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“If climate change is the ‘biggest market failure’, what the hell is poverty?”

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Dr Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group

Dr Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group.

Some uplifting straight talk by Dr Ashok Khosla, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He was interviewed by the website of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Khosla is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group, a social enterprise that innovates and delivers commercially viable, environmentally friendly technologies.

Excerpts from the interview, which is short and no-nonsense:

“After about 60 years of so-called international development, it should amaze the powers that be that we’ve ended up with 3 billion people left outside. This is as thorough an indictment of the trickle-down theory as one can imagine. But the powers that be seem to be quite oblivious to all this. If policies are based, as they almost always are today, on what is good for the rich, what is good for the stock markets, what is good for foreign direct investment, if they are designed to make more money on defense, on wars, on exploiting the earth, then it is only logical that the world will end up with three billion poor people. There’s just no way around that. Even if you believed that neo-classical economics had any meaning in the 1950s or 1960s, you cannot believe in it now. Much less [can you believe in] neo-liberalism, which dominates the world of decision making today.”

“There are people going around saying that climate change is the biggest market failure. What the hell, then, is poverty, for goodness sake? If there’s one market failure that humanity ought to be ashamed of, it’s the massive poverty that exists. Our entire focus today ought to be, how to  remove poverty, because poverty is not only degrading for the poor, even the rich are paying a heavy cost for it. The bigger the population, the more the resources it needs.”

“I don’t know of many countries that nurture civil society any more. India, like the US and, to some extent, the UK, had a vibrant, huge civil society. The whole freedom movement in India was a civil society movement, and for thousands of years, philanthropic and voluntary work has been the basis of Indian society as much as it has been, more recently, in the US, a country that one can admire greatly for its commitment to voluntarism. But this is now under threat both in the US and in India. There are some very large countries, like China, that don’t even have civil society movements, and their future generations will pay a heavy price because of that. All sectors are needed: government, business, civil society, but unfortunately, the mix has lost its balance. The big corporations are now so influential, so heavy, in most countries that even governments don’t have much say any more, and civil society has virtually none.”

“I have devoted a lot of time and effort trying to convince businessmen to see things differently. Every time I talk to business about socially responsible investment, however, the response I get is, “Yes, but our first responsibility is to our shareholders.” I don’t know of any businessman who takes the long view, unless that long view happens to mean very good profits within the tenure of that particular CEO.”

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