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Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Sachs’

Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2009

j-sachsLast September, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, spoke to a packed hall at Harvard Law School in an address entitled “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.”   We cited an article summarizing his remarkable presentation and also posted an unofficial transcript of it (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V).

Today we excerpt portions of his op-ed on concerning the upcoming G-20 Summit and how he believes the issue of global poverty should be addressed.

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The G-20 meeting in London, England, on April 2 will be watched by the entire world with urgency and with a yearning for hope, vision and programmatic clarity.

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The world’s 3 billion poor, especially the 1 billion poorest of the poor, are suffering powerful and destabilizing blows from the crisis, and these will get worse and threaten global security unless there is specific attention and action.

The G-20 cannot limit its focus to regulating the financial sector, reforming the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, avoiding protectionism and reciting the measures that individual countries are taking. This would leave the world gasping for direction and hope.

The G-20 must offer a vision that is big enough to quell global fears and action bold enough to protect the desperately poor while guiding the cooperative decision-making of the world’s economic authorities.

The G-20 must push forward based on real policy coordination. The world does not have a system of effective cooperation. The United States, for example, does not engage in comprehensive and deep coordination with other countries. The poor countries, with half the world’s population, and the poorest countries, with roughly one-fifth of the world’s population, have not been brought into the equation.

The G-20 package for stimulus should include:

First, fulfillment by all countries of stimulus measures already announced and a commitment to undertake new joint stimulus measures, especially priority public outlays on infrastructure, the social safety net and sustainable energy, as may be needed during the coming years.

Second, establishment of a high-level G-20 coordination group, backed especially by China, the European Union, Japan and the United States, to work full-time on coordinating monetary, fiscal and financial policies for stimulus and long-term recovery. Such cooperative macroeconomic programming does not now exist.

Third, increased currency support extended from the world’s five major central banks (the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank of China) for emerging market economies facing the loss of loans from international banks (e.g. Eastern Europe). The Fed’s currency swap lines to Brazil, Mexico, Korea and Singapore last fall played an important stabilizing role. The other central banks can and should do more, as can the Fed vis-à-vis other countries.

Fourth, a G-20 commitment to gradual and orderly currency readjustments to help rebalance the world’s financial and trade flows. The Asian currencies should gradually appreciate against the euro, which in turn should appreciate gradually against the dollar. Squabbling about bilateral rates between the dollar and Chinese renmenbi should be put to rest.

G-20 actions for the poor should include:

First, establishment of an urgent special food security program, which would make grants to low-income, food-deficit countries (including Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan and elsewhere) to ensure that impoverished farmers can get the basic input they need (such as fertilizer and high-yield seeds) to grow more food.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have joined to propose this new program and have mobilized backing from about a dozen countries.

The United States’ contribution should be at least $200 million per year over five years ($1 billion total), matching Spain, the largest donor country, and sending a powerful message of solidarity from the United States to the world. The hunger crisis is now afflicting 1 billion people and contributing to the deaths of millions of children each year.

Second, full funding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is facing a critical and potentially devastating cash shortfall during 2009-11.

An incremental U.S. contribution of $350 million in 2009 would close the most urgent cash-flow gap and put the United States in the clear lead of protecting the Global Fund and championing the fight against the three pandemic diseases.

Third, special urgent long-term financing of clean energy investments in the poor countries, especially solar, geothermal, wind and hydro, as a direct stimulus to the supplier countries (including the United States), a development boost for the recipient countries (notably in Africa and Central Asia) and a major spur to climate control and success in negotiations this year.

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To read the rest of the piece, click here.

Posted in Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part V

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 20, 2008

This is Part V of a loose, unofficial transcript of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs‘s remarkable lecture “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.”  He delivered this lecture on September 11, 2008 at Harvard Law School. You can link to Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.

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Now what are some of the things that we’ll need to solve these problems?  I, of course, don’t have any full list, but let me mention a few things that I think are important to add to the mix.

First, we absolutely have to find ways to reinforce the role of science in society.  And that’s because of the fact that the nature of our problems, the interconnected challenges of the physical environment and human economic activity and survival require a deep understanding of underlying physical mechanisms.  We need to get science deeply embedded in our public policy processes in ways that it’s not right now.  Congress is scientifically ignorant.  The White House, I won’t even go there, but a travesty and a danger for the world.  George Bush, in my mind is the worst president in American history.  Because I don’t have the visceral feeling for James Buchanan, by the way.  He may be the rival, but other than that, and a large part of it is how Bush scoped up precisely the anti-science that we need right now for survival.

My favorite international institution in this regard is the Inter-governmental Panel on climate change.  The IPPC, which won the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore last year, and the reason I like it so much is that it is a constructed model of how to create a public understanding about scientific consensus on a complex topic.  That’s not easy to do.  There’s lots of reasons why the general public has almost no sense of what real science is about.  Of course, general public hears almost no science.  It’s not trained to understand these issues, does not get Science magazine once a week to read – though should.  I recommend it to all of you.  Because even the first half is quite wonderful for non-scientists.  Just to give you a general update about the world of science.  And it’s very important for you to have that.  Because that’s what our world needs to understand right now.

