Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What I am Reading


I am reading Plan B 3.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester Brown (You can get a free download of the book at the EarthWatch site
http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/books/pb3).
I know--the title sounds a bit hysterical--a bit Armagaddeonish but Lester Brown is no tabloid alarmist. He has a serious bio and credibility--President of Earth Policy Institute--described by the Post as "one of the world's most influential thinkers." It is a sobering read--here are a few highlights:

* China has now overtaken the US in consumption of basic resources and is on a trajectory to consume more cars and oil well above the world production. It believes that the US disposable lifestyle is right for China just as India now does at a price that the planet cannot provide or sustain.

* We are in a "race between tipping points in nature and our political systems as more states fail and we head for the kind of decision points described in Jared Diamond's book Collapse--in which some societies find the will to save themselves but others go under.

* In six of the top 20 failing states at least 40 percent of the population is under 15. Young people without jobs and a future will mean more political instability ahead.

*Desertification continues as a result of overproduction and mismangement of land affecting fast growing countries like Nigeria, Africa's largest country.

Lester Brown calls for a restructuring taxes and to reorder fiscal priorities--the US for example spends more money on defense than all the other countries combined. The costs of the Iraq war alone will end up being around $2 trillion which could have been better spent preparing for the emergency we face. The budget he sets out may provides a way we might restore some sanity to our US society and if we managed-by some miracle to get our own house in order so we might be able to devote roughly one third of the US military budget to providing basic health care, education while eradicating poverty and disease around the world

Where Brown is weaker is on the way we can work internationally and globally to solve these complex problems. The book gives you a feeling it was written for a future historian looking for evidence that someone in the early part of the 21st century actually "got it." It is all too easy for the media to ignore this book and others who should know better--politicians and commentators to dismiss it by saying that only policy wonks would be really interested in the detailed recommendations. So we are left with the question if the intelligentsia is out to lunch on the issues of global survival--do we really have a hope? How do we at least start a conversation that can connect with the intelligent caring individuals who will need to support some of the sound policies advocated in this timely book? Are we way too cynical to even think we can start to carve out a road to recovery and sanity?

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