecurity are all
within reach. President John F. Kennedy summed up this potential when he
'Our problems are manmade - therefore,
they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of
human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often
solved the seemingly unsolvable - and we believe they can do it again.'
And of course Kennedy was right. We stand today on the 200th anniversary of
the end of the slave trade in the British Empire, a step towards human
freedom that was won through an unrelenting campaign of social activists
over entrenched economic interests. We are celebrating the 60th anniversary
of the independence of India, the 50th anniversary of the birth of
independent Ghana, the first independent country in post-Colonial Africa.
And of course we are at the 50th anniversary of the European Community, now
the European Union. After a millennium of warfare in Western Europe, the
very thought of conflict among Germany, France, the U.K., Italy and others
is utterly unthinkable. As Kennedy said,
'However fixed our likes and dislikes
may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in
the relations between nations and neighbours. '
In these lectures I have been laying out my view of how we can best address
global problems. The starting point, I believe, is a sound and scientific
diagnosis of the problems we face, whether of climate, biodiversity, water,
or extreme poverty. Next is public awareness. We live, fortunately, in an
increasingly democratic age. Global problems can only be solved with global
Next is the deployment of technologies to address the challenge. Though
advanced technologies are sometimes considered to be a malign force, yet a
further threat, they are of fundamental importance in enabling 6.6 billion
people, and perhaps 9.2 billion people, to meet the twin aspirations of
improved material life and ecological sustainability. Without improved
technologies to raise food productivity, to use water more efficiently, to
reduce emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of energy, there can be no way
to combine economic wellbeing and environmental sustainability.
Finally, there must come global agreement, implementing treaties such as the
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological
Diversity, and of course the Millennium Development Goals.
Ironically, to many of us on this planet, the first three steps - science,
public awareness, and technological solutions - all seem within reach, while
global agreements on how to respond seem impossible. The deepest skepticism,
it seems, is about our very ability to cooperate, not about the technical
solutions to our most challenging problems. Yet, to quote Kennedy once
again, the belief that global cooperation is beyond our capacity is a
dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is
inevitable - that mankind is doomed - that we are gripped by forces we
When Kennedy spoke, large numbers of Americans thought that peace with the
Soviet Union was impossible. They were wrong. So too are those today who
believe that we can not agree to end poverty, fight climate change, and even
to make peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Yet global cooperation is in fact difficult. It is a challenge that we have
only sporadically achieved. We meet today at a time of another disastrous
war, that is, another clear failure of global cooperation. The Iraq War not
only kills by the tens of thousands, and maims by even more, but it
distracts us from our much more vital tasks.
Global cooperation is at risk for three reasons. The most urgent is the
ever-present threat and reality of war, born of the darker side of human
nature. A second reason why cooperation fails is that in our interconnected
world, the collapse of any single part of the world - even a place as
isolated as Afghanistan - has implications for all of the world. Cooperation
in an inter-connected world must therefore be comprehensive, something that
our societies still do not appreciate or accept. We must care, and also act,
in response to suffering in Sudan, or Yemen, or Gaza, or Papua New Guinea. A
third reason for failure is sheer complexity. Our problems are now of global
scale. The world is interconnected in unprecedented ways that require
unprecedented strategies for global cooperation. Tonight I will focus on the
first of these risks - the threat of war - leaving the challenges of failed
and fragile states, and of global complexity, for later lectures.
Our gravest threat on the planet remains the threat of massive war. Our
species is drawn to it like moths to a flame. We are not warlike by nature -
that is far too simplistic - but we are vulnerable to the allure of war to
solve problems. Half a trillion dollars later in Iraq, you might think that
we would have been disabused. Yet even our home town press, the New York
Times, recently (March 18, 2007) editorialized for a boost in the size of
the standing army. This, indeed, would be a recipe doomed to fail. The
military will not solve the problems that we face. Our money, training, and
effort, can be much better invested elsewhere.
My worry is that we are gambling recklessly with a "2014" to match the year
1914. Let me explain. Nearly one hundred years ago, in 1914, the peace was
sundered by the Guns of August, and the 20th century never quite recovered.
World War I almost literally came out of nowhere, so much so that historians
still debate why the war occurred. A happy march of soldiers to win each
nation's honor within a few weeks turned into four years of mass carnage,
the Bolshevik Revolution, the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust, and more. Our
war in Iraq, our threats to Iran, and even the growing anti-Chinese
sentiments in the well of the US Senate all raise the stakes of a similar
disaster on our generation's watch.
We are not doomed to this outcome, but we can become the accomplices to it.
Two deep aspects of human psychology are crucial here. The first is that
human beings hover between cooperation and conflict. We are actually primed
psychologically, and probably genetically, to cooperate, but only
conditionally so. In a situation of low fear, each of us is prone to
cooperate and to share -- even with a stranger. Yet when that trust
evaporates, each of us is primed to revert to conflict, lest we are bettered
by the other. Game theorists call this strategy "Tit for Tat," according to
which we cooperate at the outset, but retaliate when cooperation breaks
down. The risk, obviously, is an accident, in which cooperation collapses,
and both sides get caught in a trap in which conflict becomes a
self-fulfilling prophecy. In that all-too-real nightmare, we end up fighting
because we fear that the other will fight. This fear is confirmed by fear
itself. Wars occur despite the absence of any deeper causes.
The second crucial piece of human psychology is that we are social animals,
with a strong tendency to identify with an in-group. We classify ourselves
as New Yorkers, or Americans, or Jews, or Muslims, or professors, or
artists, or bankers. In most cases, we are a part of many groups. Our
identities are multi-faceted, and that knits us together in overlapping webs
of trust and shared regard. Yet in an environment of fear, a single
in-group, a single "us" can suddenly take over. The world becomes divided
between "us" and "them." Suddenly, we are Jews and Arabs, Christians and
Muslims, Hutus and Tutsi, Shiites and Sunnis. Peaceful coexistence over
centuries becomes carnage over weeks and months. Psychologists have shown
that a child's attachment to an in-group begins as early as age 6, and that
fear of an out-group, especially a low-status outgroup, is manifested at
that young age, and even at the unconscious level.
