THE CRITICAL LINK BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE AND POVERTY
A Discussion at the 2008 Global Philanthropists Circle Annual Meeting, September 23, 2008, The Rockefeller University Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Dining Room, New York City
Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and Founder, Green Belt Movement
Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University
Moderated by Adele Simmons, Board of Directors, Synergos
ADELE SIMMONS: This has been an extraordinary day and we have to reflect to think about really critical issues. We want to close with what we think is really one of the most important challenges facing all of us.
I’m Adele Simmons. I’ve been on the board of Synergos forever. I’ve been a member of the GPC since it began and helped with the Synergos team putting together Global Giving Matters, which we all do have in the folder. A number of us who are active in the GPC, particularly Uday Khemka and Jeff Horowitz and I have been really thinking about the fact that the focus of the GPC work is around poverty. And a lot of us are also very interested in climate. And the nexus between poverty and climate is becoming clearer to us every day.
So let me start with two things. The first is that we’ve just put together a very kind of brief guide on climate change and poverty, and we’ll be getting that to all of you soon. It needs one more round of editing before I’m willing to let it into the wider world. And that really reflects the beginning of a conversation that we hope to see have happen.
I would like to thank all of those who came to the dinner last night, where we began to talk about ideas about how to link these two issues within the GPC and say that any of you who are interested in joining that conversation, please let me or Beth Cohen or someone know. We’d be happy to enlarge the group.
Today, to really get the conversation started with a wider group within the GPC, we have here one extraordinary person, whose been thinking about this for a long time and coming soon, Jeff Sachs , who is edly minutes away. What I want to do though is introduce them both and then Jeff will just join us when he gets here.
Jeff has been working on the nexus of poverty and climate for a long time. As head of the Earth Institute at Columbia, he has put together the Global Roundtable on Climate Change, which has brought business leaders from around the world to think about the issue of climate change and particularly mitigation. Jeff has also led in the development of the Millennium Development Goals. He was working as a special advisor to UN Secretary-General, and in that list of development goals is the seventh, sustainability, which ties in to what we’re talking about now. And he’s also taken his development ideas to Millennium Villages in Africa. Jeff, in short, is working on poverty and climate, and he is passionate about how to interrelate it. He has also just finished a book. This is going to be a little book announcement for everybody, called Commonwealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet.
Wangari Maathai is a long-time friend. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. It’s a grassroots development movement and the word climate at a time of change was not really a part of our vocabulary at that time. But she started by planting seeds and uses that as an entry point to engage a range of development issues, including education, health and others. She has now linked her work with the Green Belt Movement to the climate issue, and has also provided leadership in preserving the entire Congo Basin, one of the largest forests that we have available, and one that needs attention and help.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee understands that one of their roles is to give visibility to people, and ideas that need it and that are important. Wangari has used her platform as they hoped. She has gone, spoken endlessly and tirelessly about the issues of importance to her and to the world. And for that we thank you. And I’m sure some airlines also thank you.
Last week’s New York Times had a review of two books about Wangari. They’re both children’s books, which I think, given our earlier conversation, is particularly important. Planting the Trees of Kenya, the other is Wangari’s Trees of Peace. So I urge all of you grandparents or parents to go out and begin to -- actually, you’re already doing it, but you may want to bring it into the life of your grandchildren and children. Thank you for coming.
What I thought I’d do is start the conversation before Jeff gets here, which really is a question that we were talking about yesterday a little bit, which is how do you engage and involve the kind of people at the grassroots level with the climate issue? What’s your entry point? Do they care? How do you start?
WANGARI MAATHAI: Well thank you very much, Adele, and thank you all for having us today. Peggy, thank you so much. We have many, many friends in the audience, with whom we have walked along these paths for many years, trying to be useful.
I started by first going to school and actually believing that I belonged in the university. I wanted to be a professor, and when I almost got there, I wanted to be a vice chancellor. But, I was finding it rather difficult, cause at that time, it was difficult to see a woman professor, let alone a vice chancellor. But, in the course of that, I got involved in 1975 with a party that women at that time had succeeded in convincing the United Nations to convene a Women’s Conference, the very first one, which was was in Mexico in 1975. And it was there that women declared the first Women’s Decade.
