The Plundered Planet

Review by REBECCA RANDALL

Last night I heard Paul Collier speak on his latest book “The Plundered Planet” at Mercy Corps’ Action Center here in Portland. I haven’t read it, yet. Audience members received copies last night, but I’ll share my thoughts from the lecture anyway.

I am still mulling over his suggestion that there is a middle ground between romantic environmentalists and plundering opportunists. Bridging the expertise of economists and environmentalists, Collier proposed that future generations might find it more valuable to transform natural assets into other assets than to preserve them as they are.

For example, if you live in a poor society, it might make more sense to you to find some reasonably healthy way to extract oil from the land because it might help you get out of poverty. In contrast, future generations of Amazonians likely would hope that today’s society preserves the rainforest lifestyle that they have enjoyed for centuries.

Collier then talked about how poor countries can manage their natural resources – much of which is undiscovered. He explained links in a chain of events that can lead to healthy extraction of natural resources and shared prosperity for nations in poverty.

He then delved into those natural assets that are international – the oceans, atmosphere and the Arctic – and don’t really belong to anyone (or really belong to everyone). Considering that today’s technology is rapidly advancing, the discussion is timely because many of the earth’s natural resources that humanity has not yet discovered may be extractable in the near future.

Collier proposed changing the questions in discussions such as: which nations have the right to emit carbon emission? Perhaps, nations need to think more globally as the outcome of emitting too much carbon will affect us all. Instead, international standards should be set and nations can choose their own ways of regulating those standards, he suggested. Then citizens in their respective countries would be responsible for holding the governments to account.

Much of what he discussed was theoretical, and I haven’t read a prescriptive book like this in a while, so I am looking forward to digging in some more. I’ll share more thoughts when I finish the book.

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