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Muhammad Yunus on Achieving a World with Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment & Zero Emissions

StorySeptember 27, 2017
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As a series of destructive hurricanes hit the United States, devastating floods in South Asia have killed more than 1,300 people. “[Bangladesh] is the most densely populated country in the world. … It’s becoming a situation where we will have have hundreds of thousands of climate refugees,” says Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. His new book is titled “A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Now let’s talk about what Bangladesh is facing, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya coming in, and that is the issue of climate change. I mean, you come into this country—I know you’re speaking at the Brooklyn Public Library tonight.


AMY GOODMAN: You come into this country. You see the catastrophe, the climate catastrophe in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, these hurricanes coming more frequently, more intense. A third of your country, Bangladesh, is underwater?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: You said all of the words that I was about to say. It’s unbelievable that this country—which is a flat country, by the way. One-fourth of the country is just about one meter above the sea level. So the global warming takes—as it takes place, sea level rises, Bangladesh just slides into the sea. And so, this is the position, that every year we are getting more and more into the sea than we were before. And it’s a very tightly packed country. In a small territory of 150 million people—sorry, 150,000 square kilometers, we have 160 million people. So it’s more than a thousand people per square mile of the whole country. It’s the most densely populated country in the world. So if land goes into the water, your land becomes uncultivable. You cannot grow food for yourself, and you have to leave your territory, land that you used to live. So it’s becoming a situation where we will have hundreds of thousands of climate refugees moving around to find shelter for ourselves. On top of it, you have the new refugees coming from Burma to find shelter with us. So, these are happening not because Bangladesh is doing something wrong for the climate situation or worsening the climate situation. It’s because something is happening somewhere else, and it’s coming to us. And the floods that you mentioned, floods—we used to know flood. But now the feature of the flood is it’s more frequent and more intensive.

AMY GOODMAN: So how does it feel to come to a country, the United States, where the president, President Donald Trump, has denied climate change, called it a Chinese hoax, pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: It’s unbelievable. We can’t believe that the president of the United States can say such a thing. It took us more than 40 years of global mobilization, making people aware what a damaging thing this climate change is, and it soon will be reaching the point of no return. Even if we try, we cannot save the planet anymore. So we all got together, finally, all the countries got together in Paris to sign the Paris Agreement. And today, that Paris Agreement exists. But suddenly, president of the United States says, “We are withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.” It takes away the whole trust of the movement that built up around the world. So we are very unhappy and very, very disappointed that such a position was taken. I hope U.S. will review that position and go back to Paris Agreement and give the full support to it so that it makes it happen. A country like China is going—moving ahead. India is moving ahead. The countries people suspected that they will not agree to the Paris Agreement or any kind of attempt to save the planet from the global warming, because they want to develop the country first before they get into all this, they’re the ones that are now taking the leadership role, where the United States is withdrawing from that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be broadcasting from Paris tomorrow from UNESCO headquarters, where I’m going to be speaking. But you wrote a book, A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Yes, indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: This book comes out at a time, what—Oxfam came out with that report, the eight richest men in the world own more wealth than half the world’s population, more than three-and-a-half billion people. But talk about zero net carbon emissions, zero poverty.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: All this, we have to achieve. There is no option for us. And I just lay down that this is something. But the system which we have been practicing, the capitalist system—I said capitalist system is not working towards it. It’s a system which, as you mentioned, eight people owning more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the people. It’s a system which is like a machine which is sucking up wealth from the bottom and transporting it to the top. So the top is becoming a big mushroom of wealth. And then, 99 percent of the people is like the stem from the mushroom hanging there. And that stem is becoming thinner and thinner. The portion of the wealth devoted to bottom 99—or, the 99 percent—we don’t say “bottom” anymore—becoming smaller and, regrettably, the top becoming bigger and bigger.

So this is a ticking time bomb. Anytime it can explode—politically, socially, economically and so on. We are not paying attention to it. Wealth concentration was going on ever since we introduced capitalist system, but this was not very visible. Today, it’s becoming worse and worse. The speed of wealth concentration has become speedier and speedier. Years back, there was—a couple of years back, it was 32 people who owned half, the wealth of the bottom 50 percent, and now we have eight. Soon we will have five. Soon we will have two, two people owning the whole entire world’s wealth together. So those are the kind of things threatening.

When concentration of wealth takes place, it’s also the concentration of power. Wealth and power go together. So you control the government, you control the politics, you control the media, you control businesses, everything. So that’s the kind of situation coming. And all the people at the bottom, bottom 10 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent, they will have tremendous anger against the way that’s being done and how to express themselves that will create the destability in the society.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is a perfect launching point for Part 2 of our discussion, which we will post online at Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. His new book, A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.

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