BC: For most poor people in the world where deforestation is a problem – and not just in Haiti – it’s not a false choice. It’s a real choice, because nobody’s really come to them in their area and helped to create jobs. Nobody has given them a chance to participate in a sustainable society. All they know is their kids have to eat tonight, and if they cut this tree down and sell it for charcoal, they can stay alive for a couple more days … You have to give them another way to make a living.
RD: The same choice was posed after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while the oil was still leaking: “You can’t regulate, because it will cost jobs.” Are we stuck in an old way of thinking?
BC: Look at Louisiana, which was getting battered. There was an immediate blowback when people started talking about maybe having a moratorium on offshore drilling. Why? Because those people make a living doing that, and they have no idea how they can make a living doing anything else – and because nobody sketched out what their role would be. I still believe the American people have not been adequately sold on the fact that we can create a zillion times more jobs by maximising our solar and wind capacity. Last year there was a survey of the capacity of various major countries to develop solar and wind energy, and we ranked, I think, second in wind and third in solar. That doesn’t even scratch what we could do in building efficiencies. We’ve got to build a new world here. The old world is organised, and the new world is disorganised; the old world is certain, and the new world is uncertain. That’s why, normally, the people against change defeat the forces of change, and we have to overcome that – and do it in a very specific way.
RD: The CGI is now five years old, and it has helped raise billions. How do you do it? Let’s say you’re in a lift with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim or some other wealthy potential donor. What’s your pitch?
BC: I always tell them that we live in an interdependent world, and therefore all these good things I’ve tried to get people to do are actually in their self-interest. It’s interesting that you mentioned Carlos because he’s one of our biggest supporters. Carlos is a couple of years older than I am – we’re fine, but we’re over 60. How long can we live – 20, 30 years, outside? So we live 30 years and have a fine time. But if you think about your children and your grandchildren, it is clearly not sustainable to have this much wealth concentrated in so few hands, with a weak middle class where people can easily drop out and be plunged into poverty. I try to convince all these wealthy people of the same thing: that it’s in the interest of not only you but also your children and grandchildren.