Everyone knows that the United States has made mistakes and yet it remains the world’s most dynamic economy. The Chinese may be older, but there are 1.412 million Chinese and only 331 million Americans. Per capita income in the United States is much higher. People talk about the American decline and the Chinese boom without knowledge. I always ask them what position China occupies in the GDP index. You know it?
You cannot measure the economy apart from the population. Dynamism is essential to keep it alive. Being the typical European, you will have 3 mobiles, right?
Tell me, where was it invented? In the United States. Where are modern airplanes made? In the same place; research and creativity precede production. The fact that the United States withdraws from Afghanistan does not mean that they are finished. People like to simplify.
Show me with numbers that the United States is not an exceptional country.
Of course. Babies are more likely to die there. If you are looking for evidence of American exceptionality, you won’t find it in the numbers, which is where it matters. The reason is that one is exceptional in something, not in everything.
The United States adopted its visionary Constitution: “All men are created equal,” while the first, third, and fourth presidents were slave owners.
In Islamic countries, slavery existed until yesterday. In Saudi Arabia, maybe even now. And there is a de facto slavery: people who work locked up in houses.
Is democracy a utopia?
It is imperfect, but it gives me a better alternative. We will see. There are almost no foreigners in Finland [7% of the population]. Social consensus is easier than in the United States, with a diversity of races and religions. Look at Spain: everyone wants to be independent! Euskadi, Catalonia, even Madrid! It is easier to rule Finland. Nordics should be eliminated from international comparisons. The world is a place that collapses one day and fixes itself the next.
How to handle uncertainty?
In the 1980s, I wrote a book about the environment in China. For years, I have been asked when it would be unbreathable and I have always answered the same thing; we will not see it. It is in the human condition to take one big step forward and one step back. Pollution in China is among the worst in the world, but water treatment has improved. How many things have improved in Spain since Franco’s death? You will tell me that many, but how many have gotten worse?
Your discourse that the world regulates itself could be used by climate change deniers.
The question belongs to the past. In the last 50 years we have left behind the neglect of the environment. There are laws, ministries, sanctions and education.
There is also more pollution…
Sure, but consciousness exists. Even in the poorest countries; and it produces results.
When you do your research, how do you decide what will be important and what will be irrelevant?
Think of the human body: is a kidney or a liver more important? It is absurd to think that environmental problems are more important than economic ones because everything is related, and we are only going to solve it if we understand that. There, social networks are toxic: they do not understand connections.
Do you use Google?
And who does not use Google? 90% of the world market is its. It has been a marketing tool for a long time, and I have no doubts: Google has the best algorithm, especially if you are looking for serious information and not idiotic YouTube videos.
Today, almost everyone uses a mobile phone and you do not. Why?
I am not interested in stupid social media. Why should I tell my life to people I don’t know? Why should I comment on things I don’t know? Look, when you have a heart problem you need the opinion of a cardiologist. Not that of someone sitting in a dark room.
That the richest men in the world get on rockets to explore the biosphere; is it an opportunity for humans or a business opportunity?
If one is bold, everything is a business opportunity. The question is at what price and what for.
What is progress for you?
Having the child population vaccinated, nourished, with a life expectancy that goes from 40 to 80 years and with education and health guaranteed by the State. By the way, Spain is at the top of life expectancy, almost on a par with Japan, despite the fact that today it eats too much meat.
How much is too much meat?
Well, during the Franco regime, they ate 8 kilos per year per capita. Now they eat about 200 kilos per year.
And do you eat meat?
Of course! Why should not eat it? We are omnivores. It is true that we do not have the digestive system of herbivores, like a cow or a koala. But the key is in the omni- prefix, which means everything. This implies variety and not exceeding anything.
I was surprised to find out that we drink less wine than we did a century ago.
Consumption has dropped especially in the Mediterranean. In your country you drink more beer than wine. The same as the Mediterranean diet: I cook with olive oil, but in Spain the one that is sold the most is sunflower oil.
Do you cook?
Yes, every day I do it, for me and my wife.
I imagined you immersed in your readings and with time for little else.
I would not be able to do research if I did not have an organized life. Preparing what you eat keeps you healthy and awake. Today I bought a cod and I am going to make it with potatoes.
“The industrial man does not eat potatoes produced with solar energy, but potatoes partially produced with oil”. You wrote that without the Haber-Bosch fertilizer synthesis there would be widespread famine.
Without nitrogen the plants would grow less and there would not be enough for everyone. Fertilizers not only serve to increase fortunes, they feed the world’s population.
And is eating universally healthy an impossible task?
Is universal public health an impossible task? I think it is a challenge. Harvests can be better planned and fertilizers improved. Cows can eat alfalfa. We do not. But if we only eat cows, we have to feed them. Almost everything on the planet is a question of balance.
Is Mexico still the most overweight country?
No. Now it is Saudi Arabia, with over 70% of the population obese.
12% of the population is undernourished. And 75% overnourished. Why is the condition of cheap so fattening?
Because it has saturated fat and a lot of sugar which produces a satiating effect with little expense.
Is the obesity epidemic more related to poverty or to cars?
The answer is multifactorial: genetics rule, diet helps, and exercise or activity pays off. Most Japanese women do not exercise, but they are active.
How do you get around Winnipeg?
Here it is very difficult to live without a car. The nearest supermarket is five kilometers away.
Is frugality an education?
We go back to our old ways: what is little? There are people who believe that 3 cars are too few and there are those who consider that 1 is too much. Also, education is not everything. There are educated people who are very unhappy. You know, educated people who commit crimes and financial embezzlement. Educated people divorce at the same rate as uneducated people. Higher education has only one verifiable result: greater chances of making money. But not even that data is infallible, look at the number of graduates in Spain who are forced to emigrate.
Tell me at least if there is a more reasonable energy.
Yes; natural gas. Being available throughout the world, it is the cleanest of fossil fuels, which when burned generates carbon dioxide. It will take a long time until we can get the electricity we need only from sustainable resources like wind or sun. Meanwhile, the most effective is gas. There is no possible discussion.
That some energies —such as natural gas— are in few hands; is it a danger?
No. For a long time the gas market remained limited because there was no easy way to move it around. But once the pipelines are built, it is easy. Europe depends on gas from the North Sea, and from the Russian territory. Spain imports from Qatar. Even Canada exports to Europe.
With so much information; are your fears global or personal?
My fear is personal. That is why it is almost impossible to feel the same for a child who dies in Africa as for a sick child. But the information reminds us that the world is a complex machine. Where one risk ends, another begins. Think of the pandemic; the world is now a risky place.