And I got involved because I was in the university, so I came to present a position of university women. That became a turning point for me to cut a long story short, because I listened to the women who were dealing with the countryside. They were getting water from the river, they were collecting firewood, they were growing their own food, they needed an income in their pocket, and they were also engaged in growing cash crops, but they we are poor. So I said at least we can get to plant trees, and if we planted the trees, we would get the women firewood and be able to hold the soil, so that you stopped soil erosion. So they started to grow their crop seeds. And they would be able to get fodder for their animals. And if they planted fruit trees, they would supplement their diets. And the trees, hold the soil, they would also hold the water, and the water would be going into the ground. It would keep the ground wet, and also replenish the underground water resource.
So somehow I found an opportunity to connect biological sciences with the needs of these women.
That was the beginning of our campaign to plant trees. And it was the beginning of beginning to understand the linkage between what we talk about in institutions or in boardrooms and what is happening in the field. And in the course of all that time, I managed to convince the women that they plant trees, it’s good for them. I didn’t start with the saying it’s good for the environment, because they didn’t understand what that means. I said, “ It’s good for you,” and they could see that. And at that time, we were talking about income generation, so I thought, if the women planted trees, and it let them survive, which is extremely important. Planting trees, no big deal; letting them survive, that’s where the challenge is. Well, for every tree that survived, the Green Belt Movement would compensate with the women with a small token of appreciation. It’s not much money. And the environment would benefit, the women would benefit, and they would have the income that they needed. So that’s how we engaged in them. That was 30 years ago.
Today, we engage them by if you stand anywhere where you can see Mount Kenya, or you can see Kilamanjaro, you can actually see now with a naked eye that the snow, the ice on the mountain, is for many people don’t know what it is. They have yet to see white stuff up there for as long as they can remember. And many of them have a spiritual connection with these mountains, because of that white stuff at the top. They don’t know that it’s frozen water. But as it is disappearing, they are beginning to see the connection. They are beginning to see that the rivers are drying up; that the streams are drying up; that the rainfall factor is changing; that the rains are not coming as expected; that the crops are strained; that the animals die. And now if you tell them, “ Guess what? This thing is called ’Climate Change.’” They don’t know what it is, but they can see what it does in their lives. And usually we tell them, the only way we can fight this is by planting trees. And there we need to plant the trees also to stop this thing that is making the white stuff melt and the river dry, and their crops fail, and their livestock die. As we speak here, the Northeastern part of Kenya is experiencing a very strong drought that is literally killing hundreds of animals of the herdsmen.
So that’s how we connect. It’s very important for us to connect there. And then from there we are able to go to the ministries of environment, to ministries of water and talk to the government. And ask the government to protect forests, the remaining forests, because if they don’t protect the forests
And here comes our good friend, Jeff. Welcome, Jeff.
So, making the connection at the moment with climate change, it’s important to make the connection with the local people, because they are the victims of what is happening, even though if you have them, you’ll say, “ That’s how God operates.” Sometimes he gives you rain, sometimes he doesn’t. But the ministries also need to be approached so that they can take the action that only they can take. And one that we have been concerned about is protecting the little forests, the few forests that are left.
In the past, we have had the misfortune of having politicians who rewarded their supporters by giving them chunks of forests. And now we are trying to convince the government and to a certain extent the government is convinced, but now the government is the one that is pushing the way we used to push, to say that everybody must move out of the forest. And there is that little push and pull, because some politicians don’t want those people out, because they say, “ Those are our people. They shouldn’t be moved out of the forests.”
But protecting forests especially is extremely important, because that means you can - at least when the rains come -- you can capture the rains, you can capture the water, and the rivers can continue flowing, and the rainfall pattern might not be so very much changed. Crops might grow, and harvest might be better, and the animals might thrive, and especially wildlife. And if wildlife is thriving in Africa, that means tourism is thriving, and the government is getting an income, so that it can carry out with some of the essentials that it gives to the people.
So all of these things are very much connected. And I’m sure Jeffrey Sachs is going to talk about it. But, for me, I usually say that if you take the Millennium Development Goal Number Seven -- Environmental Sustainability -- you should have worried about the Millennium Development Number One: poverty. But no matter what you do to the Goal Number One, if the Goal Number Seven is kaput, as they say in German, you won’t do anything about the other goals, because the environment is the base, and we need to take care of the base, so that we can also meet the other goals. I’ll stop there.
Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureate and Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Adele Simmons of Synergos Board of Directors
SIMMONS: Jeff, you’ve already been introduced.
JEFFREY SACHS: I say we just continue to listen to Wangari. There’s nothing more fun in the world than listening to Wangari.
SIMMONS: You’ve already been introduced. And what I’d like to do is maybe go back a level and could you just talk, I think we all now understand that the IPCC, the Intergovernmetnal Panel on Climate Change, has really said there is a connection between climate change and poverty. Could you just take a minute and talk about and share with the audience what you think the most devastating impact of climate change on the floor?
SACHS: First, let me apologize to everybody. It’s very crowded these days at the U.N., and I had to re-read President Bush’s speech several times to really verify that he didn’t mention Millennium Development Goals one time in his address to the United Nations. He did not mention environment one time, he did not mention climate one time. But he did mention terrorists 31 times. This is no laughing matter. This is what’s going to get our world blown up.
And it’s very precarious because people don’t know. But if we continue this much longer, we won’t have a banking sector, we won’t have a financial system, we’ll have no friends, we’ll have no allies, we’ll have no solution to any global problems. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re on our way to war. And we’re trying to solve problems about poverty and climate and so forth, and war can solve nothing. I’m afraid that one of the candidates, Senator McCain, is likely to continue. I’m not hear on a partisan basis, but I’m worried. And to have the president come during the Millennium Development Goals week and not find the gumption to say the words one time, is really a measure of what’s wrong with this country. It’s terrible. And it’s not disconnected from the financial crisis; it’s all the most profound mismanagement. The lack of willingness to look anything in the future. Here, we’re talking about sustainability. They can’t look more than two days ahead. It’s disgusting.
The world’s in a troubled place for lots of reasons. The planet is very crowded right now, unprecedentedly so. We have 6.7 billion people on the planet trying to have a foothold. Of course, we’ve never had a population like this that continues to rise by 80 million a year. The use of natural resources continues at an extraordinary rate, even with our U.S. recession, it’s gonna be quite a recession. The rise of fossil fuel use will continue. It’s not an accident that oil prices remain at above $100 a barrel. We’re depleting fossil fuel. We’re depleting fossil water the same way. That’s as valuable to the farmers in the Gangetic Plain or the North China Plain or the farmers in Oklahoma, the Ogallala Reservoir. All that ground water that’s fossil water, you can deplete it the same way you do coal and gas and oil. We’re running through these resources like there’s no tomorrow and we’re not even discussing what we’re doing.
And in this country, “ Drill, baby, drill,” is the slogan of the Republican Party. It brings cheers and laughs, as if this were a game show. All of the oil underground in the continental shelf and in the Alaska nature refuge amounts to far less than one year’s consumption of oil, maybe 21 billion barrels. We’re consuming more than 30 billion barrels a year worldwide by the time China continues to grow, which as an economist, I keep working towards, because I like that, that other countries have their chance economically. And India and Africa. All this argument about the offshore oil means nothing in the broad scheme of things. It’s just stupid, shortsighted greed. There’s not a sensible thought in the heads of these people, I’m sorry.
Climate change is already devastating a lot of the world. Make no mistake about it. This has nothing to do with waiting for your children or grandchildren. You go to the African Savannah, or to the African Sahel, the rainfall has already gone down sharply. The unpredictability of the rains has soared already. The short rains fail in so many of the communities we’re working in with regularity now, when they used to be systematic short-range season for plantings and vegetables, some pulses, some additional crops, maybe some millet or something. Now you can’t do that in the Ethiopian villages where we’re working, because the short rains don’t even come anymore.
Rainfall in Darfur has gone down by about 35-40%. Make no mistake about it -- Darfur is a water war. We call it geopolitics. John McCain says it’s Islamic extremism. We want to put everything into politics but there are too many people relative to the water. The population has gone up seven or eight times in the last 75 years. The rainfall has gone down by half. So, nomadic populations in Northern Darfur moved to Southern Darfur, and tried ethnic cleansing of farm communities in the South. Why? Not out of sport, but out of water need. It’s terrible; it’s dreadful. So what do we do? We want to send the military. We go strafe to communities in Somalia or the Ogaden or elsewhere, because of terrorism, we say, when there’s just not enough water. Why don’t we send engineers? Why don’t we go put in irrigation? Why don’t we actually think for a change, before we bomb? It’s not true what you read in your newspaper that everyone under American bombs is insurgents. They are mostly families with children, because we got the wrong logic in this situation. We’re trying to solve water problems and climate problems through military means.
