A solution that won't cost us the Earth

Plan B 2.0

May 25, 2007

To provide a cohesive solution to human-induced climate change within the confines of one book is a massive undertaking. To address simultaneously water, oil and food shortages, poverty and population growth seems impossible. Yet in P lan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble , the renowned environmentalist Lester Brown sets out to do just that. He is helped by the interlinked nature of these various threats to humankind. In tackling climate change, you can reduce future food and water shortages; by curbing population growth, greenhouse emissions can be cut and poverty alleviated.

The first half of the book covers the various challenges faced by humankind and, from peak oil through water and food shortages to climate change and its impacts, Brown paints a bleak picture of the coming century.

It is a veritable avalanche of dismay-inducing facts and projections, and yet this initial section is strangely lacking in impact. It reminded me of the film Jaws , Steven Spielberg's terrifying movie about a great white shark. Jaws was a masterclass in creating dramatic tension. Watching the film recently, I found it striking how the most suspenseful scenes came before one ever sees the shark. Once its rubbery bulk made an appearance, the spell was broken. Brown gives us the "full shark" from the start.

This book is well researched, its author seemingly spoilt for choice in terms of stunning statistics and studies to incorporate, but in popular books, as in films, less is usually more. In the second and more powerful part of the book, Brown brings his considerable knowledge and expertise to bear on the solutions: his Plan B 2.0.

He describes the wholesale economic restructuring necessary to address the challenges we face. The vision is one of an eco-economy where the full environmental costs of a resource are represented in an ecologically honest market price. His is a future where higher environmental taxes on the one hand are balanced by reductions in income tax on the other. It's a persuasive view, and there's more. According to calculations by Brown and colleagues, $161 billion (£81 billion) a year would meet the social and earth restoration goals he outlines, paying for win-win initiatives such as universal primary education, basic healthcare and the restoration of fisheries, forests and soils. To put this world-changing sum into perspective, it represents one third of the US annual military budget.

This book provides excellent insights for academics, students and lay readers alike. On tackling climate change, Aubrey Meyer's Contraction and Convergence and George Monbiot's Heat have more depth. But in tackling a host of pressing issues in a single book, Plan B 2.0 makes for an eye-opening read.

Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. First Edition

Author - Lester R. Brown
Publisher - W. W. Norton
Pages - 365
Price - £10.99
Translator - 9780393328318

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