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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is yet another classic from Jeffrey Sachs. Here is the most comprehensive and compelling list of issues facing Mother Earth in the twenty first century and also some excellent prescriptions for sustainable and inclusive global economic growth.

The list of "six earth changing trends" starts with convergence. Thanks to globalization and relatively peaceful environment despite some regional tensions, most developing countries are catching up fast for the lost time in the last three decades. Sachs explains the concept of convergence and a thumb rule for forecasting faster growth rates of poorer countries, relative to their income levels. The good news is that poorer countries can grow faster. The flip side is that there are about 6 times more people on this planet today than in 1830 and this is expected to grow by another 40 % to 9.2 billion by 2050. Assuming steady economic growth rates, the global GNP is expected to reach around $ 400 Trillion from the current $ 67 Trillion, a six fold increase.

The bad news is that this may not be achievable if we continue to adopt conventional technologies that deplete natural resources that have an adverse impact on the already fragile environment. Sachs quantifies his using the I = P*A*T equation, where the environmental impact of development equals the product of population, average income and the negative effect of conventional technologies. That means that by 2050, we would have environmental pollution levels that are about 8.4 times than today, which is clearly unsustainable. Hence the urgent need for adopting sustainable technologies on a rapid scale, whereby I=P*A/S where S in the denominator stands for sustainable technologies.

The impact of global warming is also explained extremely well. Global warming caused primarily by CO2 is discussed in detail. The analysis of the rise in global temperatures as a consequence of CO2 levels rising from 280 ppm in 1950 to around 380 ppm today is alarming. Global warming is a vicious cycle since more CO2 in the atmosphere traps more infrared rays from being reflected back into outer space, thereby further increasing atmospheric temperatures. The warmer oceans in turn release the dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere, adding fuel to fire. Sachs points out to the availability of vast carbon resources that can be gainfully utilized to meet our energy needs, while simultaneously using Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies to contain CO2 emissions.

Larger populations need more food. Increasing incomes and urbanization means we have lesser people in villages to grow more food from the same acreage of land. It is interesting to note that in the year 2008, for the first time in the history of humanity, 50% of the people are now living in urban areas. The net addition of population from now till 2050 is likely to be added in urban areas. This calls for substantial increase in agricultural productivity in rural areas. Unfortunately, water emerges as a major constraint due to excessive usage, run-offs, depletion of ground water and mismanagement. Global warming further adds to the crisis due to melting of glaciers and increasing variability in rainfall. Moreover water has spillover effects and hydrological interdependence in scare regions can cause severe tensions and conflicts.

We enter the new millennium with such daunting challenges, as well as with a sixth of the world's population trapped in severe poverty. Sachs then turns to his favorite topic of global cooperation to end poverty as pledged by the Millennium Development Goals. Starting from increasing agricultural productivity through high yielding, drought resistant, low tillage crops using modern irrigation techniques, he explains how we can lift the subsistence economies into the first rung of the ladder of development. Small investments in providing treated mosquito nets and spraying of houses can significantly reduce incidents of malaria and improve health and life expectancy.

Markets alone cannot solve global problems of this scale. Public participation and funding of infrastructure, basic education and health care are some of the critical items that markets tend to ignore. Poor countries are in desperate need for aid to free themselves from the poverty trap. For the G-8 it is a matter of adhering to the promise of 0.7 % of GNP towards developmental aid. Unfortunately, this is not met. Sachs once again makes a passionate appeal for adherence to these promises.

There is a separate chapter on US foreign policy, which comes under heavy criticism for excessive defense expenditure to the tune of about $ 1.5 billion a day while totally neglecting economic aid and diplomatic initiatives. Long term solution to peace is economic development and not military intervention argues Sachs.

Overall, the emphasis of the book is on sustainable development and the urgent need to eliminate poverty, two basic duties that all of us as global citizens need to own. In addition, all institutions, Governments, NGOs, Universities, Multinationals and Charitable Institutions should play a significant role. Classic examples of such successful global co operations in the past include eradication of small pox and Asia's Green Revolution.