And this is happening all over the world. In Haiti, three devastating hurricanes in a row. Well the place has been destroyed. How are they going to eat? Do you think we have an emergency session of Congress to help Haiti find the means to eat? You’re kidding? You think they thought about it one moment? No way. That’s Haiti. That has nothing to do with us. And those hurricanes have nothing to do with us. And the big typhoons, which we know are in increasing intensity, nothing to do with us. So we’re playing games, ladies and gentleman. It’s like a reality TV show. Our politics, the way we talk, the way we think, the way we vote, just don’t pick a president that you want to have a beer with.
SIMMONS: As all of you can tell, as you all know, this is a very complicated and important time. And as we try to move back to this larger issue that is with us, and we hope to address, I have a couple questions. One is, what is the role of private donors in the climate area? And, two, there’s a lot of discussion now about mitigation versus adaptation. And how do we figure out -- is one more important than the other? How do we address that tension between adaptation and mitigation? Wangari, you go ahead.
MAATHAI: Well, I think that, in my opinion, sitting in the countryside or even in the big cities where we come from, as I was explaining, for many people it’s very difficult to imagine the whole issue of climate change. They hear some of us mention these terms when we make discussions on radio or television. But they hear it on the decline. What they understand is what has happened right there in front of them, the disappearing rains, the thinning crops, the drying up rivers, things like that. It’s what they understand.
So what can we do to help them mitigate? Well it depends on the actions that are being recommended. Some actions obviously, the local people can do. And one of them is take care of their land. Make sure that the soils are protected from being washed away. Make sure that trees are planted, not only as a source of of energy, because they continue to burn wood, and as they burn wood, they are contributing to the greenhouse gases.
So one way in which we can help encourage them is to say, “ Since you have to cook, and you have to cut the trees, just make sure that you plant more than you are cutting.” And, contribute, especially if you live near the forest, to making sure that the forests are protected. Help the government protects these forests so that we do not add more to the greenhouse gases that we are adding.
As for the government, as I was saying earlier, the government has its own activities that it can do. Now, we have, in our discussions, we tended to accuse others of pumping a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and almost to say, “ We are not making any contributions to that.” Almost to point a finger and say, “ Well somebody else has to fix this up, because we are not contributing.” But we actually are contributing a lot, and people needed to know that. And especially we are doing through deforestation. I was shocked, as I was saying yesterday, to learn that deforestation, especially in our country, is contributing 20% of the greenhouse gases, and that that 20% is greater than what is being emitted by the entire transport sector put together. That was, for me, an eye-opener, because I didn’t know that. I am a Goodwill Ambassador of the Congo forest. I am always saying we must protect our forest, we must protect vegetation, we must increase vegetation, but I didn’t know that we were doing more through deforestation than the entire transport sector.
So that’s an area where we can make a contribution, by cutting down on that deforestation.
Now, you can work with the communities, but you also need the government, because the government is the one that is managing forests. So, there are things that we can do, and there are things that of course beyond us. We suffer from lack of technology and lack of capital. So sometimes we find it very difficult to say, “ Well, the government, why can’t you invest in wind energy, solar energy?” Now sometimes these things look very cheap because the wind is free. The sun is free. But the technology is prohibitively expensive. So if you have to contribute this way, then we need to work together with the developed countries so that they can make these technologies affordable to our governments.
And we also need responsible government. It’s very good to hear Professor Jeffrey Sachs talk about government here the way he’s talking. But, we need to be just as angry with our government, because quite often they are not doing anything to invest in say solar or in wind, but they are willing to invest in guns, because there are so many conflicts in Africa.
Well I am giving you too many examples. But it is to say that there are certain things we can do, the communities, individuals, can do something but governments need to do ... this is one issue where no one sector can do it alone. So we need to work together within countries, governments, communities, and at the group level, we need to really work together.
Beth Cohen, Senior Director of the Global Philanthropists Circle, and Wangari Maathai
SACHS: I will add on a few points, very quickly, to give a mapping of these two interrelated but distinct issues, mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, about 80% of those emissions are carbon dioxide. The second big category is methane and the third is nitric oxide.