But, more than that, there are obviously deliberately obfuscatory forces the corporate world and the religious world and others that take shots at all of this.  And so the public’s utterly confused even when the scientific community has a rich knowledge and understanding of very complex challenges.  So the IPPC is a process that was designed to bring in a serious methodical – some would say plodding, but still it works – methodical way for scientific knowledge and consensus to the broad public.  And it’s having it’s effect on slowly, grudgingly dragging the world into a recognition about climate change risk.  Because it has a certain authority to the way it has been carefully constructed to be open, transparent, honest, pure review base to deliver that sense of consensus.  We need that on many, many fronts.  We don’t have that kind of process right now.  Congressional oversight doesn’t work.  The administration and the mechanisms of our departments are independent of science.  And so we need to invent new ways to bridge the divide.

Second, we face massive financing problems for global pubic goods and for addressing the needs of the poor.  They’re not massive relative to our wealth or our income.  I’ve estimated that they require between 2-3% of the world’s annual income to address the inter-connective problems of extreme poverty, climate change, energy systems, water, food supply, bio-diversity conservation.  It’s not a lot of money to actually consolidate the future and end extreme poverty and head off the risks on anthropogenic climate change and other massive challenges to our future well-being.  Small.  But it’s vastly larger than what we actually put into any of these things right now.

Our budget on energy research, just to give you an idea, has been running at about 3 billion dollars a year.  We went to war in Iraq because of oil, and have spent about a trillion dollars so far.  It’s just not smart, this imbalance between what we’re investing in real solutions and what we’re ready to invest in bombing and killing people for illusory solutions.  But that’s the kind of trade-off that we’re making.  We’re spending almost 2 billion dollars a day on the military in this country, and for whatever reason both candidates are basically saying “yeah, we’ve got to do that, probably even more.”  Which I think is a huge mistake.  That means that the three billion we spent total on sustainable energy systems each year comes to 1½ days of Pentagon spending.  That can’t be the right allocation for our security.  It just can’t be right.

So I think we need new ways to finance these public goods.  Some, of course, does have to go through our political process each year or Congressional appropriations, but we also need global financing to address global challenges like climate change.  And one of the things I want to work on much in the future is an allocation of some fraction of a global carbon tax or selling carbon permits to mobilizing global financing for public goods.

So we right now are emitting about globally about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.  I’m sorry, it’s about 36 billion tons of which 30 billion is from energy and about 6 billion is from deforestation, and the number is rising because of the growing world economy of course.  But if we devoted $10 per ton to addressing these problems, and the that would be maybe one cent per kilowatt hour implication for electricity, then when you do the arithmetic you see that would be global financing of another 300 billion dollars a years.  Which actually would be enough to address some pretty basic questions of energy transformation as well as poverty reduction.  So creating a mechanism of global financing I think is an important part of solving the global public goods problems.

Third is public education.  Well, it started here in Massachusetts, and I kind of believe you’re going to have to step up to this much more, and we’re all going to have to step up to this.  But we actually will not solve these problems with an American public that is as poorly informed as it is right now.  I don’t have an answer to that.

We’re competing against a very confused, difficult, overloaded environment of sound bites.  But the truth is we’re not having a discussion worthy of our survival in this country.  The newspapers won’t be the ones to do it.  We’re going to have to figure out other ways to do it.  I don’t have an answer to that.  I just want to raise the problem that’s it’s got to be part of our solution, and it’s got to be public education, not only here but internationally obviously, where the issues are at least as urgent.

One of the things we’re doing at Columbia, which I like in the last year and this year is that we’ve created a global classroom where we have 15 campuses on-line, once a week for an hours so that we have an international discussion that includes New York, Keota, Ecuador , Sussex, England, Paris, Mycale, Ethiopia, Abadan, Nigeria, Delhi, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, universities in all those places, and I do believe that somehow we should be able to use technology more effectively t]o spread knowledge, information, understanding, and I wouldn’t mind if you did that between now and November 4 also.  Because we’re just sitting here like sitting ducks, or paralyzed moose, or whatever it is.  And we shouldn’t, we really shouldn’t be sitting here just paralyzed.  So that’s a third area.

Fourth is leadership by all key intellectual sectors including the law.  I would like to see the law school and the legal community step up to these problems more than they have.  We have, for example, international treaty obligations which as I understand it from the Constitution makes those obligations part of our national law.  In climate change, for example.  But international law is such a weak reed in our system that it barely gets any traction at all.  Why is that?

How many of you are going to specialize in international law so that treaties which are going to be vital for international action have a force of law and operational side to them?  Or human rights law, where all signatories to the universal declaration on human rights.  We’re in the 60th anniversary.  Those rights are obviously not observed or operationalized for billions of people on the planet.  And that document is viewed not as an instrument of international law which I believe it should be but as something that Eleanor Roosevelt did nicely 60 years ago.

That can’t actually be the way we’re going to solve problems if we don’t take these issues the legal dimensions of these issues with extreme seriousness.  Seems to me international law should have the same gravity as domestic law.  And the idea that domestic law has real force behind it because of sovereignty and international law does not, I think is actually an exaggerated difference between the two cases, because both of them are sustained by a self-fulfilling belief in their importance.  Nothing more.  Domestic law can be as useless as international law if you don’t believe in it.  And international law can be as consequent as domestic law if you do believe in it.  And so I do think there is a major challenge here that is unfulfilled by legal scholarship, but also obviously, not just the law.  I don’t mean to be picking on you.

