What's an ambitious economist to do if he has already counseled countries from Bolivia to Poland through rough financial times, advised the Pope on globalization and helped launch a global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria? For Jeffrey Sachs, 49, the logical next act is to help save the entire planet from what he warns could be an "environmental catastrophe" caused by climate change and the destruction of wildlife. In 2002, Sachs abruptly ended a 22-year Harvard career to head Columbia University's Earth Institute, which has 19 research divisions. He has also become a top adviser to the United Nations on how to ease global poverty without putting extra pressure on an overburdened environment, a goal known as sustainable development.
Sachs wants to demolish the notion that economic progress and environmental protection are incompatible. The Earth Institute's approach is to bring together scientists, economists and policy makers to find the best developmental paths. For example, institute researchers will work on techniques that industries can use to slow down climate change by storing underground the carbon released from fossil fuels rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
"We don't have to close down our society to respond to climate change," Sachs insists. "We just have to learn to do something we've never thought about doing before, and that's to manage carbon." That could give us a chance to have our economic growth--and a nice atmosphere too. --By Charles Alexander