On the carbon dioxide, about 80% of those emissions are from fossil fuels. And 20%, as Wangari said, are from deforestation and land changes. On the fossil fuel side, the biggest category is electricity production: power plants. Then comes industry, like refineries, steel, cement, petro-chemicals, automobiles and other transports, but largely automobile use, and heating and cooling of buildings. Those are the main categories.
So when you try to come up with a strategy on mitigation, you have to go to power plants and find alternatives, either capturing the carbon dioxide or renewable energy sources. You have to go to long-mileage automobiles, like plug-in hybrids, especially plugged into a clean power grid. You have to go to alternative industrial processes, like carbon capture at the big steel works or refineries at the chemical facilities. And you have to go to green buildings on the building side to use less active ventilation through electricity and more through passive solar and other methods. There are a lot of green buildings and technologies.
Stopping deforestation happens to be an area that’s both adaptation and mitigation. That’s a very nice example, as Wangari said. Now some mitigation could rally help adaptation also. Adaptation means living with climate change.
What do poor people need to live with climate change, for example? Water control. This is essential. Water is probably the number one immediate risk of climate change, in many forms -- water drought, floods, extreme weather events. I see a lot of drought. I don’t see as many floods in the areas we’re working, but other places have massive flooding. They’re both devastating.
Water control requires energy. Solar power, for example, for water control is both a mitigation and an adaptation strategy. Interestingly for Africa, there is a lot of sunshine there. And there are large parts of Africa that are basically not at the equator, but pole-ward of the equator, north and south, that are either sahel, meaning sub-desert, or desert, that have tremendous insulation and could provide electricity through solar power for the whole continent. And North Africa and the Sahara could export to Europe, and that’s how it’s going to be, probably in 50 years from now, that a lot of European power will come from high-voltage, direct current transmission from solar-powered electricity in Northern Africa.
So there is a very fascinating mix of projects that could provide improved living conditions and a mitigation strategy at the same time.
For philanthropists, I would suggest one question for you, because I think that there are different styles of philanthropy, obviously, and different purposes. One is to support the fantastic projects that are underway, help them to operate, help them to scale up. I think Green Belt is a very worthy example -- it probably deserves a Nobel Prize I think ...
... and is an example of where philanthropy can play a huge role.
Another kind of philanthropy I would call “ Venture Philanthropy” of the search for solutions. Maybe deploying new technology in a demonstration project. Helping to introduce a new approach, doing something scientific in terms of experimenting with alternative ways.
Philanthropy is wonderful for doing that. Indeed, the most important philanthropy, by far, of the 20th century was where we’re sitting, the Rockefeller Foundation. It was the most transformative philanthropy of the 20th Century, because it went for ideas, and so it got the Green Revolution. It rid Brazil of anopheles gambiae. It got the yellow fever vaccine. It invented modern public health, an event in clinical medicine, essentially.
Everything the Rockefeller Foundation touched turned into gold. It was the most unbelievable 75 years ... it’s still doing great things, but there was a period, and I don’t mean in any way to say it’s not doing great things, but there was a period where everything was fundamentally world-changing, one after another. And I hope it continues in that way, we hope that the project of Rockefeller and Gates right now to try to instill a new Green Revolution in Africa, like Rockefeller did in India 50 years ago will come to fruition.
So this is just a point that I want to stress. It’s a very different kind of philanthropy. I think it has huge returns, high-risk, fascinating, but because government is so bad at this typically, and because science is not a paying venture by itself, especially good science in the public domain is not a paying venture, this is an area of extraordinarily high return, I would say its social value. Given the historic place where we’re sitting, I feel that it’s important to stress that even more than usual.
SIMMONS: And, Jeff, you make the really important link between activities that may have a direct mitigation of adaptation affecting climate and what I call areas where there are co-benefits. They help improvements, for example, when someone is cooking in a hut with solar energy instead of wood burning fuel, and what that does to your kid’s health, their breathing.
SACHS: And that’s more than a million children’s death per year, the particular genesis of acute lower respiratory infection. So children die in massive numbers of living in these smoke-filled huts, no chimney, grease stove fires, three stone stoves, it’s another example of the kinds of things that can be done. Safe drinking water.
