NORMAL — Previewing a talk about global climate change, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon said Thursday that improving the climate doesn't have to be done at the expense of economic growth. Both are possible, he said, but it will take changes in several areas.
In the Twin Cities as part of the Adlai Stevenson Memorial Lecture Series, the president of Mexico from 2006 to 2012 also said the United States needs to take a “more pragmatic and viable” approach to immigration reform and the Trump administration needs to recognize the importance of a strong relationship with Mexico.
Calderon spoke to a group of about 65 students at Illinois State University's Bone Student Center in advance of an evening speech at Illinois Wesleyan University titled, “Better Growth or Better Climate: Do We Need to Choose?"
Highlighting themes from his evening lecture, Calderon said government and businesses have been reluctant to take action on climate change because they think it will harm economic growth.
But, Calderon said, “it is possible to have better growth and a better climate at the same time.”
However, it will take changes in three big systems, according to Calderon, chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and president of the Sustainable Human Development Foundation.
Those systems are urbanization, land-use practices and energy.
First, the planet must move away from having sprawling cities like Chicago or Mexico City and move toward more densely compact cities with coordinated mass transportation systems, Calderon said.
He pointed to Barcelona, Spain, and Atlanta, Ga., for comparisons. Both have roughly the same population but Barcelona covers less than 200 square miles while Atlanta covers nearly 2,500 square miles, he noted. The result? Atlanta's carbon emissions per capita are 10 times higher than those of Barcelona, said Calderon.
Second, he said, land-use practices must be changed by using new technology to produce more food on less land area and ending deforestation and degradation of soil.
Third, the planet must move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, he said.
Innovation in energy not only will improve the climate and public health, it will create jobs, Calderon argued.
“Innovation has been a crucial factor for economic growth since the invention of the wheel,” he said.
Speaking with reporters after his talk, Calderon said U.S.-Mexico relations are at “a very difficult moment,” and the Trump administration needs to recognize “how important Mexico is for the United States.”
Mexico is the second-largest importer of U.S. products, noted Calderon.
“When President Trump says, 'Buy American,' we, the Mexicans, buy American a lot,” said Calderon, noting that Mexico is one of the main importers of corn from the United States, but if relations sour, Mexico could turn to other countries, such as Argentina.
“That will hurt the American people, not the Mexican people,” Calderon said.
As for immigration, Calderon said the number of Mexicans leaving the United States is equal to or higher than the number entering the country and it has been that way since about 2010.
He said a lot of those entering the country work in difficult jobs, and about 60 percent of agricultural workers are immigrants. Many are more interested in a smoother system to enter the country for temporary work than in becoming citizens, according to Calderon.