Is there a way of reconciling prosperity with nature ?

Having recently read the book ‘The Plundered Planet’ by Paul Collier and learning about Disparities in Wealth and Development and Patterns in Sustainability and Resource Consumption in the IB Geography Core I became interested in this recurring question, can we actually reconcile prosperity with nature. This is really crux of Collier’s argument in his book and his detailed exploration of the question will really make you doubt what you though about helping the world and reducing disparities. For Collier, plunder takes two main forms:

  • natural assets which are owned by a country are exploited and taken away by a small minority of elites who use the value of these assets to further their own wealth rather than benefit their country
  • assets are used up by the current generation leaving no wealth for future generations, in other world unsustainable use of resources

One of Collier’s main arguments is that the reason for the poorest countries  or the ‘Bottom Billion’ in the world being plundered is that there is no regulation in terms of the government having a role in the extraction of non-renewable energy resources and therefore a failure harness natural capital is one of the main causes for the lack of economic development in these countries. What is unique about Collier’s approach in this book it that he attempts to come up with solutions which are at a middle way between the extremism of people who are in denial of climate change (Ostriches) and those from anti-genetically modified products movements  or ‘Environmental Romantics’ in Europe. Collier believes that the two sides alone cannot help solve the problems relating to the sustainable management of resources and therefor a middle ground has to be agreed to. A simple answer to the question ‘why have we plundered rather than invested into our natural assets so far?’ according to Collier is the lack of governance.

For countries in the Bottom Billion, Collier believes that the ‘broken decision chain’ must be amended The chain has six steps:

  • Discover natural assets
  • Avoiding acquisition by a few at the expense of the many
  • Ensuring local inhabitants receive generous compensation for the unavoidable environmental damage
  • Consuming in a way that benefits the present and the future generations
  • Investing in the absoptive capacity of the government
  • Investing in domestic capital

Collier believes that if these simple steps are met by international organisation investing in poor countries and the governments of those poor countries that the plundering of natural resources would decrease resulting in greater economic development for these poor countries. In my opinion, the book offered a unique and insightful look into the reasons behind countries being poor looking at the link between economics and the environment. Although, the style of writing of the book may seem daunting because of the complexed economic theories at times to fellow students looking to explore their geographical or economical curiosity, it is worth reading. However, it is worth keeping in mind, that it is written from the perspective of an economist and does not offer much advice in terms of the political decisions that should take place in countries. In addition, because Collier is an economist and not a geographer he does at times advocate actions which are harmful to the environment but in his opinion minimise plunder.

Some equations from the book which might be useful to remember:

nature+technology+regulation=prosperity

nature+regulation-technology=hunger

nature+technology-regulation=plunder

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