My own profession is absolutely, completely 100% captivated in the stock market as the central issue of economic analysis and is really wasting a lot of time and human resources on that and taking issues of poverty or environmental sustainability  as fringe issues that you might take one course and possibly on the side in one’s economics training.  And so I think that there’s also been an abnegation of responsibility and failure of prioritization there as well.

As I mentioned, a fifth point we need to bring ethics explicitly back into our discussion, in a very formal, self-conscious educated, reflective way.  Not just so you stay ethical and stay out of trouble, but the ethics of a global society which needs to exist but doesn’t exist right now.  We’re so interconnected, we can’t go on simply just hating each other or ignoring each other or ready to bomb each other, or making the existence of others the existential challenge of our time.  And so we need to face up to the kind of ethics that can support the things that will keep us safe, which I think is what ethics is really about in an important way.

And finally, and as a general matter, I think that there is an important, not quite new definition, but a new boldness from universities that’s going to be needed.  And I see Harvard taking tentative steps in that direction, but I would like to see Harvard do a lot more than it’s doing.  I think universities actually have a unique role to play in addressing these problems. And that’s not pure university chauvinism from someone who has lived within universities for 36 years.  Yes, it may be biased, but it is also a considered view of what its going to take to address the kinds of problems that I’m talking about this morning.

First, only universities have the scientific knowledge within them, across the various disciplines, to be able to have a coherent knowledge base to the complex challenges that we face.  And that’s a wonderful thing.  Governments don’t for sure.  NGO’s don’t.  The general public doesn’t.  And so if you do believe as I do that understanding the human bio-physical interactions is fundamental for our well-being, universities have necessarily a unique role to play in that.  We have that cross-disciplinary capacity that no other institution has.  I’d like to think that we are unbiased.  Relative at least, to other institutions in society.  We’re not out for the buck, that’s for sure.  This can’t be the way to go if you’re trying to get rich.  And so I think universities have a kind of credibility and a neutrality that does not come if you’re working for the U.S. State department or if you’re working for a business, or most other institutions that are part of this challenge.

Fourth, and Harvard certainly taught me this, institutions are – this institution is – probably almost uniquely here for the long term.  And so the ability of universities  to think for the long term is also very unusual, and Harvard more than anyone, any other institution on our continent, is certainly reflective of that.

And the fifth point that I think is absolutely fundamental, and it’s the reason why I’m so delighted to be here, is that I believe that universities are uniquely inter-generational in ways that are almost not occurring in any other social institutions, of any kind.  Students get younger every year I find, and that’s an absolutely great thing.  There is inherently in the life of the university a rejuvenation of topics, points of view, and capacities every single year.  So you literally, not just figuratively, and not just as a nice word from you, reflect the hopes of Harvard by your very being here.  You are the embodiment of this institution more than its faculty, I might say.  Because you’re the ones that are going to carry all of this forward.  And this intergenerational uniqueness of the universities I think is extraordinarily important.

I know working as an activist on these issues that there is no way that even people of my generation, if I could put it this way, understand it.  Certainly not John McCain’s administration.  That’s not personal, that’s the fact of his age and his upbringing, and his knowledge, and it’s not what we need for the 21st century.  It just isn’t.  But what we do need is a good intergenerational  spread of expertise and an exchange of ideas that’s constant and intense.

You people, I mean when I have need for true understanding of the information age that we’re living in, I go to my 13 year old daughter.  You guys are a little bit out of it.  Already a little bit too old.  Since I have children that range from 13 to 26 I know their relative capacities, and our 13 year old’s absolutely the best at all of this.  But the knowledge that you bring and the perspectives are absolutely vital to this.  What I find evermore thrilling in the university is the chance to share, interact, and work together to solve these problems.

Thank you very much.

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Part VI of this series will include the question and answer session that followed Professor Sach’s lecture.  To watch the 90-minute video of Professor Sachs’s remarks, click here.

Posted in Education, Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part IV

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2008

This is Part IV of a loose, unofficial transcript of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs‘s remarkable lecture “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.”  He delivered this lecture on September 11, 2008 at Harvard Law School. You can link to Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.

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What I’ve argued in my most recent two books, The End of Poverty, and Common Wealth, is that the essential problem, maybe just trying to put myself out of a job.  The essential problem that we face is not the resource problem.  It’s not the cost of solutions.  It’s not the lack of alternatives.  It’s not the hopelessness of these deep, dark forces which compel us to go over the cliff because it’s either that or turning out the lights on our civilization.

There is a view, a dark view which says well this has a great party of the last two hundred years.  We’ve reached peak oil.  It’s really the end of that era of the fossil fuel age, and will necessarily, no matter what we do and how we scramble, revert to a situation of vastly lower material conditions because that’s just the budget constraint for the world.  So that is one view on the environmental far extreme.  On the religious far extreme is the view basically shares the same outlook that the world’s coming to an end.  But for other reasons, and I regard that view as also no joke because it informs foreign policy actually – an apocalyptic thinking and also inability to discuss issues of the next 50 years or 100 hundred years because it’s a mystical view that all of these events are out our control.

Now what I mean by resources not being the basic constraint is that when you actually try to decompose the problems that we face, like the CFC problem which a very interesting one, where you had aerosols and refrigerants that were threatening life on the planet, it turned out it was almost costless to substitute new chemicals in the refrigerators and in the aerosol cans.  It was resisted by industry for many years.  Junk science – this is garbage.  No proof.