SIMMONS: There are a lot of areas where there are these co-benefits. I could listen to these wonderful people forever. I’d like to turn it over to the audience to see what questions you have. But before I do that, I would really like to recognize really a couple of GPC members, who are providing extraordinary leadership in this area. And one is the Hardy’s who have built a school in Bali that is a completely green and wonderful school. I gather it’s about three months into starting, so we’ll -- three weeks, okay. But, anyway, it’s a wonderful model of a very omni-grammed project. And then Jeff Horowitz has just led us through an extraordinary day yesterday, focusing on deforestation with Al Gore and a lot of other people, really bringing attention to the ways in which, particularly tackling markets, can help with that. So there are others of you who are involved.
There is Uday Khemka, who is the leader of us all. Uday has started the Climate Change Philanthropy Action Network and has really served as the focal point for bringing together donors to talk about how philanthropists engage this issue. And he was also the moving force behind this effort to say, “ Let’s really find ways to make the climate issue with the Global Philanthropist Circle’s focus on poverty.” And as those of us who were at the dinner last night were reminded, Uday is really passionate when it comes to this the subject.
Uday, do you want to say anything? You should have a chance to say something at this point.
Global Philanthropists Circle Member Uday Khemka
UDAY KHEMKA: Well, I would just add my words of enormous thanks to both of you for being here with all of us. It’s really an honor for all of the GPC members, and we’re thrilled and you’ve been leading in your own fields for so many years, fighting this battle when no one else was even really focused on it, so thank you again. Adele, congratulations again on everything you’ve done in Chicago, which is extraordinary, and I’m trying to get you across to Delhi to talk, but I’m not sure how successful that will be.
I over the last two or three years have come to believe, as you use the word “ passionately,” that there are enormous opportunities for strategic philanthropy in the white spaces that exist between governments, businesses and some of society more generally. I would really invite everyone to be engaged in various ways, and we hope from last night’s dinner to launch something under your leadership, Adele, and with others, and Jeff, and others that really hopefully will engage with all of you and with our friends across outside the GPC -- you know, in the wider family and community.
And I had a couple questions. May I ask them, Adele, with your permission?
The first is, Jeff, a couple of years ago, you were very focused on a critical area, which really in China is absolutely central, which is how we deal with the problem of coal-fired power plants and particularly pilot projects in the IGCC [integrated gasification combined cycle] and CCS [carbon capture and sequestration] area. I know you were pushing that passionately and a year and a half later, or two years later, it’d be lovely to hear how that’s going and what hope there is for all of us who might end up running 19th century economies instead of 21st century economies.
And the second question is, to pick up on Adele’s question on strategic philanthropy, we are not living in a random time. We’re living in 18 months before Copenhagen. What can strategic philanthropy do on the road to Copenhagen? What can we do as a community to be helpful? Thank you.
SACHS: Very briefly, the problem with coal, of course, is that it is the most carbon dioxide per BTU of all the fuels because it’s basically carbon. When you burn carbon, you get carbon dioxide. India and China run on coal, to a large extent, and are going to continue to do so in the future. The most promising approach to squaring that with environmental sustainability is to capture and dispose of the carbon dioxide produced at the coal plants. And there are some very promising technologies, both with greenfield coal plants, where you have the advantage of new technology, for instance gasification that separates out a stream of carbon dioxide from hydrogen. Then you can bust the hydrogen to get water at the end, rather than carbon dioxide. And you take away the CO2 that you’ve separated through gasification. That’s called an IGCC plan.
The alternative is retrofitting, where you use certain kind of scrubbers or sorbets to take the carbon dioxide that comes out of even existing plants. Both kinds of technology are actually promising. They cost more than conventional plants, because if you don’t have to capture the carbon dioxide, let it go. But we do have to capture it from a global point of view.
The shocking thing that is as crucial as this is for anybody that spends their time doing the arithmetic of climate change, meaning tracking possible scenarios, there is no good low-cost solution. So let me put it this way -- yeah, no, that’s a good way to put it. No good low-cost solutions for this problem, without CCS, carbon capture and sequestration. We don’t know whether it’ll work, and if it doesn’t work, everything’s a lot more expensive than it looks right now. So we need to test this as an early node on the decision tree.
SIMMONS: Can I just interrupt and say but all of that is less expensive than not doing anything at all.
SACHS: Well if this works, the idea is that it’s maybe three cents per kilowatt hour in total cost. Thirty to $50 per ton of CO2 that is avoided, which translates roughly into three to four and a half cents per kilowatt hour. And that’s a great bargain compared to burning up the planet. That’s for sure. So we want to bear the extra costs.