Put these two pieces - Tit-for-Tat strategy and "us versus them" logic --
together and we can see how the world confronts alternative futures. One
possible future is a world in which trust builds trust, cooperation begets
cooperation. Our identities are multiple. I may be a New Yorker, working at
Columbia University, in partnership with my colleagues in Egypt and Jordan,
to address problems of water and climate in the Middle East. That kind of
multi-faceted identity is the road to peace, to a mid-century of prosperity,
to an anniversary of 1914 that notes human folly and tragedy rather than
The other future, however, puts us into a world of spiraling conflict. Box
cutters and hijacked planes bring death and disaster in New York City. We
"retaliate" though in Iraq, which was not party to the attack, and thereby
spread the conflict. We lump together a terrorist group, al-Qaeda, with
states such as Libya, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, failing to recognize that
states are much more complex and with varied interests that can be the
subject of negotiation. Cooperation collapses. It's suddenly "us" versus
"them." 2014 is no longer an anniversary, but our own seeming death wish.
And in the meantime, while the fighting and insecurity escalates, we utterly
neglect the problems of climate change, biodiversity conservation, extreme
poverty, and the very goals that we have set ourselves for the new
millennium. How true are John Kennedy's words of June 1963:
For we are both devoting to weapons massive sums of money that could be
better devoted to combating ignorance, poverty and disease. We are both
caught up in a vicious and dangerous cycle in which suspicion on one side
breeds suspicion on the other, and new weapons beget counter-weapons.
In President Bush's 2008 budget just submitted, military spending is $623
billion, more than all of the rest of the world combined, while aid to all
of Africa is $4.5 billion. Inexplicably, Vice President Cheney accused the
Chinese of a build-up of their military budget, though their military
outlays are vastly lower than ours.
How then to break this dangerous cycle, one as threatening today as it was
during the Cold War, and that is now marked by the grave perils of
inter-religious hate and zealotry, a wider spread of nuclear weapons, and
stronger global interconnections that amplify a conflict to all corners of
the world? Again, we must take Kennedy's greatest insight, that "Peace is a
process - a way of solving problems." Let's see how Kennedy applied that
profound insight in his day, and learn to do it in ours.
Kennedy's speech on June 10, 1963, which I have quoted throughout this
evening and throughout the Reith Lectures, was not only a scintillating
exposition on peace, and not only a challenge to his generation to make
peace, but was also part of the process itself, a way of problem solving.
Kennedy literally used the speech to make peace.
Kennedy's chosen process was ingenious. The entire speech is to his fellow
Americans, not to the Soviet Union. He didn't tell the Soviets that they
were either with us or against us. He didn't lay down preconditions for
negotiations. He didn't make a list of things that the Soviets must do.
There were no threats of sanctions. In fact, the opposite was true. The
entire speech was about US behavior and US attitudes. Instead of lecturing
the Soviets, Kennedy said:
'I also believe that we must re-examine
our own attitude - as individuals and as a nation - for our attitude is as
essential as theirs." We should, he said, "begin by looking inward," to "the
possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the
cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.'
Brilliantly, Kennedy, then spoke about our own actions as well as our own
attitudes. He said:
'We must conduct our affairs in such a
way that it becomes in the Communists' interest to agree on a genuine peace.
Above all, while defending our vital interests, nuclear powers must avert
those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a
humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the
nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy - or of a
collective death-wish for the world.'
History records the results. Khrushchev immediately declared to Averell
Harriman, the U.S. diplomatic envoy, that the speech was "the best statement
made by any president since Roosevelt," and declared his intention to
negotiate a treaty. So successful was Kennedy and his team, led by
speechwriter Ted Sorensen, who is with us this evening, that the speech
itself was followed in a mere six weeks by a Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
with the Soviet Union, initialed on July 25, 1963. That Test Ban Treaty,
history shows, was the turning point of the Cold War, the first step down
from the threat of imminent mutual destruction that occurred during the
Cuban Missile Crisis, a step that put the world on the path of arms control,
then détente, Perestroika, and the end of the Cold War itself. Cooperation
had begotten cooperation, in the shadow of the near-Armageddon in Cuba.
Threats of self-fulfilling conflict will rise in the years ahead. Many
Americans and Europeans, though still protected by the dominant military
forces on the planet, will be afraid, and increasingly so. They will fear
the rise of China's economic, political and military power, the rise of
India, the changing demographics of the Middle East and of our own
societies. The US will not be "the world's sole superpower," and perhaps
never really was. We can't even secure Baghdad, much less the world. And we
will likely be eclipsed in total economic size by China within a generation,
though not in per capita income. Western Europe's population, which was
nearly four times that of the Middle East plus North Africa in 1950, is now
only one-third larger, and will be at parity by 2025. By mid-century, the
population of the Middle East and North Africa will be around one-third
larger than Europe's population. In the meantime, the Muslim population in
Europe will also soar, perhaps to around one-third in the major cities, both
because of in-migration and because of higher fertility rates of European
Muslims compared with European Christians.
This will all be cause for alarm in many quarters and we already see it in
the rise of anti-immigrant politics today. Yet we must not let our anxieties
run ahead of us, and thereby lose control of our future. Fear begets fear,
but so too can trust beget trust. It's all in the process. I speak tonight
in a city that is an exemplar of what globalization can offer. New York City
is about 40 percent foreign born. It is a unique amalgam of civilizations.
Manhattan is a quarter Hispanic, 15 percent African American, 10 percent
Asian, and half white, non-Hispanic. It is a forerunner of the demographics
of the U.S. as a whole by mid-century, when the white, non-Hispanic
population will be a mere 50 percent, down from 70 percent today. London, in
the same way, is a forerunner of Europe's changing demography. Yet New York
and London are not cities in disarray, but just the opposite. They are
arguably the two quintessential World Cities at the start of the 21st
Century. They are both hugely prosperous, hugely safe, and hugely diverse.
