When I happen to be simultaneously confronted with two seemingly unrelated problems, I begin by examining whether, by chance, one could be the solution for the other. And it works, more often than we think.
This is particularly the case for two urgent problems that the world is facing at the moment: poverty and global warming.
The urgency of both situations is obvious. Many people, however, present these two problems as contradictory. In other words, fighting poverty would mean letting the poor emit greenhouse gases in order to maintain their purchasing power; fighting against global warming would involve penalizing the poorest to prevent them from polluting.
However, if we really think about it, it is the exact opposite. And this is a typical situation whereby today’s generation has every interest in working for future generations: the altruism of the living, put to the benefit of those who have not yet been born, would in fact be a type of selfishness that is well understood by our contemporaries. This is what I call “rational altruism,” or “intelligent selfishness.”
Today, the best way to help the poorest pull their way out of poverty is not to give them such and such allowances to enable them to pay for more expensive means of transport: this would only encourage them to continue to pollute. The best way to help them is to put them in a better position to earn a living than what they are currently in today. This can be done by working on projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
And such projects already exist in large numbers. In housing construction and renovation, road infrastructure, shops, factories and public buildings; we can also cite relevant sectors related to product design and recycling of waste and materials. These investments are, by nature, job creators. And jobs that are not always for the highly qualified, but nonetheless pay good wages. Moreover, these jobs could significantly increase the purchasing power and the level of training of many unemployed or poor workers today.
Obviously, these jobs need to be funded. It’s not so difficult:
First, it should be decided that no public or private investments should be authorized unless such investments demonstrate that it would reduce or at least would not increase greenhouse gas emissions. This is tantamount to saying that all future investments, without new funding, would prove to be good for the environment—without new funding.
Then, it would be necessary to authorize, in an external budgetary allocation, which would neither be part of the national budget nor the budgets of the local authorities, these types of investments. The best course would be to do it at the European level; either by coordinating national budgets (which has been done in certain circumstances, particularly in 2008), or by using European ad hoc vehicles, such as the European Investment Bank (EIB), or those invented in 2008, in order to save European banks from sinking.
By doing so, we would not only solve the problem of poverty and global warming, but we would also solve two other problems, two other threats that weigh on us:
First, we would create a tool to revive growth, in a sustainable way, during a time when it is threatened, especially in Europe, by the inevitable return of a global recession (if not a crisis), which would worsen the unrest in Europe.
Furthermore, we would give Europeans a project, which frankly they’ve missed so much: to unite for a cause that transcends every Member State. And no cause is more important for Europe than these two: poverty and global warming. A united Europe would then give itself the means to allow Europeans of the end of the 21st century to live differently, instead of in a hell-like place. It would serve as a model to the world.
Poverty, global warming, the return of the financial crisis, and Europe in disarray. Four major, existential problems that can be solved with a single decision. Who can top that?