Saturday, January 19, 2008


Satish Kumar, world walker and thoughtful poet of sustainability, 67 years old going on forever, says we must think now about SOIL, SOUL and SOCIETY as a new kind of philosophy: "soil for the environment, soul for the spiriual dimension of our lives, and society for the social justice that is essential." [See recent Guardian article by John Vidal at Google]
Question: If worst comes to worst, and humankind in the future needs to find refuge in polar cities, who will run them, who will administer them, who will govern them, who will protect them (from marauders) and how will social justice be administered if only the rich and powerful are admitted as residents, while the unrich and unconnected and powerless are kept out? In other words, what kind of world are we headed into? Is this just science fiction? Or could it really happen?

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DEVELOPMENT: "Plan B" by Lester Brown Urges 80 Percent CO2 Cuts

By Stephen Leahy

BROOKLIN, Canada, Jan 17, 3005

(IPS) -

Imagine it's a glorious new era and everything you'll do as part of your normal day helps to stabilise the climate and the global population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth's damaged ecosystems.

Sound unrealistic? It better not be because that is what it will take to prevent the end of human society as we know it, according to a new book, "Plan B 3.0: Mobilising to Save Civilisation".

The crisis we face is both dire and urgent, requiring a transformative effort like the mobilisation of nations during World War II, says author Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington.

Climate change is happening far faster than scientists predicted and the planet will inevitably experience at least a 2-degree C. rise in global temperatures, putting us firmly into the danger zone, Brown told IPS.

"No one currently in the running to be the next U.S. president gets the urgency of climate change," he said. "We need greenhouse gas emission cuts of 80 percent by 2020."

That is a far deeper cut than the emission cuts of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels over the same time period as called for by the world's leading climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC based its recommendations on data that is nearly two years out of date, notes Brown. A number of more recent studies and observations -- many reported on by IPS -- show that climate change is accelerating.

Brown is confident that the IPCC will change its recommendation in its next report, but it is not due for another five or six years. "That's too late when we need to act now," he said.

Plan B 3.0 outlines how emissions could be cut by 80 percent, relying heavily on energy efficiency, renewable energy and expanding the earth's tree cover.

Wind power could produce 40 percent of the world's energy with the installation of 1.5 million new two-megawatt wind turbines. While that may seem like a lot, 65 million cars are built every year. And there are many mothballed automotive assembly lines in North America and elsewhere that could be converted to produce wind turbines, he says.

The state of Texas plans to build 23,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity -- the equivalent of 23 coal-fired power plants and enough electricity to satisfy the residential needs of over 11 million Texans, half the state's population.

Turning to more efficient lighting can reduce world electricity use by 12 percent -- enough to close 705 of the world's 2,370 coal-fired power plants, Brown's book notes.
 Retrofitting existing buildings can typically cut energy use by 20-50 percent. In the United States, buildings -- commercial and residential -- account for close to 40 percent of carbon emissions. The next step, shifting to carbon-free electricity to heat, cool, and light the building, completes the transformation to a zero-carbon emissions construction.

Another energy-efficiency measure is changing human "fuel" from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet because the latter requires about one-fourth as much energy to grow. The reduction in carbon emissions is about the same as that in shifting from a Chevrolet Suburban SUV to a Toyota Prius hybrid car.

Brown is highly critical of the use of biofuels, which are made from food grains like corn and soy. Biofuels are driving food prices higher and will result in food shortages which will be disastrous for many of the world's poor, he says.

Population growth is putting poor countries under enormous pressure. The annual addition of 70 million people to world population is concentrated in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry, forests are shrinking, soils are eroding, and grasslands are turning into desert. As this backlog of unresolved problems grows, stresses mount and weaker governments in Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Pakistan begin to break down.

Each year the number of failing states increases. "Failing states," notes Brown, "are an early sign of a failing civilisation."

Rising oil prices can be added to the accumulating backlog. Rich countries will continue to get all the oil they need, while poor countries will have to make do with less.

"Population growth and poverty need special attention from the developed world, but for the first time in history, we have the resources to properly address them," he says.

As for transforming the world energy economy, all that is needed is to incorporate the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels, such as climate disruption and air pollution through a carbon tax.

Brown envisions a worldwide carbon tax to be phased in at 20 dollars per tonne each year between 2008 and 2020, stabilising at 240 dollars per tonne. The carbon tax would be offset at every step with a reduction in income taxes which would simultaneously discourage fossil fuel use and encourage investment in renewable sources of energy.

While solutions are readily available, what is lacking, he says, is awareness that our modern civilisation is at risk and a willingness to take action.

"Saving civilisation is not a spectator sport," says Brown. "We have reached a point in the deteriorating relationship between us and the earth's natural systems where we all have to become political activists."

Speed is essential, however. Humanity is crossing natural thresholds and triggering feedbacks that may not be reversible, such as the melting of the world's glaciers and polar regions.

"We can all make lifestyle changes, but unless we restructure the economy and do it quickly, we will almost certainly fail," says Brown. "Time is our scarcest resource."

(c) 2008 IPS