All the things that corporate public affairs departments and legal departments do, do not go this way.  Let someone else do that.  That is unworthy of your talents.

By that’s the major initial reaction.  And then, we can’t do it.  It’s going to break the bank.  And then it turns out it’s almost costless actually to address a problem that would have profound risk to the whole plant.  My understanding of the challenges that we face is that they’re more of that character than the character of insoluble problems of the world that is overshot the caring capacity of the earth.

The argument that I’ve been trying to make is that if we act consciously, “collectively” — a word that is very unpopular — consciously and collectively in a shared way harness our scientific and technical knowledge to direct at specific problems through government even.  Even a bigger no no in my profession.  To address problems of hunger, disease control, fertility reduction, voluntary fertility reduction, deforestation, draught, vulnerability and the rest.

We have some great possibilities at hand, some technologies that already exist — that simply by applying them, could save millions of lives and be transformative in human well-being.  My favorite example is the anti-malaria bed net.  Five bucks lasts five years – good for 2 children.  Fifty cents a child per year would save just that maybe half a million lives every year.  But if combined with medicine, which are 80 cents a dose, could save a million lives per year and break transmission of malaria in many places.

And we don’t do it because the people that are on the receiving line of that are utterly impoverished, and blind to us as a result of their utter impoverishment.

And when they’re blind to us they’re also blind to the market because they can’t buy these things.  They don’t have the money to buy these things.  And they’re blind to us politically, and they’re blind to the market and the result is that they die and these problems don’t get addressed.

But there are many, many other technologies like that.  And if we think systematically about the challenges for instances, low-carbon energy and what we know about solar power for example, starting with the fact that incoming solar radiation, several thousand times our use of energy.  And so if we harness even modest amounts of solar radiation in the great deserts of the world, the Mohave, the Atacama, or the Sahara, or the Gobi, one could, with transmission lines carry clean electricity, at rather low cost to very large populations in ample quantity, and good to last least another billion years, and probably about five billion years.

After that I have no solutions, by the way.

But, I’m working on the next hundred years.  So we have many solutions.  We know with automobiles the technology is already at hand.  If harnessed to a clean power grid could reduce by to ¼ or 1/5 of the current emissions even with the same miles driven through plug-in hybrids and other technologies that it would end up being cheaper in present value terms than the ones we have now.  It wouldn’t even be a net cost to society.

So my argument has been that the economics of this are pretty good.  The fear factor could really come down.  It’s not really true we have to break our civilization to address these problems.  But we have to look up from our stupidity.  And our fear, our resentments, our short-sightedness, and we also have to understand that what we teach across the parking lot about the wonders of the market is approximately half the story.

And the other half of the story is why markets don’t work in many key cases.  They don’t work when the people on the receiving line are so poor that they don’t have a market demand.  That’s the first place that they don’t work.  They don’t work when the object is the global commons, the air, the water, the climate.  They don’t work when the problem is demographic choice.  We have some serious areas where self-organizing market-based systems will not solve these problems, even if the technologies and the costs look pretty good actually.  And those are the reasons why politics matters in the end.  Because self-organization is absolutely tremendous.

Markets are great when people really can just look after themselves and they can make their choices when that kind of decentralized self-organizing process works.  By all means, let’s do it.  Because it’s the easiest kind of organization to let people have their own freedom of choice and to do what they want.  But a lot good economics is about the conditions in which such self-organization does not lead to the shared wellbeing of this society.  That’s really what a whole field of public economics is about.  But we don’t even let that into our ideological toolkit.

Fortunately, it’s a large part of your toolkit.  Questions of zoning and eminent domain and regulation are really about areas where markets can’t do their job.  But we’ve not harnessed that kind of knowledge to a political understanding, and a willingness to address these issues.  And we have a relentless disdain for the poor, and a relentless ignorance and neglect of our commons, whether within our country or globally.  And those are precisely the areas where the self-organization is not going to work.  And our political system right now is completely broken – not completely broken, and I admit I could feel a lot better on election day than I do right now.  Maybe you could say the political system is in good shape in a certain way that it could bring forward a former president of the Harvard Law Review.  But he better whop the former mayor of Wasilla, or this thing is really, really in bad shape.

If we can’t bring forward confidence and knowledge reliably, and with a public understanding that that’s important for our survival, and we have no such understanding right now.  We’re in a very dangerous situation.  And that’s partly where your voices are really urgently needed right now.  The rampant anti-intellectualism of our time, the grossness of these attacks on elitism, and all of this bastardazition of democratic politics is very dangerous for us.  This is not a game.  I repeat, this is real life and I believe survival actually.

And so the political system doesn’t do it.  Now what are some of the things that we’ll need to solve these problems?

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Part V of this series will pick up there.  To watch the 90-minute video of Professor Sachs’s remarks, click here.

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Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 17, 2008

On September 11, 2008, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs spoke to a packed hall at Harvard Law School in an address entitled “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.” The Situationist is posting a loose, unofficial transcript of his remarks over the next couple weeks.  You can link to Part I here and Part II here. The third part is below.

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So what would it take to solve these problems?  I think fundamentally it would take three things to put it in very simple terms.

First, a scientific understanding of what’s happening.  And by that I mean rigorous evidence based quantified mechanistic approach to understanding the links of bio-physical processes, human economic activity, demographic change.  It’s complicated but one would make an effort honestly to talk about the real dynamics of a Darfur or Yemen or Pakistan, not the unbelievably mean-spirited, nasty, non-empathetic and ignorant ways we do.  So we’d start with the scientific approach.

