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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Plan B. Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Lester R. Brown, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2003

Reviewed by Debbie Bulger

The earth is in trouble. In China the Gobi Desert expanded by an area half the size of Pennsylvania from 1994 to 1999. Life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped from 62 to 47 years. World grain production / person is dropping. Water tables have fallen in China, the United States, and India which together produce half the world's grain.

In business, the term "plan B" refers to an alternate plan one has in reserve for those times when the original strategy is not working. Brown argues for the immediate implementation of measures to save the earth from disaster.

Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, asks whether the United States will continue with business as usual or exercise the leadership necessary to mobilize world resources to avert water shortages, food shortages, climate change, population explosion, and the social unrest and economic collapse that will result.

The good news is that there are demonstrated solutions to each of these problems being implemented around the world today.

Brown points out that the economic collapse of food production could occur first. We are already witnessing the collapse of wild fish stocks. On land, our deep pumping of non-replenishable fossil aquifers such as those under the American Midwest and in India, threatens our ability to grow crops. Eroding soils worldwide are decreasing land productivity. In the U.S. especially, we are paving over prime cropland for roads and parking lots.

Rising temperatures also negatively affect crop yields. For example, the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines has discovered that the fertility of rice drops from 100% at 931F to zero at 1041F. Ohio State University researchers have noted that photosynthesis begins to drop off when the temperature exceeds 951F.

One of the economic tools Brown advocates is market honesty, i.e., charging the true cost for goods and services based on their indirect costs as well as direct costs. By lowering taxes on income and raising taxes on harmful things such as carbon emissions, governments can speed up the shift to sustainable agriculture and industry.

Subsidy shifting must also occur he feels. A 1997 report observed, ". . . there is something unbelievable about the world spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually to subsidize its own destruction." Instead of assisting climate change by subsidizing the fossil fuel industries, Brown urges governments to shift these subsidies to wind, solar, and fuel cell research and installation. Some countries have already begun. China cut its coal subsidy from $750 million in 1993 to $240 million in 1995 and has imposed a tax on high sulfur coal. Germany is talking about lowering its carbon emissions 40% by 2020.

Brown documents many ways to raise water productivity, stabilize population, cut carbon emissions, and fund the necessary changes confronting us. The only question remaining is whether or not we have the will to change.

This easy-to-read book should be required reading for all political office holders.

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