I was in London during the subway bombings in July 2005. What impressed me
above all else was the calm appeal by all U.K. leaders for mutual respect
and for attention to the shared fate of the country's various ethnic
communities, Christian and Muslim alike. This maturity reflected the
traditions and wisdom of hundreds of years of open society, tolerance, and
democratic self rule. This attitude is the way to peace. And the U.K. as
well as the U.S. will be safer still the sooner all of our troops, American
and British, are out of Iraq.
Continued immigration, across cultural and economic divides, is not only
inevitable but also broadly beneficial. Immigrants deepen the ties that hold
our world together. Today's migrants don't abandon their homelands, but
bridge their homelands with their adopted countries. They make links,
economic, cultural, and social. Immigration needs to be steady and sure,
neither a floodgate nor a trickle. A floodgate would disrupt the long-term
processes of social trust and institution building in the host and source
countries. A trickle would allow a build-up of global pressures and illegal
population movements to an intolerable degree.
Of course, we would be wise to ease such pressures a bit by helping the
poorest countries to achieve a voluntary reduction of the high fertility
rates in places where population growth is still extraordinarily high. There
is no question that the demographic bulge in the today's impoverished
countries, including the poorest regions of Africa and the Middle East, adds
to tensions but also undermines economic development and wellbeing in those
countries. In some of the poorest regions, fertility rates are still so high
that populations are doubling every generation. This adds to poverty, youth
unemployment, despair, violence among young people, and mass migration as
well. Scientific evidence shows squarely that even the poor would like to
have fewer children, and will chose to do so, when they can gain access to
family planning and contraception, and when they are confident that their
children will survive, get an education, and have the chance to participate
as productive members of the global society. Once again, though the Bush
Administration speaks of fighting terror and instability, it undermines
those very goals by slashing public spending on programs of voluntary
fertility reduction in the world's poorest countries.
In summary, if we proceed with wisdom, our global generation can cooperate.
It is, most likely, in our very genes. We must see peace as a process. We
must understand too the fragility of peace, and how war can escalate. We
have much too much these days of threats, sanctions, and preemptive strikes,
and far too little of examining our own attitudes as Kennedy bade us to do.
It's time for a process of building trust, with Iran, with Palestine, with
Africa, and with our own poor. Each of us needs to reach out, in our
multiple identities, to make connections to other parts of the world. As a
social scientist and policy analyst, it is my great joy and pleasure to work
with colleagues in Egypt, Ethiopia, Malaysia, India, China, and Iran. The
miracles of video conferencing allow me to give lectures and to exchange
views with Iranian, Palestinian, Malaysian, and Chinese students.
We need to end pre-conditions to talk. We need to end the prevailing
confusion that claims that negotiating with an adversary is the same as
appeasing that adversary. The true lesson of the 1938 Munich Agreement, when
British Prime Minister Chamberlain acceded to Hitler's assault on
Czechoslovakia, is not to end future negotiations with adversaries, but to
reject concessions that cripple one's security. We will find that dialogue
may well open vast vistas of cooperation. Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and
other countries truly need to find solutions for energy, water supplies,
food production, and adaptation to climate change. We can help, and we
should do so. And by converting some of our bloated military budget into
practical efforts to fight malaria, AIDS, climate change, unsafe water, and
unwanted fertility, we would even more strengthen the bonds of cooperation.
Let us take at least $70 billion of the $623 billion military budget and
program it as practical help to the poorest countries. And let's save
another $100 billion per year by ending the Iraq War itself.
I return, once again, to John Kennedy's deepest insight, the one that he
gained and shared with the world after peering into the nuclear abyss in
October 1962. This insight explains why we can cooperate, and why we will.
As he said:
'For in the final analysis, our most
basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe
the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.'
Thank you very much.
Lecture 4, 2 May
2007, “Economic Solidarity for a Crowded Planet”
SUE LAWLEY: Hello and welcome to the School of Oriental
and African Studies in London - SOAS, as it's more commonly known. It's part
of London University, and it's Britain's leading academic institution,
dedicated to the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It's an
appropriate place to be holding the fourth of this year's Reith Lectures, as
Jeffrey Sachs turns his attention to one of the defining problems of those
parts of the world, extreme poverty. To give it its economic definition,
people who are forced to live on less than a dollar a day. As the world
converges and grows richer, its newfound wealth, argues Sachs, threatens to
be fatally undermined by the vastness of the terrible poverty it leaves
behind. We have to rescue the poor and the failing communities in which they
live, if we're to enjoy the fruits of economic globalisation. It can be
done, he says. To explain how, and why, please would you welcome the BBC
Reith lecturer 2007, Jeffrey Sachs.
The end of poverty - by the year 2025. It's seems like an outlandish claim,
an impossible dream. But it's within reach. It is a scientifically sound
objective. And it is the most urgent challenge of our generation.
In fact, if we in the rich world fail to take up this challenge, we will
imperil ourselves and the world. A crowded world, one that is "bursting at
the seams," cannot afford to leave millions to die each year of extreme
poverty without imperiling all the rest.
John F. Kennedy, whose vision of the possible inspires these lectures, put
it this way in his Inaugural Address in 1961:
'To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to
break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help
themselves, for whatever period is required-not because the Communists may
be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a
free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who
In my last lecture, in New York, I talked about war and peace and about our
extremely dangerous tendency to define the world as "us versus them."
Because of that tendency, war can erupt as a self-fulfilling prophecy of
conflict between mutually suspicious groups.
Yet war can also erupt as a result of the collapse of an impoverished
society, one suffering the scourges of drought, hunger, lack of jobs, and
lack of hope. Ending poverty is therefore a basic matter of our own
Darfur, Somalia, Afghanistan. These are all, at their core, wars of extreme
poverty. So too, quite obviously, were the recent wars of Liberia, Sierra
Leone, Haiti, and many others. The U.S. has just established a new military
command in Africa, declaring Africa to pose new security threats to the U.S.
But even as the U.S. spends more than $600 billion on the military, and even
as U.S. counterinsurgency forces spread out across the impoverished
stretches of the Sahel, the U.S. will never achieve peace if it continues to
spend less than one hundredth of the military budget on Africa's economic
development. An army can never pacify a hungry, disease ridden, and
We need to understand the challenge of extreme poverty not only as a matter
of ethics and politics, but also as a matter of science. We can and must
achieve a much clearer understanding of how to end poverty, based on the
best scientific evidence. We have powerful technologies that can be
mobilized, and which can make a remarkable difference at a remarkable speed.
