The New Bill Clinton

Ten years after leaving office, the vigorous, newly vegetarian former US president is devoting his time to convincing billionaires to care about the world's poor

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RD: In Haiti, one of the big problems is that the forests were cut down many years ago and never replaced. This situation reminds me of the forest summit in Oregon the first year you were president, when you were grappling with the false choice between jobs and environmental protection. Why are we still having that conversation?
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.

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