Second, and related, we would actually work hard at understanding what a suitable global-ethics might be for living together on a crowded planet.  I don’t think values just come out of nowhere unlike what economics teaches, I don’t think that they’re not to be discussed.  That tastes are (something Latin, I think) I don’t believe that, that we just take pace as given.  I am more Aristotelian, that values and ethics come from an examined life and from reflection, and I don’t think we do this almost at all systematically.  So we have a very, very hard time being empathetic.  And I actually think it’s a failing by the way of our community, if I could put it that way.

I’ve been part of the Harvard community since 1972, and I still consider myself part of the Harvard community.  And I don’t think we’re really good at this empathetic approach.  I don’t think we’re really very good at understanding the other side in a deep way.  And one of my erstwhile favorite publications The Economist, demonstrates for me the problem not the solution.  It’s a very clever magazine, very witty, very well-written.  It lacks any sense of empathy, with the people that are being written about.  So it’s elitist in the worse sense.  And that’s our problem, and I think it’s partly why we find ourselves so poor at being able to respond to attack.  Though I don’t think that’s Barack Obama’s problem at all.  But I do think it is our community’s problem, that we’re just maybe by dint of privilege and the way that we talk about these problems, unaware of sometimes how divorced we are from ground realities.

I know that in the economics profession.  And I know it from my own life because I was tenured before I knew anything – not quite.  I knew how to write good journal articles.  And they weren’t all wrong by the way.  Not all wrong, but they absolutely did not contain a central truths that I only came to understand by the real act of engagement.

And so I think this is another problem.  So I think that global ethics is a second challenge.

And the third, and it’s related to both of these, both science and ethics, is a capacity to look forward, or a will to try to understand the future that goes beyond the next year, or even your next three years at law school, or the next election.  But actually tries to comprehend a dynamic process and thinks about our world at time scales that we’re not good at thinking about.  What would the world look like and be like in 30 years or 50 years or 100 years?  Very hard questions, obviously not ones that we’re going to get right.  But ones that I think are important to think about at a time when we have a huge risk of getting things terribly wrong.

So what do we actually have right now in this country?  We have an incredibly unscientific, or anti-scientific ethos.  We elect presidents on the basis of God only knows — in the last election cycles, who you wanted to have a beer with.  On this one, the great charge is elitism.

It’s an absurdity that we are talking in these terms at this moment rather than talking about the challenges and the problems and what could be done to actually address them.  So we have a very anti-scientific approach and a deliberate anti-scientific ethos.  We’ve just gone through 8 years of surely the most aggressively anti-scientific and ignorant administration we’ve ever had.  And I think it’s put us and the world at an enormous risk.  Washington is completely incapable of an honest statement, basic arithmetic, problem definition.  The discussions about the drilling right now, absolutely pathetic.  Because you can’t even get an article which defines the oil, the flows, the timing, what it means, the tradeoffs in the kind of scientific discussion that one would want to have.

Everything is lies manipulated and public debate ala American Idol.  And it’s taken as normal and fun by our punditry who are part of it, and as innocent of the knowledge that they need to have as everybody else.  And the world’s treated as a game at a time when it can’t be treated as a game.  And when you have a vice-presidential nominee who professes beliefs that deny climate science or our creationist or anti-environmental conservation, a long record of denying the basic science on conservation biology for her own state.  And this is not even an issue of concern or discussion.  It shows the frivolity that we are living in right now.  At a time when I think we can’t afford that.

So we are anti-scientific.  We’re absolutely tribalist.  We’re at each other’s throats in narrow communities.  And we are so incredibly short-term and short-sighted that there is no discussion anywhere on any side about fifteen, twenty years from now about what kind of world we’re trying to build.

I don’t think, well I think Barack Obama’s policies are vastly better and would stand a much better chance of keeping us alive, which I actually care about, especially for my children.  I don’t think that he’s discussing the future in any serious way right now.  His campaign centered on the tax cut in the next 4 months– by the way, the wrong policy, because we need those revenues for girding up our strength for serious investments in the future, not just to keep blowing holes in a government that is already incapable of doing anything serious on almost any front.

But it’s more the short-sightedness that grab what we can.  Let’s talk about the housing bubble.  Let’s talk about the immediate foreclosures.  Let’s talk about everything except what really is going to count in 10, or 20, or 30, or 40 years, which are the things that we can actually do something about.  So somehow the future is to take care of itself.  And our time horizon has to be the next 6 months.

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Part IV of this series will pick up there.  To watch the 90-minute video of Professor Sachs’s remarks, click here.

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Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2008

On September 11, 2008, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs spoke to a packed hall at Harvard Law School in an address entitled “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.”  To read summaries of  remarkable presentation, see “Jeff Sachs Speaks for the Voiceless at Harvard Law School” or “Jeffrey Sachs urges students to represent the voiceless.” The Situationist is posting a loose, unofficial transcript of his remarks over the next couple weeks.  You can link to Part I here.   The second part is below.