Of course, we’d like the rich countries to bear the extra cost on behalf of the poor countries. That’s another part. But the cheap way to address this issue would be successful technology.
You might think, ladies and gentlemen, that therefore we would be led to actually try it. Well that escaped notice of the White House for eight years. Actually, in truth, there was a project called FutureGen that they went around in circles for five years and then canceled earlier this year. It’s a measure of how much time we’ve wasted and how those guys wasted our time, to put it in a different way. We need to get these projects in India and China. Two are on the drawing board in China right now, no ground has been broken. As far as I know, none in India. I sent a team twice from the York Institute to Hyderabad for a potential project in Andhra Pradesh. If we can somehow continue to focus in on that, maybe it can get done. India should not pay for that by and large. The US and Europe should pay for that. I’ll be meeting with a lot of European leaders in the next couple of days, and I make the point every time I do meet with them.
What could a philanthropy do in India? Set up a team of experts and advocates to promote the testing of CCS. Senior government officials said to me, “ Wouldn’t it blow up the ground to put all the carbon dioxide there?” The answer is, “ Most likely, no, I would say 0.000 to many decimal points, no.” But with that kind of view or misunderstanding, or maybe contrived position, we’re not going to get things going fast enough.
So one thing that philanthropy can do in a targeted way is to say, not that we’re going to build a power plant, unless you happen to have $500 million lying around. But I don’t regard that as really the role of philanthropy. But $1 million to get the scientific teams, the geologists, the advocacy, the knowledge, the effort, the blueprints, the international cooperation to get this done by a group, that’s hugely valuable.
And so that’s the kind of thing where I think a strategic role could be played, where governments almost inherently don’t play the role. Government leaders are not leaders, and government strategy is an oxymoron. There is no strategy. So that’s where targeted philanthropy can really work. That’s where targeted philanthropy can really help.
MAATHAI: I would like to say that yesterday we had a wonderful discussion with the Vice President, at Avoided Deforestation Partners and I would like to share with some of you about that.
I think that as we said there, it is extremely important that the American government provides the leadership in the post-Kyoto negotiations on the issues that are really ongoing, because we all know that the whole world looks at what America does, and if America doesn’t provide the leadership, a lot of governments will hide -- they hide not only in Copenhagen, but also when they get back home. So I think that your constituency can be very instrumental in working closely with initiatives such as what we had yesterday in order to raise awareness among the citizens, so that you can put pressure. We know that in this country, when there is pressure from the system, leaders react. It’s the same everywhere, but at least you hear that it’s efficient awareness and engagement, so that you can put pressure on your leaders, so that this time around, they come onboard and provide the leadership that is needed.
The other point that I would like to add is that there are initiatives that can be assisted to help especially the developing world to make an informed decision in Copenhagen and in the preparatory process. A lot of them don’t even know what they are negotiating about. And I think that I want to mention, for example, that Serge Bounda is here. Serge is from UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, and he works closely with me at that Congo. And we are trying to get the ten African governments who are committed to protect the Congo forest or at least to manage it more sustainably to understand. So there are many sorts of environment and forestry to understand how to negotiate, what to negotiate for, what this whole thing is all about. And you’ll be surprised how many of them have no clue. And so when they go to Copenhagen, they don’t know that that’s what they are campaigning for. So that’s where philanthropy could help. And I’m sure there are many initiatives like that helping, as we say, helping countries to be able to negotiate.
SIMMONS: And a really good example of that is around the IPCC, where the McArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation actually gave a grant to an organization, and their specific role was to inform the delegations from the smaller countries that didn’t have the staff and didn’t know it. So there’s a real structured way of doing that. I am going to be totally naïve and operate under the possibility that there is a short question and short answers. And if anybody is daring enough to try that, we’ll go ahead. Yes, sir?
Global Philanthropists Circle Member Gordon Smith
GORDON SMITH: I’ll try one. In China, there are more coal fires and so many coal fires underground that it produces more CO2 and greenhouse gases than all the emissions from cars and trucks in the United States. Is anyone working on putting the coal fires out in China? Shouldn’t they do that?
SACHS: I don’t know enough about it.
SMITH: Those are the statistics, I don’t know much about it.
