30 January 2012

Environment: We need a plan B

A review of books by Lester R. Brown

by Laura L. Klure

We need to pay attention to what's damaging the environment on this planet, and develop plans to change things in positive ways – before it's too late! The “Plan B” books by Lester R. Brown contain overwhelming lists of things that are devastating to our environment and ourselves, followed by numerous suggestions of measures that can be taken to save both nature and our societies. These are important, potentially earth-saving books.

Through the Earth Policy Institute, other organizations, and his lectures in many countries, Lester Brown has been working for years to sound the alarm about ecological catastrophes that are ongoing or imminent. The “Plan B” books have been produced in several editions, with “Plan B 4.0” being the latest update. However, the earlier books contain much of the same or similar information, so if readers come across a “Plan B 2.0,” for example, it is still a very worthwhile tome to study. Brown's 2001 “Eco-Economy” is also still quite pertinent and has a similar thrust. On the Earth Policy Institue website, the printed books can be ordered, or “Plan B 4.0” is downloadable for free, either in its entirety or just specific chapters. “Plan B 3.0” is also downloadable at no charge.

The current global troubles are vast, and this understandably means that these are not easy, pleasant books. The chronicles of what's going wrong consume almost the first half of each “Plan B” book, and then the second half addresses possible solutions. Even for someone familiar with science or with global problems, the seemingly endless list of environmental crises is painful to wade through. The reader may feel relieved to reach the “solutions” section. However, many of the solutions are not easy. For example, shifting to mass transit, bicycles, and walking may not appeal to those who have grown up in automobile-oriented cities.

“Plan B 2.0” is sub-titled “Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.” Like the other editions, this book discusses problems related to oil and to other energy sources; water and food shortages due to unsustainable population growth, as well as to environmental conditions; rising temperatures and rising seas; deforestation; loss of habitats and species; and the socio-political problems that are connected to these environmental issues. The list of damage that has already happened is frightening, including brief discussions of countries and problems all around the globe. Only an extraordinary individual would have already heard of all these catastrophes; even most college graduates will be surprised by some. The impact can be depressing.

The general trend one can see by looking at the various editions of “Plan B” is that things have gotten progressively worse during the past decade. It's true that there has been good progress in some countries, regarding some specific problems. But there have also been devastating weather events and an increase in the number of “failed states,” countries collapsing for a variety of environmental-social-political reasons.

Brown's agendas for solving these problems include some suggestions that almost everyone can follow, such as conserving the resources you use daily, recycling, reducing waste, and so on. Other specific problems are addressed on a country by country basis, wisely recognizing that the situations differ greatly among highly industrialized nations and those that are in earlier stages of development. In some sections he discusses differences between the global zones or particular countries, noting for example that timber grows much more efficiently near the equator, whereas grains grow better in the northern hemisphere. Global problems and situations are not uniform, so the solutions cannot be “one size fits all.”

These books are long, around 350 pages, and they are loaded with facts and statistics. But even so there are topics the inquisitive reader may find are discussed too briefly. The possible remedy for this can be found in the approximately 80 pages of references listed in the back, that document Brown's points. Unfortunately, our societies include individuals who are unwilling to believe that we have serious ecological problems, even when the problems are so well documented. Any thoughtful American, who is seeking ways to help the world survive, probably finds it frustrating to hear the rants of some of our politicians. Some people don't even believe that global climate change is a serious problem, let alone admit that we helped cause it. The Earth Policy Institute has a program encouraging people to buy Brown's books and give them to others. This seems like an excellent idea, if only some of those who need the info the most would be willing to take the plunge and read such a book.

So, is he just preaching to the choir? Brown apparently has realized that perhaps a shorter book would be more effective at reaching some of those who are harder to convince. His latest, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, is similar to “Plan B,” but somewhat shorter, 174 pages. World on the Edge focuses more on recommended solutions.

Among the many very logical, sensible solutions Brown offers is the concept of paying for all of the associated costs when we buy an item or service. People and businesses should pay for all the true environmental costs involved in producing things they use, and we should pay for the recycling of materials. Brown promotes having taxes added to things, to re-pay the government for environmental damages, clean-up costs, or other expenses. These taxes could be compensated for by reducing payroll/income taxes, placing the tax burden where it more appropriately belongs. These measures would reduce waste, promote using green solutions, and eliminate some heavy costs that government is currently bearing and diverting from other worthy programs.

Brown does not explain in detail how environmental costs or added taxes might be calculated, and obtaining accurate figures could be a very difficult task. He does indicate that some European countries have successfully implemented “environmental tax reforms.”

In addition to his extensive global lecture circuit, Brown's books have been translated into numerous languages. He's trying to get the word out! Reviews of his works are generally very positive, and he has received numerous awards: 25 honorary degrees, a MacArthur Fellowship, a United Nations' Environment prize, World Wide Fund for Nature gold medal, a Blue Planet Prize, and others. The “Plan B” books are used as required texts in some college courses, and the Earth Policy website contains positive testimonials from various teachers and professors.

We can only hope that many young folks around the world are reading these books, and that the environmental preservation message is being firmly imbedded in their thinking and their actions. Implementing a good “Plan B” could save the world.

Brown ends “Plan B 4.0” with the following: “The choice is ours—yours and mine. We can stay with business as usual and preside over an economy that continues to destroy its natural support systems until it destroys itself, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that changes direction, moving the world onto a path of sustained progress. The choice will be made by our generation, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.”



See more about “Plan B” at www.earth-policy.org.

Click on TRANSLATIONS to see which books have been translated into various languages. (For example, summaries are available in Finnish, full translations in Spanish.)

For information from other sources on these and related issues, check out some of the following:







Visit the archive: Laura L. Klure, Environment



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