Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lester Brown: "Plan B 3.0"

Some time last year I borrowed Lester Brown's "Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble" from our local library. The first edition of this book was written in 2003, an updated and revised edition called "Plan B 2.0" appeared in 2006. I found the book informative and impressive but maybe a bit too optimistic about our ability to change our political and economic landscape towards a more sustainable future.

Now, Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, has published a third edition of the book, with a new title "Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization". Brown has made "Plan B 3.0" available for free download from the Earth Policy Institute website.

Brown's most important message is that "We have the technologies to restructure the world energy economy and stabilize climate. The challenge now is to build the political will to do so. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport. Each of us has a leading role to play." (Plan B 3.0, Preface page xiii, highlights by Chervil)

In all three editions of "Plan B", Brown details how we can save the planet based on existing technologies and through some changes to our lifestyles. In the preface to the revised 2008 edition he explains why he changed the title and re-wrote the book:

Perhaps the most revealing difference between Plan B 2.0 and Plan B 3.0 is the change of the subtitle from “Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble” to simply “Mobilizing to Save Civilization.” The new subtitle better reflects both the scale of the challenge we face and the wartime speed of the response it calls for.

Our world is changing fast. When Plan B 2.0 went to press two years ago, the data on ice melting were worrying. Now they are scary.

Two years ago, we knew there were a number of failing states. Now we know that number is increasing each year. Failing states are an early sign of a failing civilization.

Two years ago there was early evidence that the potential for expanding oil production was much less than officially projected. Now, we know that peak oil could be on our doorstep. Two years ago oil was $50 a barrel. As of this writing in late 2007, it is over $90 a barrel.

In Plan B 2.0, we speculated that if we continued to build ethanol distilleries to convert grain into fuel for cars, the price of grain would move up toward its oil-equivalent value. Now that the United States has enough distilleries to convert one fifth of its grain crop into fuel for cars, this is exactly what is happening. Corn prices have nearly doubled. Wheat prices have more than doubled.

Two years ago, we reported that in five of the last six years world grain production had fallen short of consumption. Now, it has done so in seven of the past eight years, and world grain stocks are dropping toward all-time lows."

As the backlog of unresolved problems grows, including continuing rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, shrinking forests, eroding soils, and grasslands turning to desert, weaker governments are breaking down under the mounting stress. If we cannot reverse the trends that are driving states to failure, we will not be able to stop the growth in their numbers.

Some of the newly emerging trends—such as the coming decline in world oil production, the new stresses from global warming, and rising food prices—could push even some of the stronger states to the breaking point.

I think it is hard not to agree with Lester Brown that time is running out and our planet is changing much faster than most of us anticipated or appreciated just a couple of years ago. This book is a must-read for anybody concerned about our future.

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