Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble

(Lexington Minuteman – March 30, 2006)

There are but a few titans in the environmental world -- figures that command respect not only inside the movement but in the larger global political milieu as well. Lester Brown is one of them. Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition is fortunate in having the opportunity to host Mr. Brown at Cary Memorial Hall on April 6 at 7:30 p.m.

In 1974, Brown founded the Worldwatch Institute, one of the first think tanks to focus on the global environmental situation. In 2001 he left Worldwatch to found the Earth Policy Institute, dedicated to envisioning an “eco-economy” and figuring out how to get there. In 2003 Brown published his ground-breaking, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. Brown has now updated this volume in his latest book, Plan B 2.0. According to former President Bill Clinton, "Lester Brown tells us how to build a more just world and save the planet from climate change in a practical, straightforward way. We should all heed his advice."

“Our global civilization today is on an economic path that is environmentally unsustainable, a path that is leading us toward economic decline and eventual collapse,”

says Brown in Plan B 2.0. Although many people are not yet convinced of the need for the economic restructuring that is called for, Brown feels that this is starting to change now that China has eclipsed the United States in the consumption of most of our planet’s basic resources.

The western economic model—the fossil-fuel-based, auto-centered, throwaway economy—is not going to work for China, according to Brown. And it certainly will not work for India, which by 2031 is projected to have a population even larger than China’s. Nor will it work for the 3 billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming the “American dream.” There simply are not enough resources on the planet to support such a life-style.

And, Brown notes, in an increasingly integrated world economy, where all countries are competing for the same oil, grain, and steel, the existing economic model will not work for industrial countries either. China is helping us see that the days of the old economy are numbered.

Sustaining our early twenty-first century global civilization now depends on shifting to a renewable energy-based, reuse/recycle economy with a diversified transport system. Business as usual—Plan A—cannot take us where we want to go. It is time for Plan B, time to build a new economy and a new world.

Plan B has three components—(1) a restructuring of the global economy so that it can sustain civilization; (2) an all-out effort to eradicate poverty, stabilize population, and restore hope in order to elicit participation of the developing countries; and (3) a systematic effort to restore natural systems.

Glimpses of the new economy can be seen in the wind farms of Western Europe, the solar rooftops of Japan, the fast-growing hybrid car fleet of the United States, the reforested mountains of South Korea, and the bicycle-friendly streets of Amsterdam. “Virtually everything we need to do to build an economy that will sustain economic progress is already being done in one or more countries,” says Brown.

“Building an economy that will sustain economic progress requires a cooperative worldwide effort,” notes Brown. “This means eradicating poverty and stabilizing population—in effect, restoring hope among the world’s poor. Eradicating poverty accelerates the shift to smaller families. Smaller families in turn help to eradicate poverty.”

A strategy for eradicating poverty will not succeed if an economy’s environmental support systems are collapsing. Brown says, “This means putting together an earth restoration budget—one to reforest the earth, restore fisheries, eliminate overgrazing, protect biological diversity, and raise water productivity to the point where we can stabilize water tables and restore the flow of rivers.

Plan B: 2.0 estimates that combining social goals and earth restoration components into a Plan B budget would require an annual expenditure of $161 billion. Such an investment is huge, but it is not a charitable act. It is an investment in the world in which our children will live.

“If we fail to build a new economy before decline sets in, it will not be because of a lack of fiscal resources, but rather because of obsolete priorities,” adds Brown. “The world is now spending $975 billion annually for military purposes. The U.S. 2006 military budget of $492 billion, accounting for half of the world total, goes largely to the development and production of new weapon systems. Unfortunately, these weapons are of little help in curbing terrorism, nor can they reverse the deforestation of the earth or stabilize climate.

Of all the resources needed to build an economy that will sustain economic progress, none is more scarce than time. With climate change we may be approaching the point of no return. The temptation is to reset the clock. But we cannot. Nature is the timekeeper.

It is decision time. Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we can decide to stay with business as usual and watch our global economy decline and eventually collapse. Or we can shift to Plan B, building an economy that will sustain economic progress.

“It is hard to find the words to express the gravity of our situation and the momentous nature of the decision we are about to make,” says Brown. “How can we convey the urgency of moving quickly? Will tomorrow be too late? One way or another, the decision will be made by our generation. Of that there is little doubt. But it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.”

Brown’s presentation is being sponsored jointly by Lexington GWAC, First Parish of Waltham and Sustainable Belmont. Admission is free. Two hundred copies of Brown’s latest book, Plan b: 2.0 will be given away on a first-come basis to those attending this event.

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