'House is burning': Muhammad Yunus urges rethink of 2050 plan

Our financial system is destroying the planet and must be reimagined, according to Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Locked down in his home in Dhaka, Bangladesh due to the pandemic, the 80-year-old told Yahoo News Australia that the interruption of Covid-19 has handed people an opportunity to reset their way of life.

Professor Yunus is urging us to act now on climate change, saying its “urgency” has been “completely forgotten” by successive leaders who are looking to 2050 to meet emissions reduction targets instead.

Left - A burning globe of the Earth in front of a building. Right - screenshot of Professor Yunus.
Our economic system must be challenged to save the planet, Professor Yunus warns.

“It’s good to have a plan for 2050, but before that we have to ask ourselves, will we be there in 2050?” he said.

“Human beings today are the most endangered species on the planet, we don’t have much time left.”

Professor Yunus argues that economic thinking which is only driven by profit maximisation cannot save the planet, and must be redesigned to include environmentalism.

“As long as your system says you have to make money, and money is the ultimate in your life, you can’t stop,” he said.

“The system makes you burn down all the forests. Why? That’s where all the money is.

“Why do you want to burn the Amazon? Because I want to clean it up and grow soya beans, or grow cattle.”

Intergenerational clash possible says Professor Yunus

Feeling robbed of their future due to the predicted impact of climate change, millions of young people have taken to the streets to demand action to reduce emissions.

Left - Professor Yunus in the middle of a cheering crowd in Bangladesh. Right - He receives a medal from President Barak Obama.
Professor Yunus's work to combat poverty has been recognised across the globe. Source: Getty
Professor Yunus sitting on a couch with Oprah Winfrey. Inset - Professor Yunus's face on The Simpsons
Professor Yunus has appeared on popular television shows to talk about reducing poverty. Source: The Oprah Winfrey Show / OWN, The Simpsons / Fox

The fear that they may lose their future because of the impact on the climate by previous generations could cause a rift and break the cycle of our destruction, Professor Yunus believes.

Despite the protests, he feels that for the time being the fossil fuel industry continues largely “untouched” because the sector remains profitable.

Former US president Donald Trump’s response to global warming, a consequence of fossil fuel burning, was to characterise it as a “hoax”, later suggesting the concept was invented by China to gain a trade advantage over the US.

In Australia, despite devastating bushfires two years ago which were intensified by climate change, the federal government has pinned its pandemic recovery on investing in fossil fuels, particularly coal seam gas.

“Fossil fuels sit very clearly with their intentions - making money. Because fossil fuels bring money, fossil fuels create jobs, that’s what the translation is,” Professor Yunus said.

“Not only I make money, also you make money. Using the word job means they want to bring you to their side.

“I’ll get the money, and you’ll get the job and have an income.”

Poverty, racism and environmental destruction linked to financial system

Professor Yunus founded of the Grameen Bank in 1976, which offers small loans to the impoverished when they don’t not have collateral, so they can avoid high-interest predatory lenders.

His work to tackle poverty has been recognised with 50 honorary doctorates and he has been awarded several high-profile international honours including the Gandhi Peace Prize, the Nobel Peace Prize and the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Left - Muhammad Yunus with a blue background. Right - A George Floyd protest.
While race, poverty and environmental destruction have different names, they are symptoms of the same system, Profesor Yunus says. Source: Reuters / Getty

Fortune magazine named him one of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs of the era, and he has appeared as a guest on high profile television shows including The Simpsons and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

While Professor Yunus is publicly known for his work to tackle poverty, he believes separating income inequality from other societal issues like race and environmental destruction can be done in name only.

He sees them all as symptoms of our flawed financial system.

A historical photo of women in colourful headscarves lining up for microcredit loans. One carries a baby.
Professor Yunus started the Grameen Bank to help women out of poverty with small loans. Source: Getty

Unlike software which has been designed to have a function, the financial system which structures our lives evolved over time in a haphazard way, Professor Yunus believes.

“It was working in the wrong direction and we never stopped it,” he said.

“We got so glued into it, mesmerised by it, and continued to extol the virtues of the things that we do.”

'House is burning' while 'we are having a party'

Professor Yunus sees current economic practice as having been “inherited” but not “questioned”.

Greta Thunberg stares at Donald Trump.
A schism between generations is growing due to inaction on climate change. Source: Reuters

Education has entrenched the acceptance of the status quo, which prioritises individual profit maximisation above the collective interest.

“(Outside the) house is burning, but inside the house we are having a party, enjoying ourselves,” he said.

“(There’s) economic growth and fantastic prosperity and all the beautiful technology is making our lives wonderful, but we don’t give a second thought that we’re under a burning house.

“That’s how we have been addicted. Our eyes cannot see, our body cannot feel. Soon it will be all burnt into ash. We can’t do that.”

Despite the mounting environmental challenges our species faces, Professor Yunus said he remains a “compulsive optimist”.

A sea of protesters and signs at a climate march in Sydney.
Professor Yunus believes nothing is impossible if people take action. Source: Getty

While he believes government will provide more “speeches” than direct action, he is hopeful that change will come as a result of the people.

“We are the people who live in this house,” he said.

“Nothing is impossible for human beings, so never get disappointed

“All you have to do is make a decision, if you make a decision it will happen.”

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