This is yet another classic from Jeffrey Sachs. Here is the most comprehensive and compelling list of issues facing Mother Earth in the twenty first century and also some excellent prescriptions for sustainable and inclusive global economic growth.
The list of "six earth changing trends" starts with convergence. Thanks to globalization and relatively peaceful environment despite some regional tensions, most developing countries are catching up fast for the lost time in the last three decades. Sachs explains the concept of convergence and a thumb rule for forecasting faster growth rates of poorer countries, relative to their income levels. The good news is that poorer countries can grow faster. The flip side is that there are about 6 times more people on this planet today than in 1830 and this is expected to grow by another 40 % to 9.2 billion by 2050. Assuming steady economic growth rates, the global GNP is expected to reach around $ 400 Trillion from the current $ 67 Trillion, a six fold increase.
The bad news is that this may not be achievable if we continue to adopt conventional technologies that deplete natural resources that have an adverse impact on the already fragile environment. Sachs quantifies his using the I = P*A*T equation, where the environmental impact of development equals the product of population, average income and the negative effect of conventional technologies. That means that by 2050, we would have environmental pollution levels that are about 8.4 times than today, which is clearly unsustainable. Hence the urgent need for adopting sustainable technologies on a rapid scale, whereby I=P*A/S where S in the denominator stands for sustainable technologies.
The impact of global warming is also explained extremely well. Global warming caused primarily by CO2 is discussed in detail. The analysis of the rise in global temperatures as a consequence of CO2 levels rising from 280 ppm in 1950 to around 380 ppm today is alarming. Global warming is a vicious cycle since more CO2 in the atmosphere traps more infrared rays from being reflected back into outer space, thereby further increasing atmospheric temperatures. The warmer oceans in turn release the dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere, adding fuel to fire. Sachs points out to the availability of vast carbon resources that can be gainfully utilized to meet our energy needs, while simultaneously using Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies to contain CO2 emissions.
Larger populations need more food. Increasing incomes and urbanization means we have lesser people in villages to grow more food from the same acreage of land. It is interesting to note that in the year 2008, for the first time in the history of humanity, 50% of the people are now living in urban areas. The net addition of population from now till 2050 is likely to be added in urban areas. This calls for substantial increase in agricultural productivity in rural areas. Unfortunately, water emerges as a major constraint due to excessive usage, run-offs, depletion of ground water and mismanagement. Global warming further adds to the crisis due to melting of glaciers and increasing variability in rainfall. Moreover water has spillover effects and hydrological interdependence in scare regions can cause severe tensions and conflicts.
We enter the new millennium with such daunting challenges, as well as with a sixth of the world's population trapped in severe poverty. Sachs then turns to his favorite topic of global cooperation to end poverty as pledged by the Millennium Development Goals. Starting from increasing agricultural productivity through high yielding, drought resistant, low tillage crops using modern irrigation techniques, he explains how we can lift the subsistence economies into the first rung of the ladder of development. Small investments in providing treated mosquito nets and spraying of houses can significantly reduce incidents of malaria and improve health and life expectancy.
Markets alone cannot solve global problems of this scale. Public participation and funding of infrastructure, basic education and health care are some of the critical items that markets tend to ignore. Poor countries are in desperate need for aid to free themselves from the poverty trap. For the G-8 it is a matter of adhering to the promise of 0.7 % of GNP towards developmental aid. Unfortunately, this is not met. Sachs once again makes a passionate appeal for adherence to these promises.
There is a separate chapter on US foreign policy, which comes under heavy criticism for excessive defense expenditure to the tune of about $ 1.5 billion a day while totally neglecting economic aid and diplomatic initiatives. Long term solution to peace is economic development and not military intervention argues Sachs.
Overall, the emphasis of the book is on sustainable development and the urgent need to eliminate poverty, two basic duties that all of us as global citizens need to own. In addition, all institutions, Governments, NGOs, Universities, Multinationals and Charitable Institutions should play a significant role. Classic examples of such successful global co operations in the past include eradication of small pox and Asia's Green Revolution.
Two other books that I recommend as worthy supplementary readings are:
1. The end of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
2. The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier
The time for action is now.