Two other books that I recommend as worthy supplementary readings are:

1. The end of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
2. The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier

The time for action is now.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Having recently finished Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" and Collier's "The Bottom Billion", I was excited to pick this book up as a continuation of those themes. In the end, I think I would have been better served sticking with the first two. At times, Sachs was excellent. For example, his chapter on population is full of figures, compelling and well-presented data, interesting anecdotes, and seemed written from the perspective of someone passionately involved with the topic. In other parts of the book he seemed out of his element. The sections on poverty and energy, while interesting, were much weaker than the section on population, and rather better covered (as one would expect from books specific to those topics) by Friedman and Collier. Overlap between topics in books is nothing new, I just think I suffered from having read the other two first.

I also was somewhat annoyed with the partisan tone the book took on at times. I was annoyed not because I necessarily disagreed with Sachs, but rather than it seemed to actively work to defeat the purpose of the book. I feel like much of this book was written to move people from complacency to a place of better understanding, and hopefully to action. The constant, almost sniping, remarks about the failings of the Bush administration (and, to be fair, other administrations as well) could well be a turn-off to the very people Sachs would like to reach with this book. All that now said, his last chapter was very good. The specifics of 'here's what we need to do' to make inroads against poverty, population explosion, and the energy crisis leave one with a sense of hope; that the goals are reachable.

So, in the end I would recommend reading Collier and Friedman *instead* of this book, though you could certainly do a lot worse than reading this one.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
With the publication of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time just a few years ago, Jeffrey Sachs estimated that it would take annual donations of 135 to 190 billion dollars by rich countries to eradicate poverty by 2025. Those were the UN Millenium Development Goals of 2000. But much has happened since then. Economic development has accelerated and not because of development aid, it was mostly due to globalization or market forces. The unfortunate by-product of this development has been enviromental stress. In order to continue development in a sustainable way and also reach areas of sub-Sahara Africa, the price tag will go up. According to Sachs, it will now require 840 billion dollars or about 2.4 percent of rich-world income. This is still a bargain when one considers the alternative.

Sachs is obviously a liberal with a grandiose plan that many will call utopian. He has been famously criticized by conservatives such as William Easterly in The White Man's Burden. Conservatives are not keen on large-scale plans in general, and they are generally cynical about what governments and humanitarian aid agencies can accomplish. However, in spite of their differences, Sachs and Easterly share some common ground. They both believe that small targeted projects that are either monitored or bypass corrupt government officials can be effective. Sachs is at his best when he draws on work done at the Earth Institute, of which he is director. The scientific farming techniques that he advocates are essential to the survival of the human race that is becoming predominantly urban.

Eradicating poverty is in everyone's interest since it slows down population growth. If the global population continues to grow at its current rate, reaching 10 billion at mid-century, our resources will be depleted. It is unrealistic for national governments or international organizations to try and control population growth. Only with economic security and widely distributed wealth will populations levels stabalize.

Sachs argues in the final chapter (The Power of One) that global cooperation is needed to solve the problems of poverty, overpopulation, pandemics, pollution, climate change, and scarcities of water, arable land and resources. This sounds naive and utopian but it is also true. National governments, however, will only be looking at their own short-term interests. But as environmental catastrophes start to mount, whether it's food shortages or rising sea-levels, governments will take action, but by then it might be too late.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jeffrey Sachs is special adviser on the UN's Millennium Development Goals to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. He urges that the principles of social justice should guide economic forces, not profit, and he argues that problems need diplomacy and development, not war, sanctions and threats. Development brings security, not vice versa.

As he notes, "A world of untrammelled market forces and competing nation-states offer no automatic solutions." "Market forces by themselves do not optimally allocate society's resources." "Market forces alone will not overcome poverty traps."

He shows in detail that market forces cannot deliver R&D or ensure the adoption of new technologies or control population growth or protect the environment or prevent species loss or get medicine to the poorest. The market pays no heed to future generations. As we can all now see, capitalism is self-reinforcing, not self-correcting.

We have the technology, industry and resources to solve all our problems. As Sachs writes, "Earth has the energy, land, biodiversity, and water resources needed to feed humanity and support long-term economic prosperity for all. The problem is that markets might not lead to their wise and sustainable use." He urges countries to convert commons from open-access to community management, not privatise them.

So within each country we need to develop and spread technologies suitable for that country, like carbon capture, drip irrigation, desalination, drought-resistant crops, high-yield wheat (which increased India's harvest from 11 million metric tons in 1960 to 55 million in 1990), vaccines for tropical diseases, and turning coal into petrol by Fischer-Tropsch liquefaction.