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I see three fundamental problems then that need addressing and they’re all interconnected.  The first is that in this interconnected world our tendency to pose questions as us versus them.  And as inherently conflict ridden as our first way of viewing the problem is becoming more and more dangerous.  But it’s a kind of dynamic that has a self-fulfilling prophecy about it.  I think McCain and Palin will raise by several percentage points certainly the probability that we’ll blow ourselves up in the next few years.  That’s not a small matter in my mind.  I think the way of looking at the world that John McCain has for whatever reason of history, background, honor or ignorance, is extraordinarily dangerous.  And the most dangerous statement of all that I know that has come out in recent years is his statement that the existential threat of our time is Islamic extremism.  If you define the existential threat of our time that way, and you pursue that in policy, the chances that we blow ourselves up rise immeasurably.

If we define our problems as us versus them they will become us versus them.  And we have a lot of reason to believe that we’re going to head off in that direction.  Our ignorance, our lack of understanding of the rest of the world, our lack of empathy, our inability to understand anything from another perspective, our fear, the kind of fear that obviously is threatening Obama’s campaign.  The Muslim.  The other.

This is a pervasive feature of the whole world, not just our society.  But it doesn’t matter how sophisticated and rich and all the rest, the capacity to go off in that direction is very, very high.  And in my view, John McCain exemplifies that.  And that’s a big issue.  I’m not intrinsically a partisan person.  I have actually relatively little interest in partisanship per se.  Not after a job in Washington I can tell you that for sure.  But I am worried, very much by what’s happening right now in the way we pose the global challenges.

Second, I believe that we’re seeing, and I see it every month in my work, wherever I am gravely threatening our well-being through resource depletion and destruction, environmental degradation and increasing marginalization of large parts of the world that are facing global environmental threats that have nothing to do from what came locally but end up destroying or threatening those societies.

Haiti is under water now partly because it’s a crowded, deforested environment, but to take a note from Kerry Emanuel at MIT, the great atmospheric dynamicist at MIT.  The frequency of high-intensity hurricanes in the Caribbean is on the rise because of anthropogenic global warming.   And that is not Haiti’s fault. In the places I’m working in East Africa, draught is becoming more and more frequent.

People are dying massively from this.  We don’t read the names.  We don’t read the stories.  When we do, we usually find some way to blame them for these mishaps because we define problems in ways that extricate ourselves and because, unfortunately, the journalists don’t really understand these things any better than anybody else.

But we end up with tremendous threats to large populations as a result of these global changes.  We’ve had massive typhoons that have killed hundreds of thousands of people in recent years.  More extreme tropical events in South Asia, in East Asia, in the Caribbean.  Massive draughts that carry away vast numbers of children from hunger and immuno-suppression that comes with inadequate food supply.  And I see in many parts of the word such as when I was in Malaysia in Malaysia, Borneo last month.  Truck after truck after truck after truck of big diptocarps, the great trees just being leveled, carried out, the environment de-neutered, and indigenous groups basically thrown off the land to make way for the loggers and then for the palm oil plantations that will follow after the logging.

And this is happening all over the world as well, because weak people and disposessed groups never can claim their rights and never can hold on to informal or traditional or group claims compared to the weight of commercial interest the way we define things in this world.  And so I happen to be in a community of indigenous or [?] populations in Sarawak, and despite the rights that they supposedly have under the Constitution, they are nowhere to be seen, and nowhere to be enforced.  And actually we saw the longhouses just literally bulldozed to get people to leave the area so that the logging can continue.

And third, this leads to tremendous violence and instability, which Senator John McCain calls Islamic extremism.  Or we tend to ascribe to the unruliness of some other populations.  In a large swath of the world, really stretching from the dry lands of Senegal through Mali, through Niger, through Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, that whole swath of several thousand miles is a dry lands region.  In general it’s becoming dryer because of the warming of the Indian Ocean, and the consequence drying of this vast belt.  It’s leading to more hunger.  It’s leading to loss of livestock, and livelihoods.  At the same time, the population in this region is exploding.  Because the fertility rates remain very, very high.  There is very little contraception to be found.  We don’t talk about these things, neither do these countries especially with a few examples, the U.S. cuts the budget for family planning, denounces the U.N. Population Fund and all the rest.  And so we have like two blades of the scissors – falling water availability and rising populations.  And this leads to explosions like Darfur.  Or in the most extreme cases in what’s one of the driest places on the whole planet Somalia, where the entire government infrastructure collapses to the point where there is no national government anymore and hasn’t been for the last 15 years.

It would be very surprising if that didn’t provoke instability, violence, basses of terrorism and the like.  And low and behold, of course, it does.  And the U.S. response typically is to set up the African command of the U.S. military.  That’s our newest innovation.  I see American soldiers all over the place when I travel.  We call this Islamic extremism.  We view Darfur not as one of the worst crisis of water and food on the planet but only in the context of our ideological battles with Khartoum.  So we don’t understand the underpinnings of migration from the north of Darfur when the drying occurred of Nomadic populations who then came in and tried to, with the backing of the regime ethnically cleansed, the more sedentary sub-humid, but not as arid parts of southern Darfur.  But at the core this, this is water – it’s food, it’s livelihoods, with the backdrop of burgeoning populations and worsening environmental conditions.

