Bill Clinton: Saviour of the world? - Profiles - People - The Independent

Bill Clinton: Saviour of the world?

He's left the White House, but Bill Clinton still wants to end poverty, bring about global peace and save the planet. He tells Euripedes Alcântara how he plans to do it

If the living standards of hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Africa were raised, it could be argued that this would hasten the depletion of natural resources. If all the inhabitants of the planet reached the same consumption standards of the inhabitants of California, there would be an environmental collapse, wouldn't there?

"The shortest answer is yes. But the longest is that it is possible to create wealth without destroying the environment. This is the great challenge. All over the world, water reserves are diminishing, fertile soils are being eroded and seed production is showing a downward trend. South America is one of the few regions in the world that was able to increase the production of soy and other seeds thanks to technology and the abundance of fertile lands. But this is an exception in the world. The rule is the shortage of water and of arable lands.

"Therefore, one of the dearest purposes of my initiative is to find ways to turn environmental preservation into a path to attain economic prosperity. Otherwise, the reaction of people, let us say, in China and India, may be very negative. They might think that environmental preservation is an ambush by Americans and Europeans to prevent their countries' economic growth. For this reason, we have to stimulate the use of solar energy, of aeolian energy, and help to popularise highly productive cultivation techniques that will help us preserve water and the soil. Thus, people will understand that preservation makes them richer, not poorer.

"Another beneficial effect of raising the standard of living and consumption of the population is shown by statistics: as countries grow rich, population growth diminishes. When we know that the greatest population impact in the planet is in the countries with the big forest reserves, the importance of helping them grow rich becomes clear."

Recently, you said that the world needs to enter the post-globalisation phase. What does this mean?

"The globalisation of the economy had very positive effects, but a lot of people did not benefit from it. The only way to broaden these beneficial effects is to bring the civil society to the scene. I think time has come for non-governmental organisations, companies, workers' associations and international organisations to try to develop a social and environmental policy that is in keeping with the challenges and opportunities created by globalisation. The global economic system alone cannot solve all the problems, either locally or globally. Issues such as the environment and the increase of poverty and inequality cannot be confronted only by the market forces. Therefore, I think it is not very realistic to imagine that we can have a globalised economy without the counterpart of global social action. My idea is, basically, to contribute to the creation of a global civil society with partnerships that transcend national and regional borders."

It seems very praiseworthy, but aren't you being too optimistic over the practical results it may bring?

"I think that, together, we can produce actual results in a shorter term than what is imagined. Global civil society is rapidly expanding since the end of real communism. If you look at what's happened in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, you will see that three major and little-celebrated phenomena are giving shape to the contemporary world. The first one is the fact that, for the first time in history, more people are living under democratic governments than under dictatorships. The second one is the geometrical expansion of the internet. The third one is the consolidation of NGOs as action-organisations with global amplitude.

Democratic nations rarely wage wars among themselves, but what other opportunities were created by the phenomena you describe?

"The boom of use of the internet as a citizenship tool has been vital. The Chinese, for instance, used the internet to oblige their government to acknowledge the seriousness of the disease known as Sars, the Asian flu, and to take the necessary measures to prevent the progress of the epidemic. After the terrible tsunami that razed South-eastern Asia at the end of last year, 30 per cent of Americans made donations to the victims. Half the donations were made via the internet."

You're talking about millions of people...

"It is unbelievable. Add to this the capillarity of the NGOs in developing countries and in wealthy countries and we have a very optimistic scenario. The boom of the NGOs goes from the Bill Gates Foundation, which spends billions of dollars in health treatments in India and Africa, to the smaller organisations that grant micro-credit in Latin America, in Africa and in southern Asia. What I think I can do to help is to provide all these people with the opportunity to focus their actions so as to make them more effective. I hope to create an environment in which entrepreneurial, labour and political leaders and NGOs can sit together and say: 'Well, these are the things we must begin and end within a year, these are the areas we think are vital for our common future.'"

Great projects have a tendency to attract corrupt people. Do you fear this may jeopardise everything?

"Projects do not need to be great. They have to be functional. For example, Brazil has at least two successful cases that may serve as an example to the world. One of them is the programme of distribution of anti-viral medicine for Aids patients. The medicine reaches even the more distant populations, including indigenous patients who do not even speak Portuguese. This is something extraordinary. No other country in the world has a project comparable to Brazil's. Another programme of which Brazilians must be proud is the one in which mothers of poor families periodically receive an amount of money as an incentive to keep their children at school. I believe that there are many ways to finance projects without running the risk of fostering corruption. For this, the quality of people is fundamental. In many countries of the extinct communist bloc, there are many people who are really skilled in government, in the middle of a rotten bureaucracy that no longer works. What can we do? Identify the good people and help them. I agree that, when a government is dishonest, help is equivalent to throwing money down the drain.

The idea that some good people in the right place may make the difference is comforting, isn't it?

"Yes. Even in countries without a very effective governing system, there are helpless but clever people who are managing to survive even when everything conspires against them. When a good network of NGOs arrives in a place like this, their work can save many lives, establish companies and promote economic growth."

Do you picture yourself going back to the White House as a "first husband"?

"I do not know anything about this. You know my wife. I am very proud of her. She has been doing an extraordinary job in the American Senate. She will run for re-election in New York in 2006. Before thinking about anything else, she needs to face this campaign. What I can say is that I am very happy with the work of my foundation, trying to save lives and solve problems. I thank every day for the life I have and for my wife's political work. I cannot say anything else about this right now."

© Euripedes Alcantara/Veja/Editora Abril

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week