Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sustainability expert outlines Plan B 3.0 to save civilization…

Lester R. Brown, a pioneer in the field of sustainable development and founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, discussed the latest edition of his book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, this month at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. He was joined by panelists Daniel Schrag and Michael McElroy of Harvard (click here for a new article by Prof. McElroy on renewable energy).

After an overview of dramatic climate change impacts including melting glaciers and expanding desertification, Brown described some of the political and social problems facing developing nations such as population growth and the pitfalls of the demographic transition. And as we reach the stage of peak oil [dwindling supplies] and with world food prices rising, for the first time the energy and food economies of the world are now tied closely to each other, Brown observed.

His solution to the crisis prescribes an 80 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020, arguing that the 2050 target date of many other strategies is too long to wait given the environmental indicators we are witnessing today. His recommendations--which he describes in detail in Plan B 3.0--include greater energy efficiency, using renewable sources of energy, and expanding tree cover around the world.

This new energy economy would include a restructuring of the tax system to reflect the market failures described by Sir Nicholas Stern that contributed to the problem of climate change, so that prices reflect all of the indirect costs associated with various energy sources and lifestyle choices.

“This problem is a race between natural and political tipping points,” cautioned Brown, who uses the example of World War II to demonstrate that the United States can mobilize the country successfully around an idea very quickly when it is demanded by public leaders and supported by industry and citizens.

“The restructuring of the US industrial economy in support of the war effort was accomplished in a matter of months, not years,” emphasized Brown to illustrate the sense of immediacy, innovation, and collective action required to transition quickly to a more sustainable economy. “Saving civilization is at stake, and everyone needs to get active,” concluded Brown.