Certainly Effervescent

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Haiti and the Heights of Eco-Lunacy

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From The Root, on the rebuilding of Haiti:

Yet many urban planners, architects and developers are seeing a silver lining in the near-total destruction of a major Haitian city. “It would be a small silver lining if in three years, we see a more sustainable Haiti, with energy efficient, healthy, disaster resistant buildings that makes the nation more resilient to future electricity shortages, public health crises and disasters,” says Matthew Peterson, CEO of Global Green, a sustainable development consulting firm with strong ties to the New Orleans recovery effort.

I really bow to very few in my green-ness. I’m a CFL’ed-out, recycling, locavore-when-possible Boulderite. But I’ve also worked overseas in 3rd world conditions and know that, in many ways, the Green movement, just like my vegetarianism, is the luxury of a 1st world citizen. Because we rarely have epidemics, droughts, famines, or civil wars, I can support local farmers and choose to forgo meat. I can’t expect that of the rest of the world: I can kvetch and moan as loud as I like, but the incontrovertible fact is that as a nation grows wealthier its diet turns to protein-heavy sources and carbon heavy lifestyles. It’s only after achieving a near-historical wealth that a country can turn to an eco-conscious ethic.

But many people in the eco-movement are near-goosestepping ideologues in their fanaticism. Oftentimes they will choose policy over people in their zeal. To suggest that we not pressure the poorer nations to conform to our environmental standards is blasphemous. All must fall in line with the accepted wisdom, circumstances be damned. In one of the best man-with-a-hammer-sees-only-nails moments in years, see the above-mentioned Mr. Peterson, who hopes for a “more sustainable Haiti”.

May I ask: what the hell is he talking about?

Some brief graph work to prove my point:

So, pre-earthquake, Haiti was emitting CO2 at 1/3 the rate of Papua New Guinea and 1/5 the rate of Zim-frickin-babwe. Yeah, that’s a pretty unsustainable environmental policy.

I had to start with those countries because the next chart will show just how unpolluting all 3 of those countries are compared to the USA and Denmark, one of the greenest Western countries:

So when a USA greenie asks for us to consider how to make Haiti more environmentally sustainable, I’m going to go with the standard “STFU, you insulated ass.”

Frankly, I think the people of Haiti would have benefited by a less green economy defending themselves from natural disasters. If the Google Maps images and news footage are any indicator, Haiti is the perfect example of a “leave-no-trace” country, and its citizens are suffering for it.


Written by C.S. Stieber

January 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm

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Haiti: Some Thoughts

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Reihan Salam’s thoughts on Haiti jibe very well with my own.


I don’t have much to say about the disaster that has struck Haiti. But it does serve as a vivid reminder that Haitians have been suffering through a far deeper and more profound slow-motion disaster for decades (emphasis added). Every earthquake or tsunami or flood in the developing world yields tragic images…

Yet the number of people who die in these calamities pales in significance to the number who die because of broken institutions and the resulting absence of the kind of dynamic capitalist economy that we take for granted. In 2008, economists Michael Clemens and Lant Pritchett published “Income per Natural: Measuring Development as if People Mattered More Than Places,” a brilliant illustration of the damage broken institutions can do.

It is easy to learn the average income of a resident of El Salvador or Albania. But there is no systematic source of information on the average income of a Salvadoran or Albanian. In this new working paper, research fellow Michael Clemens and non-resident fellow Lant Pritchett create a new statistic: income per natural — the mean annual income of persons born in a given country, regardless of where that person now resides. If income per capita has any interpretation as a welfare measure, exclusive focus on the nationally resident population can lead to substantial errors of the income of the natural population for countries where emigration is an important path to greater welfare. The estimates differ substantially from traditional measures of GDP or GNI per resident, and not just for a handful of tiny countries. Almost 43 million people live in a group of countries whose income per natural collectively is 50 percent higher than GDP per resident. For 1.1 billion people the difference exceeds 10 percent. The authors also show that poverty estimates are different for national residents and naturals; for example, 26 percent of Haitian naturals who are not poor by the two-dollar-a-day standard live in the United States (emphasis added).

The desperation on the part of would-be Haitain refugees is easy to understand. One approach, which Clemens and Pritchett strongly endorse, is to liberalize international migration flows. Communities in affluent countries resist this idea, for obvious and understandable reasons. But blanket opposition to mutually beneficial offshoring strikes me as really tough to justify, particularly when it helps strengthen market

My experience isn’t in Haiti, but Rwanda. I taught in a rural school in Rwamagana and lived in Kacyiru, a neighborhood of Kigali. And what Clemens and Pritchett have found meshes with my experience: the gap between income-per-national and GDP/capita shows the chasm between Third Worlders who stay and those who emigrate. Things are often economically worse in poor countries than some of the data suggests.

Something Salam doesn’t point out, but is worth mentioning, is that many people in the Black American community have been talking about the plight of Haiti for many, many, years. And, in my limited history and knowledge, I seem to remember that many on the Right pushed it aside as a bit of Black nationalism/identity groaning. Also, the last public figure I remember talking about Haiti, pre-earthquake was, wait for it, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Gasp! I’m not certain that Reihan has been negligent on Haiti or disregarded former discussions about it, but I know co-workers of his at National Review have ignored Haiti’s failed institutions in the past.

A bit off topic, but worth saying about that last paragraph quoted above: I do not have an answer to all of this (anyone who does is an idiot or a liar) poverty and failed institutions. But I do think that restrictions on migration, whether of people or products, are either xenophobic, selfish, or ignorant (or a mix of all 3). I challenge anyone to go to Africa, see the poverty amidst very fertile lands capable supplying the First World with plenty of food, and say with a straight face that “the American farmer is under attack”. So for the billionth time: Lou Dobbs is a jerk.

Written by C.S. Stieber

January 13, 2010 at 11:14 pm

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