We can usefully start our diagnosis by understanding the progress that has
been made. When John Kennedy spoke of the bonds of mass misery in 1961,
close to half the planet was in extreme poverty, measured by the traditional
standard of living on $1 per day or less. Today, the proportion of the
world's population in extreme poverty is down to around one-sixth,
approximately 1 billion of the world's 6.6 billion people. The absolute
numbers of the poor are declining, and their proportion is declining even
faster. Globalization has, on balance, helped the poor, especially in Asia,
where economic growth and poverty reduction are proceeding at historically
unprecedented rates. We have the wind in our sails, since world markets give
a powerful impetus to the spread of technologies and the rise of income.
Once countries get on to the ladder of development - exporting manufactures
and services in world markets, and linked to the world in networks of
production, trade, finance, and technology - they tend to make continued
progress up the ladder. Market forces, based on saving, investment, trade,
and technological advance take hold. The crisis of extreme poverty is
centered in those regions not yet on the development ladder, stuck in
extreme poverty and hunger, with only the weakest of links to global
production - through primary agricultural goods and mineral resources.
Poverty is not yet declining in tropical Africa, and a few other places.
Africa has not so much been harmed by globalization, as bypassed by it. The
basic challenge is to help Africa and other still-impoverished regions onto
the development ladder.
Consider some recent data, this time using the metrics of life and death
rather than dollars. Life expectancy at birth is probably the best single
indicator of overall human wellbeing that we have. Life expectancy is not
only a crucially important goal in its own right, but is also an excellent
indicator of overall social organization - for example, the quality of the
health system, the presence or absence of war, the reach of infrastructure,
and the extent of food insecurity. Life expectancy at birth is also
relatively easy to measure and to compare across countries.
The worldwide improvements in life expectancy on the planet have been
dramatic. In 1960, 105 countries, with two-thirds of the world's population,
had a life expectancy at birth of less than 60 years. By 2004, that list had
shrunk to only 47 countries, with a mere twelve percent of the world's
population. And virtually all of those 47 countries are in Africa (with the
exceptions being Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Laos, and Papua New Guinea).
Why does Africa lag? Here is where the scientific evidence on extreme
poverty is vital. The overwhelming non-scientific assumption held in our
societies is that Africa suffers mainly from the corruption and
mismanagement of its leaders. With the viciousness and despotism of Robert
Mugabe in Zimbabwe, it's an understandable view. Yet this seemingly
self-evident view is wrong as a generalization. Zimbabwe may get the
headlines, but there are many countries in Africa, like Tanzania and
Mozambique just nearby, that have talented and freely elected governments
struggling against poverty. But they too face great obstacles, and their
people too continue to suffer from extreme deprivation.
Consider the fact that nine developing countries - with two in Africa - were
tied with exactly the same corruption score in this year's Transparency
International index. Specifically, Ghana and Senegal were assessed to be at
the same level of corruption as Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru,
and Saudi Arabia. Yet the two African countries have life expectancies of
around 56 years, while all but one of the other countries have life
expectancies of more than 70 years. On average, for countries with
comparable corruption levels, Africa's life expectancy rates are nearly 20
years below the rest of the world's.
Africa's problems are not due mainly to corruption, but to its ecology,
history, weak infrastructure, and burgeoning population growth. Moreover,
once those underlying sources of extreme poverty and disease are
scientifically identified, we can also identify the practical technologies
and strategies needed to solve these problems, and thereby enable Africa
like the rest of the world to break free of the poverty trap.
Africa, compared with other poor regions of the world, suffers from four
enormous burdens, all of which are solvable with proven and relatively
The first is low food production. Africa is a hungry continent, with grain
yields roughly one third of other developing regions of the planet. Part of
the problem is Africa's age-old dependence on rain-fed agriculture in a
savanna climate, where the risks of drought are ever present. Sub-Saharan
Africa lacks the river-based irrigation systems of South and East Asia.
Another urgent problem with Africa's agriculture is that Africa's soils have
been depleted of nutrients because impoverished farmers have been unable to
afford fertilizers to replenish their soils. Older techniques for
replenishing soil nutrients, such as the rotation of farm lands, allowing
the replenishment of nutrients on land left to fallow for 10 or 20 years,
are no longer feasible. Rising land scarcity because of Africa's burgeoning
population means that scarce arable land can no longer be left to fallow
even for one year, much less a generation.
The second challenge is Africa's disease ecology, which leads to uniquely
high burdens of tropical diseases, especially malaria. This again is a
matter of ecology. Africa has a climate and species of disease vectors that
contribute to its unique burden of tropical infectious diseases. These are
controllable, but at much greater effort than needed in other parts of the
The third challenge is Africa's miserably deficient infrastructure, with the
world's poorest network of roads, power, rail, and fiber-optic cables for
internet. For many historical and geographical reasons, Africa's colonial
powers did not build the roads, rail, and power grids that they did in other
parts of the world.
The fourth challenge is the continuing surge of population, in which poor
families are still having six or more children in rural areas. Fertility
rates are still so high in rural Africa that populations are doubling each
These challenges - food production, disease control, weak infrastructure,
burgeoning populations - are not caused by corruption, but by ecology,
history, and by the vicious cycle of extreme poverty itself. Each of these
challenges is susceptible of utterly practical solutions, and in short
order, but they require public-sector investments beyond the levels that
impoverished African countries can afford.
African countries, in short, face a poverty trap. They can overcome
impoverishment through identifiable and proven public investments, but these
countries are simply too poor to undertake those investments out of their
own resources. Nor are they creditworthy enough to borrow those resources
from global capital markets, though these markets can help.
This litany of problems may seem overwhelming. Left alone, they will be. But
each is actually solvable, and much more easily than is typically imagined.
We've seen what can be done, for example, in our own Millennium Villages, a
project that applies proven techniques to these very challenges in villages
across a dozen countries of Africa. Here is what can be accomplished.
