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Plan B 3.0
Mobilizing to Save Civilization

by Lester Brown

This Plan B 3.0 review written by Grinning Planet.

Doctors generally impress us with their knowledge of how the human body works. Similarly impressive is Lester Brown's broad knowledge of how the earth's systems work and the ills they are suffering today. Falling water tables, soil erosion, and advancing deserts threaten our agricultural lands; drinking water shortages afflict much of the world's people and threaten book cover for Plan B 3.0, Lester Brown, 1/16/2008 to affect many more in the years to come; the peaking of global oil supplies threatens the world's economy; the collapse of many of the planet's fisheries threatens one of the world's best protein sources; and global warming threatens just about everything.

Modern economics rarely puts value on the products and services of earth's ecosystems—other than from a resource exploitation or development perspective. For instance, ignored are the benefits of forests, grasslands, wetlands, and coral reefs for purifying water, conserving soil, sequestering carbon, buffering coastal infrastructure against hurricanes, and providing spawning areas for fish. In Plan B 3.0, Lester Brown makes it very clear that we cannot continue to allow earth's essential systems to be "externalities" in the economic equation. To do so imperils civilization itself.

Brown is very good about supporting his assertions—both on the problem side and the solution side—with plenty of numbers and statistics. Better still, he always puts things in context. For instance, a population growth rate of 3% in an impoverished country does not sound extraordinary to us, until Brown points out that 3% annual growth means the population will increase almost twenty-fold in a century. When he notes that forest cover has shrunk just over 20% in the last century, it doesn't sound too alarming; but he is careful to remind us that more than half of the remaining forests are tree plantations, isolated patches, or cleared areas now returning to forest—all forms of forest that, from an ecosystem perspective, are a far cry from the original old-growth forests.

Perhaps the most important feature of how Plan B 3.0 describes the problems we face is that they're shown to be interconnected. As the book moves into new territory, it weaves threads back to previous material and shows the integral nature of the emerging crises.

In its "solution sections," Plan B 3.0 cites example after example of steps that are already being successfully taken around the world to meet local and global challenges, steps that could be adopted elsewhere (or everywhere), scaled up, and accelerated to be part of a comprehensive solution. Brown's "Plan B" is not just a bunch of Pollyanna wish-it-could-be-so proposals—most of the technologies mentioned exist today or are on the verge of coming to fruition.

When it comes to solutions, Brown does not shirk his duty as an economist—he puts costs to his proposed solutions. The total Plan B price tag—$190 billion per year—is not tiny, but compared to the current (much higher) level of global military expenditures, it looks eminently achievable, even a no-brainer. And unlike today's duplicitous pack of plutocratic politicians, Lester Brown does not propose only "politically achievable" solutions that are too little, too late. For instance, he proposes an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020—an incredibly ambitious goal, but more than likely the right one, if you bother listening to the world's climate scientists.

There are a few points of weakness in Plan B 3.0. Brown could have given more ink to the potential for dangerous soil degradation associated with the current biofuels mania, and concern about the horrors inflicted on animals raised on corporate farms is absent. He also doesn't seem particularly troubled by the inundation of the biosphere with chemicals—for instance, he praises no-till farming without addressing the problems associated with the vast quantities of herbicides used on industrially farmed no-till crops. But these are minor quibbles and, if anything, the lack of such standard tree-hugger arguments will strengthen the appeal of this book to those tend to dismiss "environmental concerns" with a hand wave. The facts, figures, and logic of Plan B 3.0 will not be easy to dismiss, for environmental skeptics or anyone else.

Plan B 3.0 is an enormous achievement, a comprehensive guide to what's going wrong with earth's life support systems and how resource limitations will challenge us in the very near future. As the name suggests, Plan B 3.0 is a third edition; but even if you already read the first or second editions of Plan B, version 3.0 is still worth reading. It's refreshed with new data and a new sense of urgency as the world's crises accelerate their convergence on civilization. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what we face and who wants to be part of the effort to get going on solutions before nature takes care of the problems for us in a most unfavorable manner.

See sidebar for info in how to purchase Plan B 3.0 or download it for free.

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About the Author

Lester R. Brown is President of Earth Policy Institute, whose goal is to provide a plan for building a sustainable future and a roadmap of how to get from here to there. Brown has been described as "one of the world's most influential thinkers" by the Washington Post; The Telegraph of Calcutta called him "the guru of the environmental movement"; and the Library of Congress requested his papers for their archives.

How to Get Plan B 3.0

Plan B 3.0 is available for purchase in book stores like


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