Click the audio player to hear my interview (5:30) with the esteemed economist and academic Jeffrey Sachs.
I have the utmost respect for Mr. Sachs and the tireless work he is doing on sustainability and poverty alleviation. I have my doubts, however, about his comments in our interview that we can somehow achieve high living standards for all while also limiting climate change and environmental deterioration. He didn’t go into detail about how this could be achieved and I’m still waiting for an economist to explain this to me. Facing an extremely serious environmental predicament and a population projected to grow to 9 billion by mid-century, we will likely have to think hard about what we mean by “better living conditions for all” as Sachs describes it. Is he talking about western-style living standards for everyone or some other notion of prosperity?
Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. In 2004 and 2005 he was named among the 100 most influential leaders in the world by Time Magazine. He is also Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. From 2002 to 2006, he was Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed goals to reduce extreme poverty, disease, and hunger by the year 2015. Sachs is also President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty.
He is widely considered to be the leading international economic advisor of his generation. For more than 20 years Professor Sachs has been in the forefront of the challenges of economic development, poverty alleviation, and enlightened globalization, promoting policies to help all parts of the world to benefit from expanding economic opportunities and wellbeing. He is also one of the leading voices for combining economic development with environmental sustainability, and as Director of the Earth Institute leads large-scale efforts to promote the mitigation of human-induced climate change.
Not to be a total downer (see the uplifting post below on the state of the world’s rivers), but according to new research released this week, more than a fifth of the world’s plant species faces the threat of extinction, a trend with potentially catastrophic effects for life on Earth. Up until now, the earth’s mammals were thought to be more seriously imperiled by the risk of extinction but the study, entitled Sampled Red List Index for Plants, concludes that plants are just as threatened as mammals. The research provides a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world’s estimated 380,000 plant species is known.
Why should we care about some trees and shrubs? Quite simply, because plants provide the foundation for most of the world’s ecosystems and are vital for providing food, clean water and soil, medicine and regulating our climate. And the reason for the demise of plants? You guessed it – humans. One of the greatest threats facing plants today, is the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture or livestock use. The report says that human activities (81 percent) far outweigh natural threats (19 percent) to plant biodiversity and are being fueled by agriculture, logging, plantations and livestock. And the most threatened habitat is tropical rainforest.