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Plan B: A road map to save the world by Lester Brown

Updated on January 3, 2015
ecogranny profile image

An environmental enthusiast and activist her entire adult life, Kathryn shares her secrets to reducing waste and living greener.

Global prosperity for every human on the planet
Global prosperity for every human on the planet | Source

All the problems we face can be dealt with using existing technologies. And almost everything we need to do to move the world economy back onto an environmentally sustainable path has already been done in one or more countries.

Lester R. Brown in
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Start here to save the world for our children and our grandchildren

Climate change caused by unrelenting global warming devastates cities around the world with one mega storm after another.

Climate change is melting our ice caps and raising the levels of our oceans, causing seaboard flooding like we've rarely seen.

Climate change threatens our ability to grow food and provide fresh water almost everywhere. Case in point: The massive, long-term drought in California, drying up one of the most productive food producing regions in the world.

According to Lester R. Brown, one of the most respected economists in the world, "Plan A, business as usual, isn't working." But he doesn't stop there. Brown uses every bit of technology, science, knowledge, skill and an ability to make it all accessible to the rest of us in his Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

Plan B comes complete with a road map and a doable budget. What his plan means for you and me, for our children and grandchildren--and theirs--is that we don't have to sit idly by and watch our world turn into an uninhabitable nightmare.

With Dr. Brown's Plan B, we have the chance to mobilize like we did during World War II and put our individual and collective weight behind an all-out push to save a human-supporting Earth for generations to come.

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester R. Brown

This page is part two in a series on Mr. Brown's series of books, Plan B. In Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, we discover we have the resources and the money, worldwide, to build a sustainable, viable, healthy economy and civilization for all. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a healthy planet and a peaceful, bountiful life for all of Earth's citizens.

Dr. Brown shows, step by step, how we can take action with simple changes in our every day lives, as well as the extraordinary ways we must all work together to save our beautiful green and blue planet for generations of human habitation.

For part one in this series of articles, see Lester Brown's Plan B: What's it all About?

If this is all relatively new to you, you may be wondering why we need this Plan B and a big push to mobilize. Take a look at what happened after Hurricane Sandy.

State leaders lay Hurricane Sandy's destruction smack down to climate change

A soldier hands food rations to a Long Island survivor of Hurricane Sandy
A soldier hands food rations to a Long Island survivor of Hurricane Sandy | Source

After Sandy, governors called on President Obama to act now

In December 2012, Frankenstorm Sandy devastated much of the United States eastern coast. In the aftermath, politicians in New York and New Jersey, the states hardest hit, cited climate change as the leading cause of the devastation. They asked for help from the highest office in the land.

In endorsing President Obama in the November election, both New York's Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, as well as New Jersey's Governor Christie, asked him to step up his game and address global warming as a severe economic and national security risk.

Dr. Brown speaking at the World Bank 2001
Dr. Brown speaking at the World Bank 2001 | Source

The President doesn't have to look far for help

Brown, who has advised presidents and world leaders for decades, says yes, we can save ourselves from global warming, and from its devastating effects--if we start now.

What's more, he says that in saving ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and theirs, we have the means to create global prosperity--comfortable, sustainable lifestyles worldwide, and to put an end to poverty.

End poverty worldwide? Can you imagine it?

Cambodian child scavenging in dump
Cambodian child scavenging in dump | Source

Why aren't we doing this already?

Save our beautiful Earth from almost total environmental degradation and end poverty? The question is, why aren't we doing this already?

Rather than destroying ourselves for a little short-term greed on the part of a very few people (85 people hold more wealth than 3.5 billion people--fully half the rest of the world, combined), we have the technology, the resources, and the money to make lasting quality of life change for every human on the planet, all 7 billion of us.

What we need is the will, individually, and together. It's going to take a lot of us exercising our will. The good news is, millions of people around the world are already working on it.

You and I can help. On this page, learn what you can do to help set us on the right path. We''re not alone. Millions of people the world over are on similar paths. Join us.

Start here. Begin your trek to building a sustainable economy.

It is decision time. Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we have to make a choice. We can stay with business as usual and watch our economy decline and our civilization unravel, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that mobilizes to save civilization. Our generation will make the decision, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.

