In 2005, the World Economic Forum decided to eradicate poverty. And the declaration was a sight to behold.
The main stage was the site of numerous discussions, before the TV cameras of the world. We heard passionate speeches by global leaders. All professed outrage at what was happening in Africa and committed the fullness of their resources to end the misery and suffering of the world's poor.
The famous Congress Hall photo of Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Thabo Mbeki and Bono standing together (with Bono flashing a peace sign) was snapped, to wild applause. Sharon Stone was so moved at one point that she leaped to her feet and challenged everyone to give $1 million dollars on the spot to help one struggling country. It seemed like a real sea change was taking place among the global elite.
But by 2006, well, feigning concern about poor people was so, well, you know ... 2005.
Thus last year, eradicating poverty wasn't even a bullet point on the conference agenda. Sharon Stone had been banished. No discussion of poverty or Africa made the main stage, not even once. Even the report-backs from all the 2005 promises and pledges were held in the wee hours one morning -- in a basement.
So much for the Davos anti-poverty dynamo.
That's why some look upon this year's obsession with curbing global warming with smirks and skepticism. And yes, it does have some of the features of the typical Davos fad.
But I suspect that the commitment to action on this issue will be both deeper and longer lived than the 2005 anti-poverty jag.
The reason for my confidence: in case you have missed the business press over the past 18 months or so, the global elite has gone from denial, to concern, to near panic over this issue. The corporate heads and political leaders now see their own profits and political futures gravely imperiled by melting ice caps and super-storms. As a result, no global leader here is "debating" whether climate change is happening or important. The only debate is over the right mix of market innovation and government action to fix the problem. And that is a real change.
As the negative effects of climate chaos become more obvious, this agenda item will be permanently prominent.
Therein lies a real opportunity for those of us who care about the poor AND the planet.
Let's combine the fight to eradicate poverty WITH the fight against global warming.
It is possible. Every step we take to move the world's economy in a sane direction will require finance capital and government support, yes. But it will also require human labor -- and lots of it. That means that the green economy can help lift millions of people out of poverty -- if we cut the best deal we can for the world's working people.
A low-carbon economy could create untold numbers of dignified, living wage jobs. A greener, cleaner economy can employ millions through massive reforestation, solar panel installation, materials recycling, wind-farm construction, urban rooftop gardening, the manufacture of plug-in hybrid vehicles, public transportation and retrofitting millions of existing buildings to leak less energy.
We could also create wealth-building opportunities by supporting innovation and entrepreneurship among the world's impoverished peoples -- tapping their creativity in the quest for energy conservation and clean energy strategies.
These "green-collar jobs" would lift people out of poverty. They would be profitable for business. They would help stabilize societies and governments. And they would unleash the majority of the world's population to help save the planet.
So maybe promoting "green-collar jobs" to fight global warming AND poverty will become the big fad of 2008. And, I hope, ever after...
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