The revolutionary way people give money and time in the 21st century is changing the world.
Business, too, by making smart business decisions that also slow greenhouse gases, is changing the "paradigm of what people think is normal."
Oh, and, in a way, it's still the economy, stupid.
President Bill Clinton spoke about giving (small g) and Giving (big G, his book) at the Hearst Tower in Manhattan this morning, and then answered a few questions from David Granger, editor-in-chief of Esquire. The Daily Green was there. Clinton's comments about giving are relevant to anyone, particularly during the holiday season, and many of his thoughts are relevant particularly to those who care about environmental causes.
His basic message: The rapid growth among the richest of the rich in the United States, coupled with the proliferation of nongovernmental organizations across the globe and the democratization of giving made possible by small Internet donations, is revolutionizing the way people are helping others. What it means is that both people with huge fortunes, and those giving as little as $10 or an hour a week, can each give in more sophisticated ways and be sure that their donations are doing good.
One notable example: Kiva, which allows donors to loan money to individuals in developing countries. The loans are for specific projects, like Salome Roque, the owner of a small general store in La Paz, Bolivia, who needs $250 to maintain her husband's taxi and have a 98% payback rate. Donors get monthly reports about the project and payback schedule, and once a donor's loan has been paid back, he or she can keep the money in circulation, doing good with the same dollars over and over again.
Many have argued persuasively that tackling the world's thorniest environmental problems won't be successful unless people living in poverty see their lives improved enough that they can focus less on day-to-day needs of clothing, food and shelter. In Bangladesh, which some national security experts predict will be ground zero for political instability caused by global warming, micro-loans such as those given out by Kiva have kept the economy growing at 6% even as the national government flip-flops between leaders, and repeated natural disasters challenge local communities.
Clinton also views business decisions that make money while benefiting the environment as a form of giving. Wal-Mart is his favorite example, having cut $2.5 billion in costs from its supply chain by requiring a 5% cut in packaging as part of a package of green reforms. But just making energy efficiency improvements, or building a LEED-certified green building either of which will pay for themselves, making them good financial investments are a form of giving.
"Every single time a business or local government takes a step in the right direction, and proves there can be benefits as well as costs, it's tremendously important," Clinton said.
The Clinton Global Initiative has taken that idea to heart, revolutionizing the market for AIDS drugs in such a way that drug makers make more money, and more drugs are given to those who need them at dramatically reduced prices. He's applying the same logic to climate change initiatives in 40 cities on six continents.
"I never ask anyone to lose money," Clinton said.
The same spirit is sorely needed in Bali, he said, where delegates from more than 180 nations are negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which required 170 signatories to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Only seven, he said, are on pace to meet their targets. But those nations that are on pace have seen tremendous economic growth, Clinton said.
"Fighting global warming," he said, "is good economics."
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