Plan B 3.0

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(324)

Lester R Brown, WW Norton, £10.99

There is a very real threat to human civilisation if climate change is allowed to get out of control. Our planet is already experiencing significant changes that give an indication of the problems to come. Billions of people face the possibility of premature death from disease, starvation, flooding or the wars that result as nations struggle for access to limited natural resources.

In India and Bangladesh 407 million people rely on the Ganges River for their water. Yet the glaciers that supply it are vanishing at an accelerating rate. It's not impossible that if things continue the river will become "seasonal", flowing only during the rainy season. The human consequences can only be imagined.

For Lester Brown, the ultimate destruction of civilisation would be the outcome of "Plan A" - business as usual. This is why his Earth Policy Institute has come up with "Plan B", the mobilisation needed to save civilisation. Through Plan B, the author aims to show that it is entirely possible to reduce emissions of CO2 by 80 percent by 2020.

The mobilisation required to do this involves nothing less than a root and branch transformation of every aspect of our society. For instance, our food is produced in an intensive way that wastes vast amounts of energy in its production, distribution and storage. Packaging alone is responsible for 7 percent of the energy that goes into getting food into our kitchens. Brown gives a myriad of examples that demonstrate how our lives could be reorganised to improve energy use and efficiency.

However, the solutions aren't simply about reducing emissions. There are many other positive side effects - phasing out the burning of coal and replacing it with renewable energies will not only stop the production of billions of tonnes of carbon emissions, but will also go a long way to reducing the 3 million annual deaths from air pollution.

The changes that are required cannot be implemented nation by nation. They will require international coordination, and while Brown doesn't use the words, it is clear that centralised planning will be needed to drive the changes on the time scale required.

If there is one problem with Plan B it is that, while Brown recognises the problems at the heart of capitalism's economic setup, he doesn't see that the drive for profit and the pillage of the earth's natural resources are at the heart of the system. His solution requires "getting the market to be ecologically honest".

The conclusion of the book is a call for political action. Sadly, this is limited to lobbying elected representatives for environmentally friendly changes to the tax system. As socialists, we understand that the sort of social and economic restructuring at the heart of Plan B will require challenging the most powerful corporations on the planet.

So while there is much for readers to learn from this interesting book, the lessons that must be drawn are of the need to build bigger radical organisation.