Hard truths for a plundered planet - Macleans.ca

Hard truths for a plundered planet


The third hour of yesterday’s Sunday Edition on the CBC featured an interview with Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and, his new book, The Plundered Planet. The main thrust of the interview (conducted by Helen Mann) deals with the alliance between anti-poverty activists and environmentalists, and their too-often antagonism to economics and instruments that might actually work.

As Collier puts it, he’s trying to build “common ground” between environmentalists and economists. But he has a firm view of who is worth trying to woo, and who is a lost cause. He distinguishes between what he calls the ”humane” environmentalists (whom we can do business with) and the “fundamentalist” environmentalists, who are caught up in a romantic deep-ecology ideology that sees environment as something more than serving humanity. Their goal, he argues, is to focused on preserving or “curating” nature as a set of artifacts, instead of harnessing it for enhancing prosperity.

One of the most depressing aspects he highlights is the way the romantic environmentalists have become an “unguided missile” – chasing one authenticity hoax after another, leaving inadvertent destruction in their wake. As Collier explains, the romantics have become the unwitting allies of big agriculture, who leverage the political power of the romantics for their own nefarious purposes. In North America, it has led to the colossal idiocy of biofuels. In Europe, it’s the brainless opposition to genetically modified foods.

His denunciation of the “the romantic retreat into the organic holistic peasantry” is hard-hitting stuff, and not everyone will like it. Unfortunately, the ones who most need to hear it are the ones who aren’t listening.

Listen to it here.
It’s Hour Three, and starts at the 20 minute mark.


Hard truths for a plundered planet

  1. Are you capable of writing a post that doesn't reference your own theories on authenticity? We get it.

    • Hey MikeB
      I gave you a +1 for this comment, but apparently Potter doesn't seem to take to critical commentary well. He only likes to call every other person an "idiot" without actually thinking about how ignorant and petty he sounds.

      Potter- you seem more like a useful idiot. Nothing really accomplished in terms of actually making a difference. So before you judge environmentalists as this or that, may be you should scrutinize what little you do to help out any cause other than your own.

      • This must be the worst part of being a public figure in the internet age; out of nowhere, angry dimwits manage to type their way through a hasty screed and voila! You're sullied by the personal attack of a stranger. You've proven you can type, Matt, now try your hand at reading…start with this article, and go slowly this time: the whole point is there isn't a singular category of 'environmentalist' to judge. It's a fine distinction, I know, and evidently this makes it difficult for you. It is an important one, however; it's pretty clear that a number of failed or untenable ideologies have attempted to reconstitute themselves as 'environmentalism', and its absolutely essential to recognize this, else our 'environmental solutions' turn out to be little more than re-warmed romanticism, or Karl Marx swapping red for green. Your frustration at this article is understandable: it's the first step in cutting you and yours loose from the body of rational, effective environmental thought. The future depends on it, and I wave adieu as you float backwards into the past.

        • Hey, I'm referring to Potter's blog post on "useful Idiot". Since he doesn't allow commenting on his other blog, I decided to offer my opinion here. http://authenticityhoax.squarespace.com/blog/2010

          And by throwing the insult back at him, I don't really see how this constitutes me as being backwards one. Get all the facts before you jump the gun, too. I see the name-calling at other's who don't share similar opinions just as moronic. I'm just trying to emulate Potter, that is all. So thanks touquer, but you don't speak for the man. A Phd in Philosophy doesn't necessarily equate intelligence, by any means, if the argument begins with calling someone an idiot. Just saying…

  2. Undoubtably, fundamentalists environmentalists are causing more harm then good. Besides their direct harmful affects (advocating biofuels or any of many other green "solutions" which are ineffectual wastes of money or work against their stated intent), they do serious harm to realist environmentalists by shaping public opinion against sensible solution or the environmental movement in general.

    However, I will take some exception with the idea that harnessing the environment for enhanced prosperity, simply because when such an idea is embraced by economists, it often results in the opposite form of romanticism, where the invisible hand of the market is treated as infallible. One example is with nature reserves and parks, particularly ones in remote locations. They're produce little economically, aren't often used for leisure activities (or only by a very small number of people) and would probably more "productive" if sold off to private companies. But, then we lose habitats and species, which are still worthwhile for scientists both current and future, which could lead to worthwhile discoveries in the future (not to mention the expanding of human knowledge – but of course, that has little economic value on its own).

    So while fundamentalist environmentalists pursue the minimalist approach far too fanatically, it can't be an either-or thing. The environment is exceptionally complex and we really don't understand it well enough to be confident that our intrusions will not have inadvertent, potentially harmful, side-effects. Right now, we're rather incautious when it comes to the environment, and more than anything, that's what needs to change in our industrial, economic and environmental policies.

    • Excellent reply

  3. Attaching such energy in pointing out the 'harmful environmentalists' seems to be almost conservative-like in its distraction; what percentage of environmentalists is deemed negative to global survival/productivity?
    Now compare the percentage of 'harmful economics' (or industry) that are creating whollus bollus detrimental changes to the human condition, climate and environment. Seems to be entirely slanted – although not worthy of a discussion. I'll wait for Plotter to find some balance before holding my breath…

  4. I'm not sure there's anything "brainless" about opposition to GMOs.

    • There are many environmental benefits to GMO's for one thing.

    • Gotta agree with desertkitton. There's good reason to proceed cautiously with genetic modifications of living organisms.

      I don't think it's good enough to dismiss this opposition to GMOs as fundamentally unworthy of discussion (ie "brainlesss"). Perhaps Potter could give some examples to support his stance, flesh it out a little.

    • There is if it's blind opposition. The mere act of altering genetics is neither good nor bad.

      • So is it "blind" or "brainless" opposition?

        Nobody here, including Potter, has even tried to make the case. It's just an assertion devoid of supporting evidence.

  5. This is a false dichotomy if I've ever seen one. The idea that you're automatically some sort of extremist environmentalist if you think of the "environment as something more than serving humanity" is ridiculous.

    • Perhaps not an extremist, but I'd say it makes you less of a humanist, secular or otherwise.

  6. This is great, thank you.