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Lester Brown's Plan B 2.0

PB20.jpgAbout two years ago, we posted a brief piece on Lester Brown's book, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. Brown is the founder of the Worldwatch Institute and head of the Earth Policy Institute, and is best-known for the State of the World series. Brown has just come out with Plan B 2.0, updating the original work, and it looks to be one of the better summations of the WorldChanging perspective yet in print (but keep an eye out for the WorldChanging book...). Best of all, the entire work is online as both HTML and PDF (you can, of course, purchase a paper copy as well).

A listing of some of the chapter titles will give you a sense of the direction Brown's taking (the links are to the PDF version of the chapter; follow the "entire work" link above to get the HTML versions):

2. Beyond the Oil Peak
4. Rising Temperatures and Rising Seas
9. Feeding Seven Billion Well
11. Designing Sustainable Cities
13. Plan B: Building a New Future

Brown also discusses global poverty, energy efficiency, water shortages, and what would need to be done to shift the global economy towards greater sustainability.

Read on for some excerpts from the last chapter, "Plan B: Building a New Future."

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 actually a decision to stay on the decline-and-collapse path.
It is hard to find the words to convey the gravity of our situation and the momentous nature of the decision we are about to make. How can we convey the urgency of this moment in history? Will tomorrow be too late? Do enough of us care deeply enough to turn the tide now?
Will someone somewhere one day erect a tombstone for our civilization? If so, how will it read? It cannot say we did not understand. We do understand. It cannot say we did not have the resources. We do have the resources. It can only say we were too slow to respond to the forces undermining our civilization. Time ran out. [...]
As we look at the environmentally destructive trends that are undermining our future, the world is desperately in need of visible evidence that we can indeed turn things around at the global level. Fortunately, the steps to reverse destructive trends or to initiate constructive new trends are often mutually reinforcing or win-win solutions. For example, efficiency gains that reduce oil use also reduce carbon emissions and air pollution. Steps to eradicate poverty simultaneously help eradicate hunger and stabilize population. Reforestation fixes carbon, increases aquifer recharge, and reduces soil erosion. Once we get enough trends headed in the right direction, they will often reinforce each other. [...]
Remember, challenging though the situation may be, there are signs of the new economy emerging all over the world. We see them in the wind farms of Europe, the fast-growing U.S. fleet of gas-electric hybrid cars, the reforested hills of South Korea, the family planning program of Iran, the massive eradication of poverty in China, and the solar rooftops of Japan.
What we need to do is doable. Sit down and map out your own personal plan and timetable for what you want to do to move the world from a path headed toward economic decline to one of sustained economic progress. Sketch out a plan for the next year of the things you want to do, how you hope to do them, and whom you can work with to achieve the only goal that really counts—the preservation of civilization. What could be more rewarding?

What's most appealing to me about Plan B 2.0 is its recognition that, as difficult as the challenges we face may be, we have the means to overcome them. The future is in our hands, and we can make it better. It's no longer a question of knowing what to do -- it's now a question of having the will to do it.


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Comments (12)


I heard Lester Brown give his plan B at the Friends General Conference this year. I wondered then and I wonder now why his voice and others' like his are not more widely heard and discussed and acted on. What is wrong with us?

Then I have the misfortune to have to go to a big city, and I see fat people driving fat cars and living in fat houses. And being sick from being fat. And then I notice the big storage bins covering acres of land around the cities storing the megatons of crap these fat people are not using while they go buy more megatons of more crap, killing the world in the process.

The world is sick from us, and we are sick from killing the world. Makes me sick.

And that does absolutely no good. So what does??????

Good luck, Lester.

Gosh Wimbi, you're making me depressed. Not because I disagree with you, but because you're one of the most resourceful, inventive and generally optimistic contributors here. We really need folks like you, so don't give up in despair. Keep living your frugal, sensible life, and keep tinkering with those Stirling engines.

Every single one of us has a shallow, fat slob within, right there with a transcendent, magnificent being. If you're having trouble with the slob, issue a warm, genuine invitation to the transcendent being. They'll come out if they're enticed enough.


I don't think the fatness is noticed, just like a fish not noticing the water. I did not notice the garbage until I left the country for a few years. You come back and it's such a culture shock. People need that shock of recognition. But how do we apply the shock?