— Lester Brown

Every road map has a starting point--and a destination

Tree-lined road
Tree-lined road | Source

Just as on a cross-country journey, you might be starting from Paris, France, and I might be starting from Paris, Iowa, our starting point, yours and mine, on this road to global sustainability, is wherever each of us happens to be right now.

Are you totally eco-savvy and have been living sustainably a long time? You are a bit further down the road than the rest of us.

Maybe you're on the opposite end of the spectrum and still trying to figure out what the word "sustainable" means, let alone how one person could possibly have any impact on such enormous problems as global warming and poverty.

Wherever you fall on that very long line, the most important thing to remember is that our contributions--yours and mine--make a difference, one way or the other. No matter how insignificant we feel, everything we do adds to the climate change crisis--or helps to mitigate it. Everything.

You can take action. You've heard that every journey begins with a small step, right? This page is all about planning our trip and taking that very first short step on our journey to a greener, more prosperous world for us all.

Take this first step with a glad heart, and keep our our destination in mind: We're building a new, sustainable economy, one that supports all the world's people. Yes! It is possible!

There is enough for all of us to live well and sustainably

Wild berries near a waterfall
Wild berries near a waterfall | Source

Keep our destination in mind

Our destination exists: There is enough to go around. If we act now, we can assure there will be always

  • Enough energy
  • Enough security
  • Enough land
  • Enough food
  • Enough resources

for everyone, the world over, to live well and sustainably. That's not just me talking. Brown has the science and a real world budget to prove it. He shares it all in his book, and in a way that those of us who haven't an economic or scientific cell in our bodies can understand.

So that's where we're starting, you and I, and with our destination of world plenty in mind. Ready? Stick that toe out there. It's time to take our first step.

Thumbs up for taking that first crucial step--informing yourself with pages like this one
Thumbs up for taking that first crucial step--informing yourself with pages like this one | Source

First step: Understand the problem

We cannot fix what we cannot see. Thumbs up for taking that first step--learning about the problem. Give yourself a pat on the back for beginning.

Just by reading this, you are already on the path. Our first step together, and the purpose of this page, is to understand why our present plan--business as usual--isn't working.

To vision a better economy, we must know why our present world economy will not get us where we want to go if we are to preserve a habitable planet for our children, and theirs.

Don't worry. I'm not going to get the least bit technical. I'm not an economist. But Brown is. He understands the problems. Better still, he knows how to put them in language we can all understand.

Coming up, one giant example that illustrates the problem superbly.

Why isn't our economy working?

And why won't it carry us to the grand future we desire?The short answer: The old economy, Plan A, the one we have now, cannot sustain quality of life for any of us in the decades to come--not the poor people in Bangladesh, not the rising middle classes in China and India, and none of us in the West. Our way of life is on a collision course with disaster that will make Frankenstorm Sandy seem like a spring squall.

Gas pumps
Gas pumps | Source

Here's just one, very large example

We're running low on oil. It hits us in the pocketbook every time we fill our tanks. You don't have to work on Wall Street to know supply is failing; you can see it in the prices at the gas pump.

Sure, the oil cartels and Big Oil have lowered prices since the big financial crisis began (See Leslie Stahl's 60 Minutes interview with the Saudi oil baron, starting at 1:45 minutes into the vid), but Even George W. Bush, himself from an oil dynasty family, says Americans are addicted to oil and must do something about it.

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.

President George W. Bush State of the Union address 2006

So what? We can grow our fuel!

We can make ethanol from corn
We can make ethanol from corn | Source

Now that we're running out of cheap oil, it's becoming cost-effective to make our fuel. We can make fuel from anything that burns.

Corn works. We're making ethanol from corn, and it burns a tad cleaner than oil. That's a plus! So we'll grow our oil and eliminate our dependency on foreign sources. Problem solved.

But wait. There's a catch. More than one, actually.

Fifty-one cents per gallon FREE To corn ethanol producers and their suppliers

That's how much you and I paid per gallon in ethanol subsides from 2004-2008. We're still paying.

Ethanol from corn works especially well in the current political climate. From the 1970s to 2013, the United States paid corn growers and ethanol producers between 40 and 51 cents per gallon of ethanol they produced.

In 2013, this subsidy was replaced by others much more difficult to quantify, but Taxpayers for Common Sense (TFCS) dug them all out and figured up the cost to we, the taxpayers.

