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.