JIN ZIDELL: I understand that there’s about a billion people or so who depend upon glacial water for their drinking water, and the billion people who, if that goes, the sea level rises up, and a billion people there ... what are the financial security interests for the United States and geopolitical implications if those two things can happen?
SACHS: It doesn’t take a billion people to be displaced to create a global catastrophe. And as we know, global disasters can inflame the whole world. So be sure that water crises are going to be, and already are, the front line of this. You often hear water could be the next oil, in terms of creating wars. Then you hear of the so-called knowledgeable opinion, “ No, that’s not true; there’s more cooperation around water than anything else.”
But the truth is, the next step. That’s also true, but there’s more breakdown ahead, because of water than just about anything else also. So we’re already seeing conflict. The point about the water crises is that, like everything in the environment these days, it’s multiple assaults. It’s change of the precipitation cycle, disappearance of glaciers, changing timing of snow melt, depletion of ground water, rising populations and heeding demands. So many things happening simultaneously, all pushing in the same direction towards increased stress.
SIMMONS: And Wangari, if you answer the question, can you help us end with a sense of what gives you hope?
MAATHAI: Before I do that, before I have the hope, I was just going to add onto what Professor Sachs was saying, and say that the one thing that we don’t see enough of, especially in our region, and I’m sure it’s so in many other countries, is harvesting of rainwater. So much of water falls when the rains come, and much of it just runs off, especially where deforestation has taken place, de-vegetation has taken place, and all that waters goes into the lakes and oceans and carries with it another very important natural resource that poor communities need, and that is the soil. So I think initiatives that are helping communities harvesting water, even if it is just to direct that water into the ground, with terraces and dishes and other very simple techniques that would have harvest a lot of that water and put it into the ground.
Quite often you hear people say, “ We will dig wells for them.” Well, if you dig wells, but you never harvest any water, these wells will have to go deeper and deeper, because the underground water is not being replenished with very simple tools.
What gives me hope? I don’t have another option. I have to keep telling myself, now what can I do? And now what can I do? And my biggest strategy is how can you make the communities on the ground realize that they are sitting on a time bomb?
I gave this example yesterday -- and I give it all the time, because to me it is devastating. I was flying in a small plane over Darfur, over Chad -- the capital is way in the south. So we flew all the way to the north, close to the Libyan border and Sudan, because we were going to the refugee camps of people running away from Darfur. What surprised me is the rate of desertification of that region. It is literally just turning into a desert, and you could often see where people had been, villages had been, cultivation had been, and you could see patches from the air. They moved when there was no more vegetation, no capacity of the land to sustain life.
I kept asking, “ Where did they go to?” because the further north I went the more desertified it became. I know that in the south, the southern border of Chad touches the Congo, so maybe that’s where they will eventually go.
Sometimes you feel extremely hopeless, but you can’t stay there. You have to wake up and see there is another alternative. For me, being in the Congo gives me a lot of hope.
SIMMONS: Jeff had a hope comment.
SACHS: At first that I had the same experience flying over Somalia recently. It was shocking. I’d never seen anything like it. So parched. So completely incapable of sustaining life over vast stretches -- it’s the same phenomenon.
Here’s the irony, and I think Wangari epitomizes it and explained it beautifully also: there are real solutions that are not crazy, they don’t break the bank like the banks are broken now (for completely other reasons). There are technologies that are highly promising or already existent that can make a vast difference. There are successes that we know are already in reach -- Africa could double its food production in the next five years, for example. It’s actually known how to do that. It wouldn’t cost very much at all. Just tiny fractions of what we spend on war, tiny fractions of what we’re about to spend on this bailout.
What we’re not doing is thinking, that’s all. We’re not saying that we have to solve problems globally. We’re fighting, we’re fearful, we’re in an us-versus-them mentality, and that is blocking all the practical solutions. There’s nothing hopeless about this situation, but there are a lot of things to do.
Our governments are not doing them right now. That’s why it’s really up to us -- there is no other way right now. This is not a crazy idea by the way. We really can solve a lot of problems. These things are not out of reach. Our governments are incapacitated and don’t understand what needs to be done. They are not structured in a way to even understand these points.
But they are our governments, at least till now, so they can be helped to reach an understanding. I think that is our role and I think that is our responsibility.
SIMMONS: I want to thank Jeffrey and Wangaari for this wonderfully wide-ranging discussion. Thank you.