Powerful technologies, as simple as insecticide-treated bed nets and a new
generation of anti-malaria medicines, can control malaria by 90 percent or
more. Anti-retroviral medicines can make AIDS a chronic rather than fatal
disease, and one with reduced stigma and much more chance of prevention.
These successes, and many like them, have been accomplished in countless
specific projects where donor funds have been made available, but not on a
country scale or regional scale.
Current agronomic technologies can triple food production. The key in that
case is to get smallholder farms the vital inputs of high-yield seeds,
fertilizers, and small-scale water management techniques that can
dramatically boost farm yields. Africa can and must have a Green Revolution
as India initiated nearly forty years ago. Malawi has started this year,
with a program to guarantee vital inputs for the poorest farmers. Food
yields have soared, in a neighborhood of acute food shortages. And we should
certainly remember that India's Green Revolution also depended on
international aid in its early years. Virtually every country has needed a
helping hand at some point. It's a rule of life.
Current technologies can extend roads, rail, power, and the internet even to
the most remote regions. A satellite dish, or a mobile phone tower, can end
isolation that might have seemed irremediable a generation ago.
The fourth challenge, excessive population growth, is similarly susceptible
of practical and proven solutions. Fertility rates in rural Africa are still
around 6 children or more. This is understandable, if disastrous. Poor
families are worried about the high rates of child mortality, and compensate
by having large families. Poor families lack access to contraception and
family planning. Girls often are deprived of even a basic education, because
the family cannot afford it, and are instead forced into early marriage
rather than encouraged to stay in school. And the value placed on mothers'
time is very low, in part because agricultural productivity is itself so
low. With few opportunities to earn remunerative income, mothers are pushed
- often by their husbands or the community - to have more children.
Yet, as shown by countless countries around the world, fertility rates will
fall rapidly, and on a voluntary basis, if an orderly effort is led by
government with adequate resources. Investments in child survival,
contraceptive availability, schooling of children, especially girls, and
higher farm productivity, can result in a voluntary decline in total
fertility from around six to perhaps three or lower within a single decade.
But these things will not happen by themselves. They require resources,
which impoverished Africa lacks.
The world has committed, time and again, to help Africa accomplish these
development objectives. We are pledged, all countries on the planet, to
support the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed goals
set in the year 2000 to cut poverty, hunger, and disease decisively by the
year 2015. We are half way to 2015, but still far off the mark. Our
governments talk, and they even begin to act, but they fail to act with the
urgency and decisiveness required by the circumstances, and commensurate
with our promises. And the urgency will grow as climate stresses multiply.
The longer we wait, the greater is the suffering and the larger are the
long-term risks and costs.
Success in the MDGs will require stronger actions on all fronts - by civil
society, by businesses, by African governments and communities. I will speak
about the roles of business, civil society, and each of us as individuals,
in the final lecture. But success will also require finance, at a scale that
can only be provided by official development assistance by rich country
governments. Our governments have long promised to deliver 0.7 percent of
rich-world GNP as official aid, but so far have consistently failed to do
The situation is absurd in many ways - at least 10 million people dying each
year because the rich world refuses to spend 0.7 percent of GNP on aid! For
Africa specifically, we would need around $70 billion per year to enable
Africa to get on to the ladder of development. That's $70 per person per
year from each of us in the rich countries. It's about 0.2 percent of our
annual income. It's well under the annual cost of the Iraq War. Indeed, it's
about 2 percent of the estimated wealth of the world's 1,000 billionaires.
And consider that Wall Street and the City of London together took home
Christmas bonuses of some $40 billion this past holiday season.
The deep question is why the rich countries, with so much wealth, are so
irresponsibly and relentlessly neglectful, when the amounts needed are so
small and the consequences of inaction are so catastrophic for all. Is this
the fate of modern societies? Are our politicians inevitably distracted by
local concerns, or by the illusions of war? Are our populations so jaded and
cynical and uncaring as to make this neglect inevitable? The answer,
thankfully, is no. Let's not over-generalize. Several of the world's
wealthiest countries do honor their commitments. The key for us is to
understand why they do, while the rest do not.
Five countries of Northern Europe have long met the 0.7 percent of GNP
commitment. These are: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and
Sweden. The European Union has now promised, once again, to do so by 2015.
Yet the European Union obviously agonizes in this promise. The U.S. doesn't
even agonize. It doesn't even try. The US will spend $600 billion on the
military this year, but only $4 billion on African development. Moreover,
senior U.S. officials vigorously reject the global standard of 0.7 percent
in aid, even though the U.S. government signed on to that international
The striking thing about the aid performance is the very strong correlation
between a country's international aid and its care for the poor at home.
Countries that take care of their own poor also tend to help the world's
poor. Countries that neglect their own poor tend to walk away from their
international responsibilities as well.
In brief, the social welfare model of Northern Europe helps the poor both at
home and abroad. The U.S. model, alas, leaves the poor to suffer their fate,
both at home and abroad. Americans, as a result, are fearful of their
economic future, as they are left to fend for themselves. They have little
time for others. The world is seen as filled with threats, and of "us versus
them," rather than with opportunities in an interconnected global society.
The Nordic countries, by contrast, have the domestic security of social
protection which they then seek to extend to the world.
The successes of the Nordic system are crucial for us to understand. Many on
the political left admire the Nordic social welfare state, as do I. Yet they
mistakenly believe that the Nordic countries are somehow anti-market and
anti-globalization. Nothing could be further from the truth. Denmark,
Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, are all market-based
economies, competing fiercely in world markets. They believe in open trade,
and invest heavily in high technology and in R&D to keep their international
competitiveness. But they have discovered that it is possible to combine
market efficiency and open trade with strong social services and social
protection. They have achieved, in short, a system of Economic Solidarity
within a market economy. Rather than compromising their economic well being,
these institutions of Economic Solidarity have strengthened the market
system itself. The Nordic countries have not only eliminated poverty in
their midst, and achieved the best health outcomes in the world. They have
also fostered the confidence to extend such solidarity to the rest of the
No doubt, the Nordic successes have depended, in part, on their relatively
small size and social homogeneity. Their levels of internal social trust are
very high. Migration is putting that social trust under challenge. But even
if their social homogeneity is not replicable elsewhere, their social trust
can be. Perhaps the key to success, after all, in the 21st century will be
building trust across ethnic and cultural lines, within our own societies,
as well as across societies.