I note a recent study where people are much more accepting of fatness, perhaps because of their own fat. I guess we will just bloat up until we explode.


David, I have been properly eldered. Thank you. I will now quit the weeping and tearing of hair and revert to the Dr. Jekyll (or Lester Brown) role.

All this stuff is simply solved. Forget the fact that people like me are hardwired weapons makers struggling to get above our reptilian natures. What we need is wisdom, and we don't have hardly any. But there are people, maybe mostly women unburdened by past efforts to make things that kill a lot of people at long distances, who do have lots of wisdom.

So, all we (collectively) need to do is hire some geeky kid to google out the 1000 wisest people on the planet, and assign those 4 sigma wisdomites the task of weeding out the best ideas from the flood of nonsense that flows around daily. Then we go with what they suggest. Us lower orders are given the task of persuading by whatever methods are appropriate (, bribes?, lies?muscle? theater,? drugs? democracy?) the herd to follow the wisdom thus laid out.

That's the plan. I shall now go back to thinking about how to make an efficient automatic transmission for a bicycle so incompetents like me can pedal without greasing up our ankles by a missed gear shift or running out of breath.

I read something a while ago (could have been here) that has stuck with me; "the world is changed one mind at a time". We are changing minds, and thus the world, but are we doing in fast enough? How do we change the "fat people on the couch" into prophets of a bright green future?
Most of us here probably weren't born green, I suspect there are a lot og "ex-gunmakers" among us. We need to get those stories out in a convincing way. If we need more people to travel down a path similar to our own we should ask ourselves what set us off in this direction. I think our best chance is to tell our own (and each others) stories. Tell the fat people on the couch how we have come to our opinions in a personal sense, and how these abstract issues have gotten meaning for us.
And since gunmakers can become prophets, there is hope for us yet...


I remember the day the light dawned very well. I was sitting at a desk working on the orignial Atlas missile ( shows how old I am!) and I suddenly thought Hey! there has got to be a guy in Akadamagorsk or some such place doing exactly the same thing! We are both thinking of the best way to kill each other. And if we were in the same room, we could have a lot of fun talking about ways to cool rocket nozzles. Matter of fact, he is exactly the same as me. Why am I killing him (me)? He and I are totally symmetrical. What I (he) will do now is what he (I) will do now.

At which point I stopped. My boss was puzzled.

We have the ingredients. All of them. We're bootstrappingly learning to put them together. It feels too slow of course. But it may explode at some point in time - we'll know only after the fact, I'm afraid.

/me goes back to the "multilanguage wikis" thing.


I'm a bit disappointed with the way Brown treats the coal issue. All he says is:

The relative abundance of coal makes it an attractive energy source in some quarters, but it is likely to soon become a victim of mounting public concern about climate change. This means a future of renewable sources of energy, including wind energy, solar cells, solar thermal panels, solar thermal power plants, geothermal energy, hydropower, wave power, and biofuels.

I am convinced that coal will be really big. Either we will be able to separate CO2 and have an extraordinary energy source for say 50-100 years, or we will not be able to separate CO2 and as a consequence face terrible global warming. But we will use the coal.



I guess you skipped course on high school chemistry.
Carbon is burned using Oxygen which results in C02.
How are you going to separate it from coal when it
is part of the process.

If US changes from Natural Gas to Coal and with 2%
increase, a 200 year supply would run out in 40 years
according the Rep. Bartlett's presentation that I saw in CSPAN.

Some of the liberals here need to go back and take chemistry
and calculus then they would know what the scientists are
talking about. My friends have not made a single change
even though they know about Global Warming and Peak Oil
and the rest.



I'm afraid high shool chemistry doesn't cover co2 separation, but take a look at what US department of Energy says about "Promising Carbon Capture Technology":


Conserning how long coal will last I guess you could be right - researchers are making very different calculations. And I'm just a simple reader of popular science, so what do I know..


co2 separation is different from sequestration.
Please use the right term, so I won't have to correct you.

All the sequestration is not going to help you when
the Frozen tundra thaws. All the plants release methane,
are you going to sequester them too.


Ok, I'll use that term!

Don't know anything about possibilities to sequestrate methan but I hope there will be a way. Because as I said, we will use the coal - one doesn't need much insight in technology for that prediction, just a little knowledge in human nature.


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