Within each country, we should promote welfare. Social welfare states like Denmark and Finland do better than free market states like Britain and the USA. They have higher employment rates, higher GNPs per person and more equality. We can cut fertility rates, and therefore increase growth, by providing free access to health services, especially emergency obstetric care and family planning services, and by improving child survival rates.

This is a humane and hopeful book. Sachs proves that we can raise incomes, end extreme poverty, stabilise the population, protect the environment and establish peace. Each needs public action, public funding, long-term thinking and planning, and we all have to take the responsibility.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Famed economist Jeffrey Sachs manages to deliver pessimistic news in an optimistic way. Yes, the Earth faces dire threats from global warming, poverty, war, deforestation and mass extinctions. Yet Sachs asserts that these severe problems are manageable. Fixing them will cost $840 billion - a massive amount indeed, but, as Sachs argues, only 2.4% of the rich world's gross national product. Sachs doesn't shy away from politically touchy pronouncements. He argues against the U.S. war in Iraq and for legalized abortion. Still, throughout the fray, his book strikes the unlikely balance of delivering a message that's both frightening and promising. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone seeking insight into the world's most pressing problems.
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53 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
My local church is devoting the next several months to promoting the UN's eight "Millennium Development Goals," which have been formally endorsed by the Episcopal Church USA. I read "Commonwealth" to get new insights about the many challenges, obstacles and opportunities we face in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, the author's conclusions left me feeling vaguely unsatisfied -- you could even say "intellectually malnourished." Jeffrey Sachs is no doubt a brilliant thinker who sees the big picture, but I question his sense of realism.

For example, when Sachs says, with great confidence, that there is plenty of fossil fuel to sustain continued global growth until at least the year 2100 -- I wonder if he reads the newspaper on a regular basis. The current spike in oil prices illustrates the dramatic political dangers inherent in today's world energy market. His calm prescriptions for transitioning to both liquefied coal and renewable energy forms doesn't seem to ring true. We may end up in a very dark place long before that happens (e.g., massive increases in hunger, regional wars, resource riots, etc.).

Much of the rest of the book makes good sense, but it's so general and broad as to be almost "untestable" in the real world. Saying we should invest in the development and adoption of environmentally sustainable technology is sort of like saying we should remember to breathe: "Yeah, OK, but give me some specifics here, Jeffrey!"

Sachs comes off sounding like a politician who doesn't want to be held accountable for campaign promises, so he hedges every statement with a long-term perspective and a truckload of weasel words (implied disclaimers). It's not particularly honest, if you ask me.

In my research for the church program, I found MUCH MORE useful the list of 30 specific solutions developed by the Copenhagen Consensus 2008. They are hard-nosed, pragmatic and very testable. [...]

My advice for Sachs: Come down from the 60,000 foot view and give us "foot soldiers of change" something more useful -- something less cognitive and more practical.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book presents about as complete a description you can find about the causes of extreme poverty and environmental threats and what can be done about it. The analytical part presents compelling evidence that without drastic action the world will be in deep trouble. For example. One the main causes of the poverty trap in poor countries is large family size. Even with the most effective fertility reduction program combined with a reduction of infant mortality (these two changes must be combined) the population of Africa will from 2005 to 2050 increase with 750 million.When only infant mortality is reduced the increase will be more than a billion. Most of this increase will be in the poorest countries.
The book describes in detail how different negative trends reinforce each other leading to self reinforcing loops. It concerns, water shortage, shortage of oil and gas, overfishing, reduction of forest cover, reduction of arable land, pollution and an increase in temperature. Fortunately the author describes precise programs how these problems can still be solved. Also, what the free-market can and cannot do. The complementary roles of global organisations like the UN, national governments, business and NGOs are described.
An example of such a detail is that the main problems cannot be solved without scientific and technological breakthroughs. For example there is plenty of fossil fuel in the form of coal. But a solution has to be found to sequestrate the harmful gases produced otherwise it will lead to environmental disaster. The author believes I think correctly, that fundamental research around this problem has to be organized and funded on a global scale by governments. This is not happening to day. It requires an integrated global approach, already at the R&D level.
The author may be overoptimistic about governments, business and people in general to make short term sacrifices for long term gains. Historical events have been driven primarily by greed, national self-interest; wars, conquests, internal wars, colonilisation, slavery, overfishing, the financial crisis in 2008 are all examples. China rightly wants to increase the standard of living of its inhabitants; as yet almost regardless of the environmental consequences. The US and Europe have made little progress in reducing energy consumption even though they talk a lot about it and set ambitious targets.
The missing link is how to change the attitudes from governments, business and people to be not only concerned about their own well being the next few years, but to be concerned for the well being of others over the next 20 years. It is urgent; it is not just a question of concern for the next generation.
Fortunately, the book presents many examples of successful radical change projects. The challenge is to scale up to the level of the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
When I was born in 1955, the global population stood at about 2.5 billion people. Today it is 6.6 billion. According to conservative estimates, by 2050, 9.2 billion people will populate planet earth, and in gloomier forecasts the figure rises to 11.7 billion. Most of the growth has taken place in the poorest countries that can least afford it (literally or figuratively). Like never before, writes Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, we share "a common fate on a crowded planet," and that common human fate demands a shared responsibility.