We can end poverty, at home and abroad, with the technologies and tools that
we have, if we trust each other sufficiently, at home and abroad. As JFK
said in the context of war and peace, we need not talk about blind trust, a
naïve trust, a trust of dreamers or fanatics. We must seek a practical
trust, built on specific institutions and specific ways of delivering help
for the poor. Our economic solidarity must rely on scientific evidence and
rigorous audits as much as on trust. But at the core of such institutions is
the trust that we are all in this together, that our fates, economic and
otherwise are shared, and that the defeat of poverty will be a victory of
security for all on the planet.
My suggestions on Economic Solidarity therefore are the following.
First, let us embrace market economics - yes - but also recognize that free
market economics are passé. We need an active role of the state, to help the
poorest to break free of the poverty trap, and to help narrow the
inequalities of a high-income market society.
Let us understand that economic solidarity is insurance for all, the poor
and the rich. Our societies can be both productive and safe. If we invest in
solidarity, we will also end up with a more caring society. It's not our
poor versus the poor abroad. It is help and solidarity with both.
Let us resolve to honor our commitments in the fight against poverty,
hunger, and disease. Our commitments are small compared with our vast
wealth, and the benefits will be vast. We have the power to save millions of
lives each year, to help slow a burgeoning population growth in the poorest
countries, and to reduce, if not end, the conflicts and wars caused by
extreme poverty, which threaten peace everywhere. This, truly, is the work
of our generation.
In the next lecture, we will consider another lesson from the small Nordic
countries. Small is beautiful in today's economies. These small economies
are open to the world, but are also small enough to establish high levels of
internal cohesion. They reap the best of a large open world economy and a
strong home base.
The place for the "small" - our communities, regions, and cultures - in a
large and interconnected world, will be among the themes that I will explore
in the next lecture. More generally, we will explore how each of us can
contribute to solutions at a time when our governments alone are surely
insufficient to the task.
Lecture 5, 9 May
2007, “Global Politics in a Complex Age”
SUE LAWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Assembly Hall in
Edinburgh, the erstwhile home of the Scottish Parliament, for the last in
this year's series of Reith Lectures. We've chosen Edinburgh as a finishing
place because this was the city where the economist Adam Smith, one of the
leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, set out his ideas on how to
create free markets for the benefit of us all. Our lecturer, Jeffrey Sachs,
takes some of his inspiration from Smith's ideas, and tonight this
connection comes into full view as he explains how the countries of the
world must find a new political framework in order to manage the business of
So far in these lectures he's explained how we should re-balance our world
as the economies of the East rise to match those of the West, and how we
must eradicate poverty and improve the environment, measures which are
essential, he argues, for our survival.
Tonight he turns his attention to the processes required for achieving all
of this. He's calling for a new politics for a new age. Ladies and gentlemen
will you please welcome the BBC's Reith lecturer 2007, Jeffrey Sachs.
JEFFREY SACHS: The arc of the Reith Lectures began in the Royal Society in
London, under the gaze of Isaac Newton, and in the presence of some of
today's leading scientists. More than any other force, science has created
the modern world. And today, science-based technologies link the world
together and fuel the economic ascendancy of the ancient civilization of
China, the site of our second lecture. But globalization brings the risk of
new conflicts as well, and the hope still unfulfilled of a world at peace,
the aim of the United Nations, in my own home city of New York, where I gave
the third lecture. Only solutions to the great gaps of rich and poor will
save us from war. London, the capital city of the first Industrial
Revolution and where conscience stirred 200 hundred years ago to abolish the
slave trade, was the site of last week's lecture.
It is therefore fitting, indeed some might say the work of an invisible
hand, that we conclude the Reith Lectures here in Edinburgh. For here in
Scotland, in the 18th century, globalization was first perceived for all its
transformative potential, and also for its potential dangers. Here lived the
most brilliant exponents of the radical idea that an interlinked world could
produce unprecedented material wellbeing and rights for all. Edinburgh and
Glasgow were still in the early stages of their new vocation as great
centres of global commerce, offering an early window on the emerging global
economy and global society. And none gazed so wisely and so humanely on the
world as David Hume and Adam Smith.
Here is one of Adam Smith's astounding insights on globalization:
"The discovery of America, and that of
a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest
and most important events recorded in the history of mankind… By uniting, in
some measure, the most distant parts of the world, by enabling them to
relieve one another's wants, to increase one another's enjoyments, and to
encourage one another's industry, their general tendency would seem to be
Yet, Smith noted, while Europe thrived, the native inhabitants of the East
and West Indies suffered under the burdens of European conquest and
impunity. Smith looked forward to a day when an "equality of courage and
force" would lead all nations into a "respect for the rights of one
another." He judged that:
"nothing seems more likely to establish
this equality of force than that mutual communication of knowledge and . . .
an extensive commerce from all countries to all countries . . . "
Globalization, in short, would empower the weak and protect their rights.
Smith's genius and decency inspire us two-hundred and thirty-one years
later. Rather than glorying in the benefits of globalization for Britain - a
kind of self-help book for early empire -- Smith took a global view, and
looked forward to the day when free trade and the spread of ideas would
eventually produce an equality of courage and force around the world, so
that the benefits of globalization would be shared by all.
Our challenges today are the same as in Smith's day, though even greater in
range, scale, and intensity. The world is bursting at the seams, in
population, environmental stress, cultural clashes and the gaps between rich
and poor. How can globalization be made to work for all? What kinds of
politics are needed for an interconnected world? Since our politics have
veered off course, what can bring us back to safety for all?
In a much more interconnected world than Smith's, we will need much more
than an equality of force to see us through. We need active cooperation on
three fronts: to curb our destructive effects on the environment; to prevent
war; and to address the needs of the poor, and especially the poorest of the
poor. What politics can accomplish all of this?
