Invest Now in Environment, Public Health, Clinton Warns

BERKELEY, California, January 30, 2002 (ENS) - Globalization has created a "world without walls," an "explosion of democracy and diversity within democracy," former President Bill Clinton told an enthusiastic audience at the University of California-Berkeley on Tuesday.

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Former President Bill Clinton greets students at UC-Berkeley (Photos courtesy UC-Berkeley)
Fresh from a trip to the Middle East, Clinton said globalization, the explosion of information technologies, and advances in science and biotechnology make it imperative to avert war and terrorism by investing now in health care, education and the environment, especially in poor countries.

A global community, he said, cannot thrive unless "those of us who believe that our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences can defeat, in the battle of ideas and in the facts of life, those who believe that their differences define the truth and give them the right to wipe out the lives of others."

"The Afghan war costs about a billion dollars a month, and that's about as inexpensive as a war gets these days in a country like ours," Clinton said.

Warning that the United States now spends the smallest amount of any "advanced country" on foreign aid, Clinton then used that billion dollar figure as a benchmark to advocate increased spending on the prevention of environmental degradation, AIDS, poverty, and illiteracy.

"Brazil proved with medicine and prevention they could cut the death rate from AIDS in half in three years. Uganda proved with prevention alone, they could cut the death rate in half in five years. There are now 40 million people with AIDS and there will be 100 million in 2005," Clinton said.

"If you have 100 million taken, some countries are going to fail, and you'll have a lot more young people willing to be terrorists or mercenaries in tribal wars, because, what the heck, they're going to die anyway," Clinton warned.

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Clinton addresses overflow audience at UC-Berkeley
We will spend a lot more money cleaning up these messes than we would spend if we invested now in the $10 billion health fund UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is advancing, Clinton said.

"And you can make the same argument with the environment. You know we've got terrible problems," he said. "The ocean is deteriorating that generates most of our oxygen. One in four people don't have access to clean water."

"Climate change is real," Clinton warned. "If for the next 50 years the Earth's climate warms at the rate of the last 10, we'll lose 50 feet of Manhattan Island, we'll lost the Florida Everglades, island nations in the Pacific will be flooded."

"That's the most dramatic set of examples, but the most important is that agricultural production will be disrupted all over the world, and millions upon millions of people will be turned into food refugees, breeding more terrorists, and anger."

Clinton said he believes money can be made from the substitution of renewable energy technologies for the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, that contributes to climate change.

"I just got back from the Middle East and I told them they ought to forget about becoming the oil center of the world," he said. "They ought to become the energy center and double the capacity of solar technology and conservation technologies and put them in every warm place in the world."

While endorsing the need of the United States to spend money on defense and homeland security, Clinton said, "We could do America's fair share of economic empowerment of poor people, putting all the poor kids in the world in school, funding the Secretary General's health efforts, and accelerating the effort to turn around climate change, we can do all that and pay our fair share for more or less what we would spend in a year in Afghanistan in a conflict. And I can only tell you it is a lot cheaper than going to war," he said to lengthy applause.

Clinton was interviewed onstage immediately after his speech by Journalism Dean Orville Schell who asked, "If globalization succeeds, is it possible that the resources of the world, the environment, could actually sustain the level of development it would really take to lift all boats, not just yachts?"

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Clinton responds to questions
"I do, but only if we sever the link between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth," Clinton replied, repeating a frequent theme of his second term in office. "The sustainable development is still a phrase that means next to nothing to most people. Most people on a university campus know what it means, and it sounds like a pleasant enough concept, but it might as well be in Aramaic to most people."

"This assault on the Kyoto Protocol has not just been on the practical details of whether, since the Republican Congress when I was President wouldn't adopt any of the initiatives I had for meeting the Kyoto goals, [they] can be met. There are really people who basically believe first, that you can't really get rich, stay rich or get richer unless you put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And therefore they have to believe that global warming is a fraud. Otherwise, they'd face the Hobson's choice of being poor or being toast."

"So, yes, I think we can lift the poor to a decent standard of living without burning up the planet," Clinton said, "but only if the people who are in the position to make the decisions honest to goodness believe that we can do it."

"I remember when the Chinese environment minister came up to me after me after my environmental meeting event in China on the way down to Guilin and thanked me for doing this because he said the people in his own government just didn't believe him when he kept telling them they could meet the challenge of global warming and still sustain China's growth targets."

"For a lot of you in this room," Clinton said, "this debate was over a long time ago. For a lot of the world, this debate is just beginning."

"We need to spend more effort to help countries solve their own problems and develop basic capacities, freedom, openness, human rights, and actual capacity to govern. I spend a fair amount of time on that now," Clinton said, "and I hope to be able to do more in the years ahead."

Clinton was presented with the Berkeley Medal, the campus's highest honor, by Chancellor Robert Berdahl.