Wednesday AM July 14th, 2010

An Oxford economist is trying to strike a balance between environmentalism and economics in the world's efforts to manage natural resources. Ed Mayberry reports.
Paul Collier's The Plundered Planet coverRomantic environmentalists believe that nature should be preserved — not used — while others believe that we can mine nature without any concerns whatsover. But in his book The Plundered Planet: Why We Must — and How We Can — Manage Nature for Global Prosperity, Oxford University economist Paul Collier says he's trying to strike a middle ground. Collier says we're not curators of nature; it's for us and future generations to harness for prosperity.

"A lot of the environmentalists are also concerned about global poverty. We've got to harness nature for prosperity rather than just lock it up in a museum case. I think a lot of environmentalists want to pretend that there's no conflict between preserving nature and ending global poverty — but there is. The ostriches just have to be made to think about their children. But I think most people are responsible about making sure that they don't plunder nature. So I think that the ostriches are rare."

Collier says we are custodians of natural assets, and ethically obliged to pass on to future generations the equivalent value of assets we were bequeathed by past generations. He's troubled by the ethics of food for fuel, for example — seeing biofuels as a sort of scam, with huge agricultural subsidies.

"It's not, first and foremost, about generating fuel. If it was about generating fuel, you'd be encouraging Brazil to produce ethanol in Brazil — sugar cane into ethanol, just vastly more efficient than grain into ethanol. But instead, you've actually imposed import restrictions on ethanol coming from Brazil. So this was all about agricultural protections in America rather than about energy efficiency and energy self-sufficiency."

Collier says there is no substitute for asking whether we can convert natural assets into something more or less valuable to the future than the assets themselves. Ed Mayberry, KUHF News.
Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...