But we label all of this as the enemy.  And every couple of months we send bombers in.  This is the approach that a country with a very high capital issue would take.  We don’t have very many troops as you know.  So we bomb.  More and more when we bomb, we kill women and children, destroy villages, can’t quite understand why people aren’t thrilled with this.  We tell lies so relentlessly, it’s absolutely impossible now to comprehend how dramatically we lie everyday.  Ah.  Anyone under a U.S. bomb is an insurgent.  That’s almost the definition in the newspapers.  And we have a cowardly press that is afraid of losing advertising revenues.  We’ve essentially lost the voice of an independent N.Y. Times, which in my view has become not quite a rag, but almost useless for understanding what’s going on.  Because they’re so conservative that they won’t question these things.  And this is where we are headed right now and that’s why I’m nervous.

So what would it take to solve these problems?

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Part III of this series picks up there.  To watch the 90-minute video of Professor Sachs’s remarks, click here.

Posted in Events, Politics, Public Policy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 14, 2008

On September 11, 2008, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs spoke to a packed hall at Harvard Law School in an address entitled “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.”  To read an article summarizing his remarkable presentation, see “Jeff Sachs Speaks for the Voiceless at Harvard Law School.”

The Situationist will be posting a loose, unofficial transcript of his remarks over the next couple weeks.  Here’s the first part.

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Good morning everybody.  What a pleasure to be here.  This is actually a room I know well.  I taught classes here for many years with Roberto Unger, who you know is now minister in the government of Brazil and working on problems of sustainable development.  So, good things happen in this classroom, and I expect many of you to go out and be leaders in the future, and it’s especially a privilege to speak to you at the beginning of your law school experience.

My main message to you is whatever they might do in teaching you in the next three years, don’t let anybody beat out of you the enthusiasm for seeing law as a instrument of social change, and as a mechanism for solving human problems.  That I think is the most important role that we need to play in the coming years, and I believe, as I’ll emphasize, that places like Harvard have unique responsibilities that are not being fulfilled right now, and because of that are putting us at unnecessary risk.  Or to put it another way, Wasilla is just beating the stuffing out of Cambridge right now, and we’ve got to get our act together and to speak out and start working and doing what we believe to be possible, which is the reason why we’re here.  And that is the idea of applying intellect and learning and science and knowledge and history to human betterment, and we’re facing a massive reaction in this country.  It says none of that’s possible, that none of you care, that we’re all a bunch of elitists out to denigrate the rest of the country and the rest of the world.  It’s a bunch of crap, if I can use a technical term.  But we better get our voices together, and we better start acting on our beliefs, and we better start communicating better than we are.

And the reason is, this world’s in a lot of trouble — despite and, ironically in part, because of our wealth and technical capacity.  The world is not reliably running on the rails, or running on the fiber optic cables right now.  The world is at an unusually high risk of spinning out of control.  And I think it’s our greatest challenge to try to help insure that that doesn’t happen.  And it will require special kinds of action and knowledge and commitment – a kind of mix of knowledge and the work that you’re going to learn and the skills that your going to develop in the next three years combined with an ethical commitment which won’t come from your classes necessarily; you’re going to have to find it yourselves and in other ways, although I’m sure your teachers can help to impart it if they’re doing their job properly.

But it’s going to have to come also through a lot of reflection, internally about what you want to do and how you want to use the skills that you’re developing.  My job is to worry you today.  If I weren’t worried, I would not be doing what I’m doing.  There are plenty of other things that I’d like to do more if I felt that it was really possible.  But I feel a little bit compelled to do what I’m doing right now which is trying to understand these challenges of poverty or environmental degradation or profound inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict or a geo-politics that’s gone crazily awry or a country like ours which is seemingly absolutely incapable of serious discussion right now – under almost any circumstances.  I’d rather be doing other things.  But I’m doing these things because I think that they actually are important.

Why am I worried?  I’m worried because I think that the world is in a very dangerous, unprecedented and poorly understood situation and the two concepts that for me are extremely important in thinking about this – one I use in the subtitle of my book Commonwealth: Crowding, Economics for a Crowded Planet.

I think we’re in each other’s faces globally as never before.  We haven’t adjusted to the realities of a global inter-connected society of nearly 7 billion people now.  And with those numbers rising by nearly 80 million a year, and I know that that crowding is leading to incredible marginalization of hundreds of millions of people in an extremely dangerous way.  People you don’t see that we would not naturally think about that are pundits and editorial writers and our government officials no nothing about.

And it’s only because of my accidental luck personally to have gotten involved in very marginal communities and places in the world in marginal and an economic sense that I’ve been able to understand this because I never would have from what I learned across the parking lot in Littauer where I studied or when I was teaching because I didn’t know what I was talking about frankly.  For many, many years of teaching because I hadn’t seen these things with my own eyes.  So one part of this is crowding and that’s a term which for me means a number of things which I’ll explain, but it basically means a world that is not coming to grips with it’s interconnectedness, it’s diversity, and the pressure’s on the weakest and the most vulnerable in the planet which include more than one billion people.

The other big risk, very much interconnected with the first is related to a term that I like very much – coined by an atmospheric scientist who was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for discovering the chemistry that underlies the threat to ozone depletion.  A scientist named Paul Crutzen who coined the phrase for our age “the anthropocene.”  That’s a geological sounding term which he means to substitute for the technical term of our geologic epoch which is called the Holocene.  That’s the post ice-age era in which civilization has developed and now 6.7 billion of us live.

