, 2004: For anyone with a stake in the future, this genre
of book is a must, and this title might be one of the best. For
almost three decades, Lester Brown, founder and president of the
Earth Policy Institute, has been a pioneer in sustainable development.
His roots as a tomato farmer show in his no-nonsense way of getting
the facts out. And facts he has, 49 pages of reference notes at
the end. This book pulls together much previous research and information
into a readable text.
Lester Brown starts off by developing the idea of a “bubble
economy”. This false economy is result of our collective failure—on
a global scale—to account for natural limitations. Brown offers
a compelling argument that a “business-as-usual” approach
can no longer sustain the bubble economy and the global community.
Continuing down our present path will eventually burst the economic
bubble, resulting in widespread suffering. He cites significant
evidence suggesting that the bubble is at the breaking point, particularly
with respect to population growth and declining food production.
“The sector of the economy that seems likely to unravel first
is food,” Brown writes (7). He presents substantial evidence
that eroding soils, collapsing range lands and fisheries, water
and energy shortages, and rising temperatures will drastically reduce
our ability to produce food.
Here is a small sample from Brown’s 16 pages of information
on the state of the world's water:
- in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas aquifer levels have
dropped 100 feet
- Israel has been forced to discontinue the irrigation of wheat
- in Saudi Arabia, irrigation agriculture may only last one more
- the Colorado (US), Yellow (China), Amu Darya (Central Asia),
Nile (Egypt), Indus and Ganges (India) Rivers either no longer
reach the sea or are just a trickle when they get there
- since 1994, China has banned the agricultural use of reservoirs
- between 1994 and 1996, the Gobi Desert expanded by half the
size of Pennsylvania
Although most of these problems seem far away, Brown does an excellent
job of explaining why they are urgently relevant. He states, “Overall,
China’s grain production has fallen from its historical peak
of 392 million tons in 1998 to an estimated 338 million tons in
2003. . . . For perspective, this drop of over 50 million tons is
equal to the Canadian grain harvest” (29). He cites the near-depletion
of China’s once vast grain reserves and notes that we are
likely to see the consequences at the grocery checkout counter in
the near future. Global issues certainly, but an ever increasing
presence in our personal lives. Linking global problems to personal
effect is one of the threads pulled through the book.
Brown’s coverage of the other issues surrounding food production
and the need to balance population with production are equally thorough
and convincing. Concerning population, Brown, not only focuses on
sheer numbers but also quality of life issues. Such topics as HIV,
literacy, poverty, political, environmental, and resource conflict
are well covered.
In the second part of Plan B, Brown gives us a road map
for mitigating and/or solving the problems of the “business
as usual” approach. Part of this section offers examples of
what small enclaves of individuals and communities are doing to
offset these issues. However, Brown knows these are not enough and
calls for and outlines a “Marshall Plan” approach by
all global leaders to redirect and strengthen specific areas. He
gathers strength from President Roosevelt’s post-Pearl Harbor
call to mobilization, “Let no man say it cannot be done”
(204). He also builds hope by citing such global leaders as Jacques
Chirac (French President), Juergen Schrempp (CEO Daimler-Chrysler)
and Tony Blair (UK Prime Minister) who are beginning to realize
the threat of the “bubble economy” and are working toward
Plan B. He is quick to point out the economic costs of such an undertaking
and lays out a rational and palatable method of payment for the
changes that are needed.
As a farmer, reading this book strengthens in me the old adage,
“think globally, act locally.” Personally, I can contribute
to reducing the bubble by making my own farm and life more sustaining
and sustainable. But we must also work to elect and support leaders
who will address these important issues and work with those who
share this concern. Those kinds of activities are community driven.
Not many folks like to hear this story (probably why we continue
down this path), but reading Plan B makes denial tough,
if not impossible. Brown persuasively argues that the human race
has the potential to move to "Plan B." So don't just read
this book with worry and hope—read it and act!
© 2004 Steve Moore
Steve Moore has farmed for 30 years in south-central Pennsylvania.
He can be reached at email@example.com.