In its fact sheet, Taxpayer Supports for Corn Ethanol in Federal Legislation, TFCS cites two federal subsidies totaling more than $16.5 billion. Mind you, this is for a well-established industry, not a fledgling industry that needs some help getting off the ground.

That's right. Every gallon of ethanol produced costs us all plenty before it ever gets to the pump. That's money that could be used to repave our pothole highways and repair or replace our crumbling bridges.

Or, hey, here's a thought, invest in clean solar technology that would cost everyone almost nothing, once the expensive kinks were worked out and manufacturing costs brought way down. That's the way subsidies were meant to be used--to help fledgling industries get started, help them do the research, develop cheaper methods, and gear up for massive manufacturing.

All those corn subsidies make farmers and producers rich, without adding a thing, as far as I can see, to our national energy security. That money makes ethanol a real popular option. But is it really making fuel cheaper?

Cheaper for whom? Who picks up the tab?

Cheap for the producers, anyway. You and I pay for it in higher taxes, higher gas prices, and higher food prices. Tack those subsidies right onto the price at the pump, please.

While you're at it, add a few more dollars to our grocery bill. Why our grocery bill? Because corn is now a hotter commodity than ever, and that means that almost all the processed foods we buy are going to cost more, because corn, or products derived from corn, is in just about everything we eat that is not on the fresh produce shelf. One more reason to buy fresh from your local farmer's market, eh?

More of our hard-earned money to the tax man, more money at the gas pump, and more at the grocery store. Our overall spending power just shrunk--again. Each of us ordinary citizens now has fewer dollars in our pockets.

But that's not all. Worldwide, the costs of our gas-slurping economy are far greater.

Stay with me. It gets better, and once we know the lay of the land, Dr. Brown's map will help us navigate it.

Corn for fuel is good business

But, hey! Turning corn into fuel is good business. Take the commodities brokers who buy corn from our farmers and send it overseas to fill hungry tummies in countries hit by long-term famine. These days, those brokers make more money selling the corn to ethanol factories right here.

Anyone knows that the more dollars turn over, the more we all benefit. Right? It's the bottom line that counts. Business is business. So we'll let someone else figure out how to feed those hungry people. Anyway, that's overseas. We need to take care of our own.

That's the thinking of many folks here. I don't know about you, but the idea that children are suffering and dying with swollen, hungry bellies so I can drive half a mile to my supermarket for a pint of ice cream and a bag of chips is, well, disturbing.

But we'll set that aside for a bit, since we're talking economics here.

What's good for business is good for all of us, Right?

Not so fast. Corn is in just about every product we buy on the supermarket shelf, one way or another. Corn flakes, corn oil, corn syrup, corn on the cob. We know about those. But did you know there is corn in our soft drinks, corn in our oatmeal, and buried in a lot of those unpronounceable ingredients on the back of nearly every package we buy?

From the corn-fed beef, chicken and pork we prize so highly, to the high-fructose-corn-syrup-sweetener in our colas (On average each American drinks six hundred 12-ounce servings per person each year. That's more than 56 gallons!), to the additives that make our French fries crisp and our instant oatmeal soft, there's a corn product in just about every processed food product we eat.

Corn is food

Or is it? As crude oil becomes more and more scarce, the price of corn will continue to rise. So will the price of rapeseed and other crops used to make ethanol and biodiesel. What will happen to the price of food as we divert more and more corn and cropland to fuel our vehicles?

Production will decline, and the prices for chicken, turkey, pork, milk, and eggs will rise. A number of Iowa's pork producers could go out of business in the next few years as they are forced to compete with ethanol plants for corn supplies.

How Biofuels Could Starve the poor
C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer

Cropland for food dwindling

Because cropland all over the world is being used to produce fuel, the amount of land used to grow food shrinks. Wall Street is paying attention--and dollars--as agricultural commodities increase in value. One stockbroker, citing ethanol for the rising cost of movie popcorn, advises his clients to jump on the haywagon and invest in agriculture.

The government's big ethanol push is driving up the prices of everything including a night at the movies. I just heard on the news that the price of popcorn has increased due to higher corn prices as more corn is being used to produce ethanol. It is time to think like an investor and put a hedge in place to offset rising prices at the grocery store as well as the movie theater. Purchase a few of these agriculture stocks and not only will it make up for the higher prices, but it will put a few extra bucks in your pocket.

