Plan B 3.0 -- Mobilizing To Save Civilization
[Rachel's Introduction: We have reached a fork in the road to the future. In his new book, Lester Brown shows us that major economic change is inevitable. We can choose to stamp out poverty, prevent run- away global warming and invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and ecological restoration. Or we can pursue business as usual and watch civilization unravel.]
As Brown says, "No one can argue today that we do not have the resources to eradicate poverty, stabilize population, and protect the earth's natural resource base. We can get rid of hunger, illiteracy, disease, and poverty, and we can restore the earth's soils, forests, and fisheries." Brown shows us how we can shift resources from wasteful military spending to his Plan B economy that creates justice and sustainable prosperity for all the earth's people, a "World that will allow us to think of ourselves as civilized."
So what's the plan? The first priority is to realize that we are at a unique period in history. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Brown reminds us, found that humans surpassed the sustainable use of all earth's ecosystem services in 1980. In 2007 we exceeded those limited resources (water, soils, forests, fisheries and so on) by 25 percent.
In short, we're cooking the planet, melting the polar ice caps, sucking dry our fresh water supplies, chopping down our forests, over fishing our seas and polluting every corner of the earth with industrial and human waste. This isn't news to Rachel's readers, but if you hanker for a current global analysis of just how threadbare the earth's life support systems have become, Brown provides it. Many of the book's informative tables and the entire text of the book are available for FREE download at the Earth Policy Institute website.
Brown makes the case that growing food insecurity is tied to peak oil and rising oil prices (the price of oil was less than $50 in 2004, now it's over $100). As oil becomes scarcer, the industrialized nations have started using food crops for fuel (ethanol from corn, for example) which has caused grain prices to surge. Corn prices more than doubled from 2005 to 2007 and world grain stocks have been declining for seven of the last eight years, reaching a 34-year low in 2007.
The first years of the new millennium have witnessed the resurgence of world hunger which had steadily declined in the latter half of the 20th century. In 2007 the UN World Food Programme announced the "18,000 children are now dying each day from hunger and related causes." Many countries are now being destabilized by the combination of rampant poverty, shredded ecosystems, and associated civil unrest. The number of severely failing states -- where governments can no longer provide basic services and social chaos reigns -- grew from 7 in 2004 to 12 in 2007.
With his always-optimistic demeanor, Brown then sets forth Plan B, not to save the planet, but to save civilization. We have to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2020 by investing heavily in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and mass transit. We have to stop deforesting the earth, plant millions of trees, and restore our ailing fisheries and farmland. And we have to greatly improve the lives of poor people with free health care, family planning, school lunch and literacy programs. And we have to do all this with wartime urgency.
The good news is that eradicating poverty and restoring basic ecological health to the planet (from humanity's perspective) is doable. It won't be easy, it will require massive mobilization at all levels of society and government. As Brown says, "There are many things we do not know about the future. But one thing we do know is that business as usual will not continue for much longer. Massive change is inevitable. Will the change come because we move quickly to restructure the economy or because we fail to act and civilization begins to unravel?"
Plan B -- a plan of hope
Plan B is a plan for restructuring our global economy and financial priorities to achieve four goals: eradicating poverty, stabilizing population, stabilizing climate, and restoring earth's ecosystems. Addressing any of these problems in isolation is a ticket for failure, says Brown.
Eradicating Poverty and Stabilizing Population
Like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, Brown believes that eradicating global poverty is relatively affordable and doable (see Rachel's #880). Lifting over a billion people out of povertywill slow population growth and greatly improve economic productivity. China reduced the number of people living in poverty from 648 million in 1981 to 218 million in 2001, a two-thirds reduction, by rapid economic development and focused social programs that target those most in need. The cornerstones of reducing poverty are universal primary education, adult literacy programs, health care and family planning.
With an emphasis on serving girls and women, the Global South can rapidly stabilize population growth, which is a foundation for economic development. As education rises, birth rates fall. Family planning and better health care fuel this upward spiral creating an economic engine to take a country from less developed to developed. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are examples Brown gives of countries that have successfully applied this formula.