The markets alone won't suffice. Nor will the fear of a balance of power. We
need active cooperation, but in a world that lacks a single political center
of gravity, and with the pervasive limitations of international
institutions. Our current correlation of political forces and institutions
is not delivering. Until recently, much of the world may have looked to the
U.S. for such leadership, but those days are past. The U.S. and E.U.
together are a mere 11 percent of the world's population, and will diminish
significantly in relative economic weight in the coming decades.
Some in the world long today for a global government, but this too is no
answer. With a single global government -- even if it were somehow achieved
-- there would be no safety valve from global despotism. We want global
cooperation but not through the straightjacket of a single sovereign power.
John Kennedy, you will recall from an earlier lecture, called peace a
process, a way of solving problems. I want to consider global cooperation in
the same way. Global cooperation is not an event, a strategy, or a set of
treaties. It must be a process, a way of life.
There is no full blueprint for cooperation in the 21st century, nor can
there be. But here is how I propose that we start.
In the past fifteen years, the world's governments agreed on a set of goals.
They agreed to protect the environment, to fight the spread of nuclear
weapons, and to fight poverty. Six specific agreements stand out as
crucially important. Three were signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio - to
fight climate change, to fight the loss of biodiversity, and to combat
desertification. Two nuclear agreements came a few years later - to extend
the ban on proliferation, and to ban nuclear tests. Last came the Millennium
Development Goals in September 2000, to slash extreme poverty, disease, and
hunger by the year 2015.
Taken together, I call these six commitments our Millennium Promises. They
were undertaken in the shadow of the new Millennium, when the world yearned
for meaningful commitments by our leaders.
My proposal is simple. We should pursue global cooperation by fulfilling our
Millennium Promises. These promises must be our compass. They enable us to
steer in an age of complexity. Our most basic task is to hold our
governments, each other, and of course ourselves, accountable to our mutual
Yet most people haven't a clue as to what we've promised. This is no
accident. Many of our leaders also do not care to remind us. Our governments
do not know how to deliver on these promises, and so they mainly shirk them.
George Bush, for example, in six years of office, has run away from the
challenge of climate change. He has never told the American people that the
U.S., like 190 other countries, is already committed by international treaty
law to stabilize greenhouse gases in order to "prevent dangerous
anthropogenic [that is, manmade] interference with the climate system,"
under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. That treaty was
signed, ironically, by the President's own father in 1992. The U.S. public
doesn't realize that such commitments are already U.S. law.
Or consider the financing needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
In 2005, the G8 promised to double aid to Africa by 2010, in support of the
goals. Yet the newly released data on aid to Africa show that aid is
stagnant, not rising, after correcting for flawed accounting of debt relief.
Worse still, the G8 has resolutely been unwilling to set a specific
year-to-year timetable for the doubling of aid, so that recipient countries
cannot plan ahead on how that aid can be used. One senior official even
suggested to me that to do so would be wrong, because it might make the
recipients too habituated to the aid. In other words, it's okay to announce
the doubling of aid, and then to leave it as a riddle, lest it be taken too
seriously by the intended recipients.
Or consider the commitment in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty for all
nuclear powers to work toward complete disarmament. The nuclear powers honor
the parts of the treaty limiting the spread of weapons to others, but reject
the parts of the treaty that apply to themselves.
Or consider, finally, the commitment under the Convention on Biological
Diversity, "to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate
of biodiversity loss . . . as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to
the benefit of all life on Earth." This crucial goal, undertaken in the
shadow of a massive extinction of species caused by human destruction of
habitats, is probably the least known of all our Millennium Promises. But
isn't my argument empty then - to propose that we solve the problems of
global cooperation by taking seriously the very commitments that we have so
far ignored? I think not. The key for us, the world's citizens, is to hold
our governments accountable to the Millennium Promises, to understand why
governments are paralyzed, and to clear the logjams in our path.
Our governments ignore the goals mainly because the political leaders don't
understand how to achieve them. They hide out of fear, ignorance,
short-sightedness, and the sway of vested interests. Meeting the goals
requires the expertise of science and the mobilization of technology, yet
our leaders are cut off from the requisite expert knowledge. The second
step, therefore, is to bring global scientific expertise to the service of
global problem solving.
This very approach is already proving itself in the case of climate change.
Despite powerful vested interests that have tried to obscure the global
scientific consensus on climate change, a rigorous process of scientific
review known as the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has
proven to the world that there is a strong scientific consensus that manmade
climate change is serious, real, and accelerating. The IPCC is in the midst
of unveiling its fourth major report, and the power of the scientific
consensus is forcing the world's businesses and politicians to take note.
A similar commission was run, though on a one-time basis, in the case of
biological diversity, in a project known as the Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment. It documented both the human-made destruction of biodiversity,
and ways to address the crisis. And in the case of the Millennium
Development Goals, I myself was honored to direct the UN Millennium Project
on behalf of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The U.N. Millennium
Project brought together more than 250 experts in development - in food
production, malaria control, AIDS control, water and sanitation, education,
and more - to show how the Millennium Development Goals can be accomplished.
These recommendations were adopted at the 2005 U.N. World Summit.
Scientific processes like the IPCC, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the
U.N. Millennium Project, and a similar effort for nuclear non-proliferation,
should become a basic feature of global good governance. Scientific panels
on each major promise should report regularly to the world on risks,
progress, and possible solutions. Politicians should be briefed by these
expert communities each year when the politicians gather at the United
Nations. Our governments should be reorganized so that they can absorb this
expert knowledge, rather than operating on hunch and political calculation.
And the world's public should use the results of the expert processes to
hold our politicians accountable, and to push away the logjams caused by
Once the problems are recognized, and the deep science is understood, it is
far easier to come up with solutions, which typically require the
application of new technologies at a scale to address the challenge. Those
technologies exist, or can be developed. Public policies will be needed to
get them into place.
Fortunately, governments will not need to do all of the heavy lifting.
