25 November 2009
My favourite finding is still that deworming kids in Kenya at 50 cents each adds a year to their schooling. It's widely known in the academic community, but not enough outside it (and are there any case studies outside Kenya?).
My nomination for an eighth high-impact way to spend money is REDD: Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation. If done properly this could make a big contribution to carbon emissions cuts and help improve the productivity of smallholder agriculture at the same time. I have high hopes that this will form part of whatever deal emerges at Copenhagen; paradoxically, it may be easier to get it through if the rest of the summit is a flop, because the world will be desperate for some good news (though beware countries who think they can buy their way out of climate change on the cheap. We still has to replace those coal fired power stations with something better) . See here for a new Economist article about it.
What doesn't make the list? Stimulus packages, the war in Afghanistan and bank bail-outs. Personally, I think all three of the above are necessary to avert worse disasters (after all a global economic collapse would also cut the amount we can spend on development) but the ease with which we shovel vast amounts of money down the banks' throats is still staggering.
18 November 2009
(I'm not being smug: US and UK aren't much better. Corrupt politicians not given US visas - unless they have oil and a villa in Malibu, of course)
There is a paradox here. Australians are among the most ecologically stressed people in the world. Every year, wild bushfires lay waste to coastal forests, but the fires in
Some of the people who should lose the most from climate change are therefore among its stoutest deniers – while the population of certain European countries, whose idea of a heat wave is a week above 30 degrees, are up in arms. Why this self-defeating short-sightedness? Are the people in the pockets of BHP Billiton?
The healthcare system in the
Is this behaviour economically explicable? Selfishness does not explain why, in effect, people vote to increase the risk of bushfires or their chances of being undiagnosed with a disease for lack of insurance. Is it short-sightedness, a fear of uncertainty or simply a contrary instinct, one that assumes it is best to the opposite of whatever the government is advising? My current best guess is that it is to do with a long and tangled chain of causation. The link between burning coal in
02 November 2009
Beyond the biotech dichotomy, most contributors recognized that the solution to the food crisis will involve a combination of technologies, including some that don't exist yet. High-input farming depends on natural gas, which won't be around forever; water is running short in many grain-growing regions; a strictly organic world food system would be a disaster for forests, but many techniques from organic farming are useful and should be spread. It would probably help if the NGOs and corporations stopped insulting each other and worked together for a change.
If I could contribute to the debate, it would be on prices and the signals they send. High food prices are in general a disaster for development, but we need higher prices for meat, fish and air-freighted vegetables for richer people (not just rich countries) to change their destructive eating habits. We need to tax water and energy use in such a way that basic grains and vegetables are cheap enough for everyone, but beef becomes an expensive luxury for the Americas, Europe and Australia just as it is for the rest of the world. A serious carbon tax would stop us agonising between strawberries grown in Dutch greenhouses or flown from Kenyan orchards: they will be too expensive to eat anytime they're not in season.
In the absence of carbon and water taxes, more information can help: just publishing the emissions associated with beef burgers led 20% of diners to switch to chicken or the veggie option, according to this photo essay. Ultimately, though, the most powerful information is provided by the price.