Michael Dawson
100 Stocks to Offset Rising Food Prices

Ethanol is directly related to increased food insecurity worldwide

That means more people are going hungry.

The United States increased the share of its grain harvest going to fuel ethanol - from 15 percent of the 2005 crop to more than 25 percent of the 2008 crop - in an effort to reduce its oil insecurity. However, this increase helped drive world grain prices to all-time highs by mid-2008, creating unprecedented world food insecurity.

Lester R. Brown in Food Supply, Climate Change, Population: Stabilizing Tipping Points in Nature
Mother Earth News, 8/14/2009

Here's a sound bite for you

The grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year.

Lester R. Brown in Ethanol from Corn is Not the Solution
Huffington Post

Here it is again, from Runge and Senauer

Filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn--which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year.

C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer

That's right: 1 tank of gas = 1 full belly for a whole year

Assuming you and I keep driving gas-powered vehicles, will we literally deprive a human being of food for an entire year every time we fill our tanks? How often do you fill your tank?

Plan A not working

So that's just one (really BIG) example of how our economy, under Plan A business as usual, is not working.

You can see that the costs of continuing to fuel our vehicles, our industries, and our lifestyles as we have for nearly a century--Plan A--are not sustainable. If we continue, we risk starving more and more people worldwide to satisfy the nearly insatiable needs of a relative few (us) in developed countries. Simultaneously, we're pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere, heating the planet, possibly irreversibly.

Enter Brown's Plan B and two things you can do right now

It's all up to us--you and me--and the choices we make. In this clip, filmed when Plan B 2.0, precursor to 3.0 and 4.0, came out, Brown begins with the global picture and quickly brings it home to the personal. Watch and discover two important steps you can take right now to bring us all closer to a sustainable, eco-economy and a future that is better than the present.

Really, it's that simple to get started.

1st important contribution according to Brown

Buy a re-usable water bottle and help slow global warming while saving tons of fossil fuels and simultaneously saving your pocketbook hundreds of dollars a year on bottled water. What could you do with that extra cash?

Replace your throw-away bottled water with tap water in a reusable bottle

Americans discard 38 billion plastic water bottles a year. It takes 1.5 billion barrels of oil to produce them.

David Kiley in Business Week

Replace those one-use plastic bottles, quite often filled with tap water that's been shipped to us from hundreds, even thousands of miles away, with a bottle like the Kleen Kanteen, my personal favorite, for its easy-fill, easy-cleaning wide mouth and non-toxic food grade stainless steel.

We used to buy bottled water by the case. Even refilling a few times each day, I went through four to six a day. Even at Costco prices, I paid 69 cents a bottle, often more.

We can use that extra cash at home, and we can keep all those barrels of transportation oil from polluting our air and wreaking havoc on our climate. Think Frankenstorm Sandy.

Okay, you say, I get it. If we don't use those barrels for bottled water, we'll use them for something else. Right?

I'm not naïve, and neither are you. When we switch to reusable waters and our own tap water, we divert that oil from one totally unnecessary use.

That's one more step forward. We have to keep moving toward our destination--a clean, habitable Earth, with plenty for all. Would you agree?

2nd Important Contribution

That first one was easy. This one is a little tougher, and just as important. Ask your congressperson to sit down with you and talk about mobilizing to save civilization now.

Set up a community meeting with your congressional representative

Call or write your congressional representative and tell them you'd like to meet with them next time they're in town to discuss Lester Brown's Plan B 3.0 and mobilizing to save our world from economic and environmental disaster.

Before the meeting, share the book with your friends and neighbors and invite them to join you in meeting with your representative. Brown provides talking points in his book to help you. You won't be alone.

And may I suggest, if you can afford it, take a copy of the book with you and give it to your representative or senator.

People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

— Lester R. Brown

Can we do it? Yes!

Global warming is the most severe, and now totally imminent, security threat to our country, and indeed to all humankind, the world has ever seen.

It will take a war-time mobilization such as we have not seen since World War II. In this video, Brown identifies the single most important policy change required to save civilization and tells us how it can be done. Hint: He's not going to tell you to go shopping, like then President Bush did after 9/11.

After the video, go to President Obama's website and tell him why you think America needs to ramp up a war-time mobilization to save our civilization.

There's more to understanding the problem

Now that we understand a bit of our role in the problem, we need to see it from a global perspective as well.