Individual champions of solutions can make great headway in demonstrating
what needs to be done. New technologies for specific problems can be proved
at a small scale and then taken to global scale. Social entrepreneurs from
every sector can step forward with proposed solutions. The main role of
government is stand prepared, with checkbook at hand and policy brief ready,
to take working solutions to the needed scale.
Consider the case of public health. Countless advances in public health in
recent years have combined global goals, social entrepreneurship, and public
finance. The control of polio, down by a factor of more than 100 in the past
20 years, has been championed by Rotary International, in collaboration with
the World Health Organization. The control of African River Blindness has
been led by a partnership of Merck pharmaceutical company in conjunction
with the World Health Organization and the World Bank. President Jimmy
Carter and the Carter Center have championed an alliance to eliminate Guinea
Worm disease. And the list goes on.
Once a technology is proved - a new drug, an improved seed variety, a
long-lasting bed net -- the challenge is scaling up. Markets will rarely
suffice. In the case of extreme poverty and disease, the poor are too poor
to pay for these solutions. In the case of the environment, green
technologies often add to production costs, but in amounts much lower than
the environmental benefits to society. Such costly technologies will be
adopted on a large scale only if special public incentives are offered, such
as a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, or a subsidy for clean energy, or a
tradable permit to limit emissions.
I have described, in short, a practical process of global cooperation.
Overarching goals are made - to curb climate change, save species, fight
poverty, and more. Scientists then provide regular and systematic reviews,
informing political leaders and winning the confidence of the global public,
both through the international composition of the scientific bodies and the
rigor of their work. Social entrepreneurs are encouraged to promote
prototypes and working models - through a promise of glory, or prizes, or
patents, or the joy of public service. Governments are required, under the
weight of global treaties and public pressure, to scale up working models to
meet the global goals. This might mean development aid, or permit systems,
or direct regulations, or spending on research and development, or in the
case of arms control, new methods of verification.
In recent years, the public has solved some mammoth problems in a
decentralized manner - for example, producing an on-line encyclopedia that
is updated in real time, and an open-source and non-proprietary computer
operating system that is now used worldwide. I am arguing for open-source
global cooperation as well, meaning a system in which all sectors are
invited to offer solutions, under the guidance of an agreed set of targets.
Starting with shared goals, backed up by regular and rigorous feedback from
expert reviews, we can engender a worldwide outpouring of ideas, actions,
and commitments from all parts of society - business, non-governmental
organizations, and international agencies. Governments can stand ready to
bring solutions to scale, through public finance and other kinds of
I am constantly asked whether corruption will defeat any such attempts to
help the poor. I often convey my own experience, of the relative ease of
getting bed nets and anti-malaria medicines and fertilizers and high-yield
seeds to the poor, with a minimum diversion of resources. My own experiences
inform my optimism, and give specific ideas about how to get the job done.
But in the global approach that I am proposing, there is a better answer. If
you don't like my solution, try to prove yours. Let us encourage any group
to show a working model, against the backdrop of a global political
commitment to take successes to scale. The International Red Cross, for
example, has invented a new system for the mass distribution of bed nets in
impoverished countries. Their system works. Now the budgets of the major
donor countries, with a sense of urgency, should support the International
Red Cross in scaling up its proven methods.
FDR said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. John Kennedy
said that to believe that war is inevitable is a dangerous, defeatist view.
I say that cynicism is our worst enemy today. We must build on our
successes, not feed our doubts. We have declared our goals and commitments,
our Millennium Promises, but we lack the confidence to implement them. We
have been flying blind, but expertise - and proven experience - can restore
The costs of addressing climate change, I have noted, will likely be less
than 1 percent of our annual world income, and perhaps much below that. The
costs of ending extreme poverty, too, are below one percent of rich world
income. Biodiversity conservation, the studies have shown, is far below the
first two costs, a slight fraction of a percent of income, if that. And
disarmament, when based on global trust and treaties, will save money, lots
of it, that is now directed to the useless and dangerous stockpiling of
weapons, nuclear and other. We easily waste more in mistrust and military
outlays than the costs of achieving our Millennium Promises.
There are countless ways for you to get involved in solving the great
challenges of our time - the end of poverty, the protection of the
environment, or the control and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
Some of you will contribute funds to buy bed nets and medicines for the
poor. Many students will volunteer their time in an impoverished country,
learning lessons for a lifetime about our mutual interconnectedness. Each
citizen should press his or her government to fulfill its obligations, and
our Millennium Promises. Businesses can share their path-breaking
technologies with the poor. Professional organizations - of lawyers,
doctors, architects, scientists, athletes, artists, musicians - can reach
across political lines to deepen friendships and understanding with people
in Iran, or Palestine, or other places of high tension today.
The internet and videoconferencing can make all of this connection and
problem solving vastly easier. Classrooms can be global, connecting children
in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. in common learning.
Our parliaments can and should be linked by videoconferencing, so that we
can have global parliamentary sessions and even global votes. Perhaps a
synchronized vote by dozens of parliaments in early 2003 would have helped
to keep the U.S. and U.K. out of the terrible blunder of the Iraq War.
Great cities, such as this one, must also play a role. Global society is
ever-more organized around a network of regions rather than nations --
centers of learning, science, trade, and tourism which connect disparate
populations. Great creativity, architectural energy, and economic dynamism
are associated with cities and their environs. And therefore the people of
Edinburgh, New York City, Barcelona, Dubai, or Beijing, can take on special
challenges of making connections and seeking solutions with the people of
Nairobi, La Paz, and Timbuktu.
What I can tell you, with certainty, is that there is a role for everybody
and every community, and a need for everybody to become engaged. You must be
the peacemakers, development specialists, ecologists, all. Do not lose
heart. Remember, as John Kennedy told us, "our problems are manmade -
therefore they can be solved by man." And remember what his brother Robert
Kennedy reminded us:
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history
is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the
lot of others, or strikes out against an injustice, he sends forward a tiny
ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of
energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the
mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
I hope and believe that from Edinburgh, this great home of the
Enlightenment, the energy for a globalization of justice, peace, and
prosperity will radiate to all, and in Adam Smith's humane vision we truly
will learn to "relieve one another's wants" in all parts of our world.
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