Common Wealth, Economics For A Crowded Planet
Book Review: Common Wealth, Economics For A Crowded Planet
By Andreas von Warburg - See Also: The Gstaad Project
Some have acknowledged it as a masterpiece, a tinkerer’s manifesto. Some others have called it the perfect plan of a serious dreamer. Indeed, economist Jeffrey Sachs has given his best in his newly-released book “Common wealth, economics for a crowded planet,” published by the Penguin Press.
“Common wealth” is not another book about globalization and poverty. It is a roadmap to the course correction we must embrace for the sake of our common future. The book focuses on the vital need to pursue a new economic paradigm that has to be global, inclusive, cooperative, environmentally aware, and science based.
Sachs, currently the Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, argues that the global economic system now faces a sustainability crisis that will overturn many of our basic assumptions about economic life. The question the book tries to address is how bad it will have to get before we face the unavoidable.
“The world can certainly save itself, but only if we recognize accurately the dangers that humanity confronts together,” Sachs, author of the award-winning “The End of Poverty,” writes in his new book. “For that, we will have to pause from our relentless competition in order to survey the common challenges we face. The world’s current ecological, demographic, and economic trajectory is unsustainable, meaning that if we continue with ‘business as usual’ we will hit social and ecological crises with calamitous results.”
The author believes “the defining challenge of the twenty-first century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet.”
“That common fate will require new forms of global cooperation, a fundamental point of blinding simplicity that many world leaders have yet to understand or embrace”, Sachs says. “In the twenty-first century our global society will flourish or perish according to our ability to find common ground across the world on a set of shared objectives and on the practical means to achieve them.”
Sachs’s roadmap indicates that the cost to achieve humanity’s shared objectives are relatively low compared to the future our society could soon face.
“A group of global public investments, undertaken by the nations of the world, is needed in order to avert the greatest risks facing the world,” he writes. “The cost of these investments – to fight climate change, loss of biodiversity, rapid population growth, and extreme poverty – will not be large, especially if the costs are shared equitably among the world’s nations. The challenge lies not so much in the heroic efforts needed to avert catastrophe, but in the current difficulty of getting the world to agree on even modest efforts. We don’t need to break the bank, we only need common goodwill.”
The book addresses the threats posed by climate change and the need to invest on sustainable development as a mean to a prosperity that is globally shared and environmentally sustainable.
Sachs believes three steps are necessary in our quest for real sustainable development: sustainable technologies in a short period of time and on a global scale; stabilization of global population, in the poorest countries of the world in particular; help to developing and under-develop countries to escape poverty. “Market forces alone cannot solve these problems,” he says.
Sustainable development, Sachs says, is a key element to face climate change and global warming.
“Changing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will change not only temperatures but also many other aspects of the Earth’s chemical, climate, and biological processes,” Sachs writes in his book. “The precise scale of these effects is uncertain, but it is clear that they will operate globally and will effect society deeply, especially if we simply continue on our present course.”
With a simple example, Sachs shows that even slight changes in the Earth’s temperature, can cause dangerous, abrupt, and uncharted changes in the well-being of humanity and our own planet.
“It’s just like a fever,” Sachs says. “Going from 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 99.6 is unpleasant. Another degree id debilitating. Each additional degree of fever is even more threatening.”
Seemingly, he says, “the global costs of going from pre-industrial baseline temperature to 1 degree centigrade above the pre-industrial average will be modest.” “The next 1 degree (that is, up 2 degrees above the pre-industrial baseline) will be much more costly. Indeed, each incremental 1-degree increase will be very costly.”
The book shows how important our help is.
“I believe that it is as citizens of the world that we can flourish in the coming generation,” the author writes. “As individuals we will find the maximum outlet for our creative energies and income-earning potential when we are part of global networks, at work and at play. As individuals, our most important responsibility is a commitment to know the truth as best we can, truth that is both technical and ethical. Our generation’s greatest challenges are also our most exciting opportunities. Ours is the generation that can end extreme poverty, turn the tide against climate change, and head off a massive and thoughtless extinction of other species.”