As the global economy expands, more and more people in developing nations are getting a taste of our wealth. They want what we have: fast cars and fast food, IPhones, HDTV and sparkling malls full of crisp new jeans and every electronic gadget under the sun. My next Plan B 3.0 lens--coming soon--digs into Brown's research and conclusions on global expansion.

You don't have to wait for me, though. Read the book to find out which country has taken over the US in consumption of all but one commodity, and learn what that commodity is. How long before the United States is second, or third, in consumption of all major commodities? What will that mean for our quality of life? For quality of life globally? How many cars, cell phones, I-pods, McDonalds and Walmarts can the world sustain?

Test your knowledge!

In his preface to Plan B 3.0, Brown states that China now uses more basic resources than the United States in all but one commodity. Yes, the US, with it's mere 3.2 million people, compared to China's 1.3 billion people, is still using more of one basic resource. Which is it? The answer in the upcoming lens on the global economy and our place in it.


Which basic commodity does the United States consume more than China?

See results

But wait! This is a little overwhelming.

I'm just one person. Anything I do is just a drop in the bucket.

Yes it is. Everything you and I do is a drop in a bucket. Decide whether your drops are going into the global warming bucket or into the healthy planet bucket, and let that decision guide every other decision you make.

Want the full Plan B story? Free online!

Brown makes his books available free online to anyone with an Internet connection. You can download the entire book in a pdf file here: Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

If you can, I encourage you to support Brown's work by purchasing the book, but do not hesitate to read it for free through the link above, or to check it from your local library. If they don't have it, ask them to secure it on an inter-library loan.

An eco-economy is one that satisfies today's needs without jeopardizing the prospects of future generations to meet theirs.

— Lester R. Brown in Planning for the Eco-Economy

Celebrate your successes, however large or small here. We're all on this journey together. Share yours. Give encouragement to someone else. Make your thoughts count. Post them here. Your opinion is important.

© 2008 Kathryn Grace

What are you doing to build a better future for our children and grandchildren?

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    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Wednesday-Elf: Indeed we do. Thank you.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Diana Wenzel: From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for reading, for answering the call to action, and for your encouragement.

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Brite-Ideas: I agree. Each one of us contributes drops to the bucket. The important thing is deciding what our drops will be and into which bucket they go. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      4 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I like your refillable water bottles suggestion. I've been doing that for years. :) We all need to become more aware of where we are and what we can do, even in small ways like refillable bottles and recycling, to save this old world of ours.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      4 years ago from Colorado

      I am not sure how I missed this lens earlier. My plan is to spend some significant time here. There is such depth and meaning, along with a compelling call to action. I will take informed action thanks to you and Lester R. Brown. And I will download and read the book. You can count on my support to get this message out there. Even more than the Purple Star, I congratulate you on your steadfast commitment to being a part of the solution. Your activism is truly inspiring.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I think the smallest contributions en-mass can make the biggest difference - I'll do small things here at home all the time - hopefully all of us doing small things can effect some change

    • ecogranny profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Grace 

      4 years ago from San Francisco

      @Lady Lorelei: I give deepest gratitude for your visit to this lens today and for your thoughtful comment. It does me more good than I can possibly say.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I find there is such a sense of apathy in many of today's people. It is a "what I do won't matter" attitude that must change. Every person can make a difference and we do have to care. It is time to stand up and make a difference. Every little little thing we do does make a difference.

    • CoolKarma profile image


      6 years ago

      Awesome lens! I do what I can on a personal and household level. As much as possible is reused, recycled, composted etc.

    • michael kapsner profile image

      michael kapsner 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the lens. Have to say I have always been bothered buy the idea of burning food (ethanol). Seems to me that people are more important than getting 2 tons of steel down the road.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is a great lens! You have put together a great collection of tips and information to help people. When you get a chance, I'd love it if you'd stop by my lens and say hello.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is a very informative lens. I live in the UK and petrol prices (currently £1.08 a litre!!) is quite a concern. I also fill my bottles back up with tap water and have worried about hygiene but those bottles from amazon look great and I hope to find a similar alternative over in the UK. Great lens!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is such an important topic. I hope you get a lot of visitors who take the message to heart.

      I re-use everything I can, combine all my errands into one trip, and turn off all electric devices when not in use. I teach my children to love and treasure the natural environment around them.


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