Stabilizing Climate -- Restoring the Earth's Systems
To stop global warming we have to stop dumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and use less energy to do more. We need a carbon- free economy. We must simultaneously use less energy, phase out all uses of fossil fuels, and restore natural carbon sinks, especially forests. Industrial carbon capture and storage (carbon sequestration) is not an option, neither is nuclear energy -- Brown rules these out as too expensive.
Brown shows us that, using today's technology, zero waste manufacturing (cradle to cradle design), and energy efficient buildings and appliances, we can keep our global energy demand constant for the next fifteen years, while population and economic growth continue.
We can replace virtually all fossil fuels -- certainly all coal, and oil -- with wind, solar and geothermal sources; Plan B allows for some natural gas combustion. Each of these sources of renewable energy ALONE can power all of civilization. Brown reports that Stanford University scientists concluded that harnessing just one-fifth of the world's wind resources would generate seven times our global electricity needs.
Taken together a renewable energy grid is totally feasible with today's technology and can be implemented in less than fifteen years. Yes, we have to convert idled automobile plants to manufacture wind turbines and solar cells en masse; which of course will create millions of high wage green collar jobs. This isn't rocket science -- it's a no-brainer win-win for people, profits and the planet.
Cars running on gasoline and biofuels will be relics of the past in a carbon-neutral economy. If we use biofuels at all, it will be by burning them to generate electricity which is ten times more efficient than converting crops to liquid fuels, according to Brown. When you consider that filling the tank of an SUV just one time with ethanol from corn consumes enough food to feed a person for an entire year, you know something is wrong.
Going carbon-free also means greatly reducing our use of wood for fuel (in the developing world) and paper (in the developed countries). Cutting the remaining boreal forests and tropical rain-forests for cooking fuel, Kleenex, junk mail catalogs and copy paper won't do. Recycling just 50% of all paper, as South Korea does, could reduce global wood pulp consumption by a third. Wood and other carbon-based cooking fuels can be replaced by low-cost ($10) solar cookers.
In the final chapter Brown explains what all this will cost and how society can pay for it. Here's what the budget looks like:
Plan B Budget
Goal....................................Funding ($ billions)
Basic Social Goals
..Universal primary education................. 10
..Eradication of illiteracy.................... 4
..School lunch for the poor.................... 6
..Assistance to preschool children............. 4
..Family planning............................. 17
..Universal health care....................... 33
..Closing the condom gap....................... 3
Earth Restoration Goals
..Planting trees to reduce flooding............ 6
..Planting trees to sequester carbon.......... 20
..Protecting topsoil and cropland............. 24
..Restoring rangelands......................... 9
..Restoring fisheries......................... 13
..Protecting biological diversity............. 31
..Stabilizing water tables.................... 10
Grand Total.................................. 190
Tax and Subsidy Shifting
Brown says we need to invest 190 billion dollars per year to stabilize the climate, restore ecosystem services and greatly improve living standards in the Global South. This is one fifth of the annual global military budget and one third of the US military budget.
By systematically shifting taxes onto and subsidies away from coal, oil, and nuclear, we can fuel the massive positive change we seek. Brown proposes a worldwide carbon-tax of $240 per ton to be phased-in at the rate of $20 per year for the next twelve years. If the gas tax in Europe were considered a carbon-tax, the current average tax of $4.40 per gallon would translate into a carbon-tax of $1,815 per ton.
Tax shifting is becoming the norm in Europe. Germany successfully applied tax shifting from labor to energy starting in 1999. By 2003 they reduced annual C02 emissions by 20 million tons and helped to create 250,000 additional jobs. Similar plans have been applied in France, Italy, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom.
And so, "It is decision time. Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we can decide to stay with business as usual and watch our modern economy decline and eventually collapse, or we can consciously move onto a new path, one that will sustain economic progress. In this situation, no action is a de facto decision to stay on the decline-and-collapse path."
Plan B 3.0 -- Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester Brown is available for free download Earth Policy Institute website.