The Cheapest Ways To Save The World

Ask a bunch of the world's best economists -- including four Nobel laureates -- how to make the world a better place, and they don't just blurt out an answer. They take their time, weigh up impact-per-dollar and make careful decisions. And this is what they came up with.

The best part? We can totally do it.

While many, less penny-pinching policymakers might argue that preserving green space, instigating massive geoengineering projects or mining asteroids might be our saviour, a panel of economists and environment experts, along with the think tank Copenhagen Consensus Center, have focused on initiatives with more bang-per-buck.

The results, then, aren't the sexy, exotic kinds of science and technology we're used to thinking about. They don't care about cutting emissions or alternative energy, either. They're instead the exact kind of humble, obvious ideas that are easy to forget about -- but could change the quality of life for billions of people. You can read the findings in full, but here are the big three take-home messages.

Banish hunger

Sounds as impossible to remedy as it is obvious, but top of they every-dollar-counts list of priorities is malnutrition. And it's actually an entirely obtainable goal. The team suggests that "each dollar spent reducing chronic under-nutrition has more than a $US30-pay-off" to the global economy. In providing food for those without it, then, it's possible to save lives and improve the world's financial situation.

Eradicate infectious disease

The economists also suggest that solving basic -- and preventable -- problems like diarrhoea, worms and malaria would do far more good than other grandiose interventions. While it's hardly new advice, cash spent on such initiatives would have a far bigger payback to the global economy than more exotic healthcare research.

Prevent chronic disease

Finally, the report suggests that cost-efficient methods of preventing chronic diseases would transform our future. Effective hepatitis B immunisation and affordable drugs for heart conditions, for instance, could transform lives and slash healthcare costs. Likewise, effective educational campaigns to reduce salt and fat consumption could have very similar, long-lasting effects.

In fact, if all of this sounds like common sense, that because... well, it is. What's interesting about the report, though, is how it gets us thinking about the simple, cheap ways in which we can change the world in which we live. Flash science and expensive engineering are all and well good -- but there are broader, cheaper problems to solve, which we ignore at our cost. [Copenhagen Consensus Center via PhysOrg]

Image: Loskutnikov/Shutterstock

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    This will never happen in a capitalistic word. Profits take priority over everything else. We are a sad race.

      "America's abundance was created not by public sacrifices to the common good, but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America's industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance -- and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way."

      AYN RAND, Capitalism: The Unknown Deal

    This sounds more like a recipe for destroying the world. It would lead to rampant over-population. The best way to save the world is to reduce the human population substantially.

      Correct MotorMouth, without being cruel and nasty, should we stop natures last line of defence against us? We need to look at limiting overpopulation. No I don't have the answer, but this needs to be somewhere near the top of our concerns to be addressed.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      Actually reducing child mortality rates has been proven to reduce population.

      Im glad you said it. Can we shoot you first?

        You can certainly try but I'd suggest my 10 years in the Infantry and years of pig hunting experience would put me at a significant advantage in such a situation. But you are definitely thinking along the right lines. Bring it on, I say.

    Not exactly that simple, look at every impoverished country in he world. Note that most of them are controlled by dictators.
    They're the ones you have to get around, no matter what something costs.

      Yes, but if the people are malnourished and broken, how likely is it that things will ever change there? #Catch22

    Pie... meet Sky. Coming to these conclusions is the easy bit, resolution is the challenge. Just a bunch of lefty hippies spending tax/grant money to come up with stuff we already know.

    The vast majority of "western" societies are dying out as their fertility rates are well below replacement i.e. 2.1. The new world will be Asian, African and South American. Let's hope they do a better job.

    This is a joke, right?
    Nothing about improving OUR lives, and a lot of hoo haa about giving it out to free for people who are too dumb to do anything for themselves! This has "save Africa" written all over it - well here's my answer. Screw Africa.

      Africa already is screwed. A great deal of African nations are slave nations to IMF debt. The debts are known to be unpayable. IMF uses debt as leverage to implement laws which allow resources to be plundered by foreign interests. The Africans are being stripped naked by IMF and by extension all the goverments who contribute to its operation. In other words, it's an artificial problem. Shatter the IMF and Africa would likely recover within a half century.

    wow... some of the comments here are just plain elitist or ignorant... the point about keeping people alive is that it gives the planet a larger working population which in turn provides for greater chances of innovation and invention. also reducing child mortality means that parents aren't trying to have 6 children so that 1 of them will survive into adulthood and be able to support them in their old age.

    you wanna know what is at the top of the list of fixing most world debt problems? vegetarianism... why? because it costs a hell of a lot less to everyone involved. money saved goes back into infrastructure and this in turn leads to better quality of life. and people are able to afford more and so they take advantage of the improved infrastructure. but this won't work because far too many people can't imagine food without meat and a significantly large number of people rely on meat to sustain their incomes.

    as the for overpopulation problem - it's only a relative problem. we live where we live because we choose to. there is crap loads of unoccupied habitable land the world over - it's just not next door to myer. and taking the argument to the extreme, overpopulation is in essence it's own solution. once you have a state of overpopulation, you will find people trying to do something to solve the issue and someone somewhere will present an elegant solution that will make everyone go "oooh" & "aaah".

    and as for those who say all of this won't help them and that it'll only be helping the poor and developing countries... well, i'd actually argue that it'd negatively impact on such people. after all, if we give the poor and the weak strength to rise up and out of their slums one day one of them will come up with the next big thing and become your boss. why? because they have had to fight their way to the top, not just coast along in the middle were you find yourself so comfortably seated.

    Feed the world and stop people getting sick? Make the environmental disaster that is the human race worse.

    It's not nice, but it's the truth.

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