With tonight’s final presidential debate focused on foreign policy, here are two issues we haven’t heard much about: climate change and the world’s poor. As it happens, they are not not unconnected. Half the world’s poorest people live in India and China, while another quarter live in Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia. Coincidentally, perhaps, the five countries where climate change kills the most people are China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia: three million die annually, and another 420 million are negatively affected. Not one of the five is among the world’s poorest countries. In fact, all are growing rapidly, and at least three have nuclear weapons. But their most distressed people are increasingly the victims of both poverty and environmental devastation.
What will happen, I pondered, if the world does nothing, as the world seems bent on doing? And then it hit me . . . Laissez-faire! . . . or “Laissez les eaux furieux rouler” as they used to say in New Orleans, “Let the wild waters roll.” If we continue to deny the reality of climate change and ignore the plight of the poor, the bottom billion will disappear. There will be no need for the birth-control programs that so irritate Republicans, nor for huge transfer payments to the developing world. Global purchasing power will be little affected, while thousands of miles of new beachfront will open up. Not since Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal that the destitute Irish sell their children for food to the English gentry has a solution presented itself that so benefits rich and poor alike.