In his previous book, The End of Poverty (2005), Sachs tackled the problem of the roughly 40% of our world that lives in poverty or "extreme poverty" (on $1 a day or less). In that book he argued that the real obstacles to poverty reduction are not so much ineptitude, corruption, and laziness but structural problems, geographic isolation, overall vulnerability, and rich-world miserliness. He chided the United States in particular for its short-sighted stinginess. Our development aid has "declined for decades," he wrote, because we insist upon looking for "the cheap way out." Fierce critics of aid such as William Easterly (The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good) argued that Sachs simply wanted to throw more aid dollars at problems, when such aid has failed in the past.

Sachs broadens his scope in the current book, but continues the same theme. After two introductory chapters, the middle nine chapters of the book focus on three broad obstacles to sharing the world's common wealth: environmental sustainability (climate change, water, and species extinction), population stabilization, and poverty reduction. Our current trajectory is simply unsustainable. If we do nothing, he says, only calamity awaits us. Nor can we expect free markets alone to solve these problems.

Our main problem, he argues repeatedly, is not the lack of available solutions but the absence of political leadership, global cooperation, and implementation. What we must overcome is nothing less than "the collapse of faith in global problem-solving" and the "cynical disbelief in global cooperation itself." The age of global convergence and cooperation is all the more important, in his mind, because the age of American hegemony, especially given the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, is over.

Sachs does not argue that economic growth like that in India or China is undesirable or unsustainable. It's only unsustainable if we do nothing. Nor is he a pessimist, but in fact an unabashed optimist about the power of science and technology to lead the way. "These burdens are surmountable, and at a remarkably low cost. Food production can be increased; diseases can be controlled; education and literacy can be expanded to ensure universal coverage of the young; and infrastructure-- especially roads, power, water, and sanitation-- can be put in place. Indeed, these things can happen rapidly if the projects can be implemented. While in a handful of cases the limiting factor is poor governance, in most cases it is finance. The poor know what to do but are too poor to do it. Since they can't meet their immediate needs (food, safe water, health care) they also can't afford to save and invest for the future. This is where foreign assistance comes in" (229).

If we can mobilize more financial aid, and then mobilize all the many and necessary actors (government, business, NGOs, scientists, universities, etc.) to work in concert, Sachs is confident that we can enjoy economic growth for all, environmental sustainability, and population stabilization. He points to past successes like the eradication of small pox and polio, a million Africans now on affordable anti-retrovirals, and the Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus that has extended micro-credit loans to seven million borrowers (mainly women). In his view persistence, generosity, and enlightened self-interest by the global community must triumph over pessimism and business as usual. The former path leads to an "economics for a crowded planet," the latter to certain catastrophe.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Jeffrey Sachs has thought about many subjects at great depth, and writes about them with great learning and clarity. He seems to have thought about all the key points and many details. Could we do X about some problem? He's thought about it and has an opinion, or lots of them! I imagine he'd be a tough debating opponent.

His strongest material is about population, food and environmental destruction. Professor Sachs is both quite depressing and optimistic. He pulls no punches in calling out humanity for one sin after another, and the text moves right along in what is actually fairly dense content. You made read this as a survey of so many things that are going wrong. Even though I consider that the highlight, there are plenty of books raving about the environment. What Sachs offers that sets him apart from many others are his recommendations (although "recommendation" is a bit soft as a word for his energy) and his optimism that they will actually work and make a difference, at a cost that within range of discussion. A bit like those World War II posters: "Yes, We Can!"

