Land of Hope


The article from Time Magazine, demonstrates how innovative environmental policies are pushing back the deserts.

Turning threats into opportunity: economists have a word for climate change: externality, meaning a by-product of economic activity not included on the balance sheet. It can be positive (a beekeepers' bees pollinating neighboring crops) or negative (pollution from a power station). If the beekeeper doesn't charge for pollination or the energy company doesn't pay a pollution tax, the price of honey or power does not reflect its true benefit or cost. Climate change is the mother of all negative externalities.

What if the externality could be accounted for, in a way that helped the poor? What if the economic rule book could be rewritten so that fighting climate change became development? Pavan Sukhdev, a Deutsche Bank economist working with UNEP, is doing just that — or rather, as Sukhdev prefers to describe it, he's "rediscovering" some long-lost economic principles. In the 20th century, he says, two bad assumptions crept into the dismal science. The first was that public goods — things we consume together, like clean air and sewage-free seas — were subordinated to private goods, like cars and iPods, which are consumed individually. Second, we assumed natural capital like trees, grasslands, wind, sunshine, water and soil had no value because it was mostly free; we also assumed it was not as good as industrial capital at creating wealth. "Guess what," says Sukhdev. "That's some pretty bad economics." To make his case, he cites an effort to remove imported water-intensive plants from a drought-stricken part of South Africa; the project restored the water table, revived farming and gave paid work to hundreds. He also points to environmental activist Wangari Muta Maathai's Nobel Prize — winning tree-planting project on Mount Kenya, which improved farm productivity by boosting soil quality and water retention.