And what Crutzen said out of his deep awareness and deep understanding of the science of our time, is that humankind, the Anthropos, has taken over the earth’s physical systems in ways that we barely understand, but which are a profound threat for survival even.  And he should know because it was only by accident that while looking a possible implications of supersonic transport technologies in the early 1970s, he and others started to think about how certain chemicals – the chlorofluorocarbons which were felt to be inert, safe, clever ways to get your deodorant under your arms through aerosols, would actually threaten the planet.  So it was an accidental discovery that CFC’s would actually become chemically active as they rose through the stratosphere and the chlorine atoms then would decompose the ozone level.  And it took brilliant, completely accidental sleuthing by a number of scientists to uncover this.

We happened then to have a massive satellite up in the sky that could take a picture of the ozone hole over Antarctica which became one of the most famous pictures of the second half of the 20th century.  And the combination of the science and the ability to measure it and confirm it led to a series of global agreements that for a change, actually, have more or less delivered what they promised showing that it is possible to reach global agreements on these issues.

I find this example pregnant with all sorts of important meaning.  First, the ability of humankind to fundamentally disrupt the biosphere.  That’s pretty good of us.  That’s not so easy to do.  Second, the fact that massive, major things can happen without any awareness and it’s only an accidental scientific discovery.  Whether it was the chain of effect of DDT through the food cycle but Rachel Carson made famous in Silent Spring, or the far more important effects of CFC’s on the ozone level.  But these were things that were not understood.  There was no search for their effect, they were only accidentally discovered.  And, third, the fact of the matter that what we’re doing ecologically, is at such a massive and growing scale, and so multi-dimentional, so multi-faceted, so far beyond our measuring systems, our technical knowledge right now, so unprecedented in extent, and of course, not exactly the burning issues of our “drill baby drill” campaign right now, that we’re not exactly on top of this.

When you put these two facts together – a crowded world experiencing still massive technical change, and massive increases of natural resource use and an environment already under pervasive threat only poorly understood, and politically almost not in anybody’s focus.  And with most of the world including most of this country are not even aware of it.  I say we’ve got a massive problem, and I think it’s going to be intra-connected set of challenges that will be your generations leading challenges.  Not the ones we talk about every day.  But these are going to be the challenges that will become the centerpiece of the global reality whether they ever become the centerpiece of our politics or not.

I see three fundamental problems then that need addressing and they’re all interconnected . . . .

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Part II of this series will pick up there.  To watch the 90-minute video of Professor Sachs’s remarks, click here.

Posted in Events, Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Jeff Sachs Speaks for the Voiceless at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 21, 2008

From Sam Flaks’s article in the Harvard Law Record.

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Dr. Jeffrey Sachs spoke to a packed hall in an address entitled “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future,” on the morning of Thursday, September 11, 2008. The passionate but precise economist called for the recognition of the intermeshed dilemmas posed by an overcrowded planet and an increasingly interconnected globe. Sachs’ appearance was organized by Professor Jon Hanson, Carol Igoe, Jon Taylor ’10, and an inter-year committee of students from Section VI.

Sachs, who is one of the leading international economists of his generation, is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a non-profit organization attempting to end global poverty. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, ”The End of Poverty” and ”Common Wealth”. Given that ”Time” listed Sachs as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2004 and 2005, it was unsurprising that a standing-room only crowd packed Austin North to hear him at 8:15 A.M.

In his address, Sachs emphasized that the world faces many grave problems. He bewailed that the general public, politicians, and the media are ignorant of the desperate straits of marginalized communities living in the world’s poorest places. Sachs confessed that he himself would have never understood the straits of deathly parched countries like Somalia without seeing them with his own eyes. The direct connection between the hurricanes and tsunamis that have killed hundred of thousands in recent years and the economic and environmental policies of Western democracies is being generally ignored. However, Sachs has made it his mission to educate others about these connections and to fight for change.

Sachs call for engagement was also starkly political. Though he criticized both John McCain and Barack Obama for not engaging the long-term geopolitical problems facing America, Sachs reserved his harshest criticism for the Republican. Sachs predicted that if McCain is elected, the probability of global crisis will rise a few percentage points. He described McCain’s worldview as epitomizing the mindset that defines America and Islam in self-fulfilling and self-defeating “us and them” terms. In response to a question from the audience, Sachs observed that extremely impoverished places can not be politically stable. America would be safer if it devoted more resources to providing renewable energy rather than military spending, he said.

Sachs urged his audience of law students to use the technical skills that they were gaining in the service of ethical goals and to combat environmental and economic disparities that are spurring ethnic conflict across the globe. Specifically, he called for lawyers to support the legal foundations of international treaties that will be necessary to deal with worldwide environmental problems. More broadly, Sachs shared his belief that that the world’s social problems could only be solved if people become more scientifically literate. He pointed out that many crucial threats facing the planet are recognized by the scientific community many years before the general public. Sachs recommended that everyone read Science to keep abreast with new developments that may have important bearing on social problems.

Student reaction to Sachs’s address was generally positive, though many students left with heavy hearts. One student confessed that the Sachs had made him feel bad about his incipient career as a corporate lawyer. Indeed, another student who had come to Harvard to with the intention of helping solve international poverty admitted to this reporter that he avoided the speech because he was too guilt stricken to attend. Nonetheless, the electric humming at the close of the event indicated that many students had been inspired by Sachs’ words and example.

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In the upcoming weeks, The Situationist will post rough transcripts of portions of Sachs’s remarkable talk.

To watch the 90-minute video, click here.

Posted in Conflict, Education, Events, Geography, History, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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