He also rightly (in my opinion) emphasizes the critical role technology has played in advancing humanity's standard of living and how essential technology is to finding solutions. We must solve problems through brainpower and not pretend that a reduced standard of living for the west will somehow fix anything. Of course, Professor Sachs calls out technology for its negative impact and rampant destruction in the hands of humans. His balance is on the optimistic side for technology, partly through more institutional control over its application.

What I found somewhat unpersuasive was his optimism about Africa, that money and talent properly applied would really set Africa on the road to development. Sachs admits that geography is a major obstacle for Africa, but refuses to agree with those who argue that geography is destiny or so fundamental. I felt he underestimated the cultural factors in both donor and recipient countries, and over-estimated the capabilities of the UN. To be honest, I hope he is right.

Also unpersuasive were his secondary comments on America as compared to more socialist-like Scandinavians. That topic seemed a bit unnecessary and, while not exactly apples and oranges, he used some numbers that I felt distorted the argument. In a book that talks so cogently about poverty and its impact, it felt so wrong to say that 17% of American live in poverty because their income is less than 50% of the average, when that standard of living at the 50% of average in America is so high.

My strongest objection, however, was how Mr. Sachs took too many partisan shots that made him seem too petty and aggressive. Many of his arguments were so well stated that he didn't need to stoop to constant attacks against the Bush Administration. Yes, we all know Bush has been a terrible president. OK, we get it. Yet, when other administrations or politicians of the other side were behind debacles, such as his complaint about Vietnam or American foreign policies that have lasted decades or the lack of nuclear power as an energy option in the US, those responsible or leading the charge remain nameless. Mr. Sachs clearly can raise his game in that regard.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
In a lucidly written book reflecting a grave urgency, economist Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time) states that by the year 2050, the world will have 9.2 billion inhabitants, a traumatizing increase from the 2.6 billion people we have now. It's an unprecedented population explosion that everyone agrees will prove toxic in combination with the perils of climate change. Coastal urban zones will become so densely inhabited that the inevitable Katrina-level cyclones will be all the more devastating, while obesity and heart disease become more pervasive. Even within such a fatalistic vision, it will probably strike many readers as sacrilege that Sachs has taken the stance that free market forces will not overcome the sustainability crisis that faces our planet today. Currently as Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the author lends a uniquely global perspective to what he views as the inevitable fate of humanity should we not change course immediately.

Sachs believes there are three steps necessary in realizing sustainable development that could avert certain tragedy from dramatic climate change and global warming. The first consists of bolstering sustainable technologies within a short period of time and on a global scale. The second is to take the necessary preventative measures to stabilize global population, especially in Africa. The third step is to minimize national borders to help developing countries to escape poverty. His roadmap indicates that the cost to achieve humanity's shared objectives is comparatively low when considering the dire consequences. He believes the cost of stabilizing levels of carbon in the atmosphere will amount to less than one-percent of the world's annual income. Eradicating poverty will prove marginally more costly since measures to slow population growth and raise standards of living in the poorest countries will cost the rich nations two-to-three percent of their gross national product.

The author makes a compelling argument that there is no shortage of resources on Earth, and in fact, the barriers we face are self-imposed as they reflect our limited capacity to cooperate. Sachs aims much of the blame on recent U.S. administrations, which have bypassed the global leadership responsibilities of the previous generations to fund wasteful wars with no clear purpose. Meanwhile, he shows that China and India have emerged as the great new powers and have to be accommodated to be a true part of the international system, preferably without the need for a world war. There is no doubt that Sachs provides a powerfully compelling argument, but it also seems overly optimistic. Finding a common truth among nations and international organizations with singular objectives has proven elusive, and there is no evidence that a major epiphany appears nowhere in sight.

The subtext within Sachs's seemingly logical book can come across periodically as over-simplistic, especially as he keeps reiterating his strongly-held belief that we could solve all the problems we face if only we all acted in a rational manner. However, he ignores the simple fact that emotions like fear, neurosis and desire can also drive economic decisions. In turn, his advice comes in the form of how-to, multi-step lists which tend to trivialize matters. Most are on the macro level, but he also provides a list of eight actions - including learning and traveling - that each of us can take on to fulfill the hopes of subsequent generations in encouraging sustainable development. One can conclude that living in a sustainable manner is harder in actual practice than Sachs acknowledges even with trade, technology and common markets making for an increasingly borderless world. The potential for collaboration is there but so are the nationalistic feelings that prevent the goal of a greater good. The elements of successful sustainability are there, according to Sachs, but one questions if the spirit is really willing.
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