Notes on Plan B

Summary: This page provides an introduction to Lester Brown, Plan B (all versions), prepared by Professor Wayne Hayes. This introduction intends to prompt readers as to what to look for in Brown and how this fits into the context of our course, ENST209, World Sustainability.

Introduction and Context

I have assembled some notes to guide your study and our discussion of Plan B. This page serves as an introduction to the book: Why Brown Plan B?

Context and overview:

From here we will try to connect the global crisis as articulated by Brown to a policy prescription for World Sustainability. The pages under construction as of 12/6/2009 are:

  1. Global crisis home page: Global Crisis: Themes, Data, Paradigms, Action Agenda
  2. Themes: Global Crisis Themes
  3. Population: Global Crisis and Exponential Population Growth
  4. The social crisis: The Ecology of Rich and Poor

Goals and Means

Brown identifies four main goals:

  1. stabilize climate
  2. stabilize population
  3. eradicate poverty
  4. restore damaged ecosystem.

Notice that these goals reference human well-being and the vitality of Nature. This intersects with the framework of World and Earth, originally defined in the Brundtland Commission report --- notice the title of the overview.

How to Approach Plan B?

The sheer detail and daunting scope of Plan B presents a challenge in presentation. The load on the Earth comes from population and from economic growth, which originate somewhere and should be made explicit. These variables can be geographically and historically identified. The biomes, the natural systems of Earth, that suffer overshoot are extensive and ubiquitous, but should also be identified and examined. Brown, however, says it early: "There is no box." This means as well that there is no overall conceptual container by which to orderly arrange a way to digest and explain Brown. We will try to frame Brown here.

Brown raises a number of topics that run as themes through his book. You should have a grasp of each and understand how they interact. I have arranged them in two categories: as world, or human-induced demands on the Earth, and as ecosystems that provide the Earth with its carrying capacity to endure the load. The question posed within this framework are these:

  1. How and to what extent does the load exceed the carrying capacity?
  2. With what consequences?
  3. What responses have been evoked?
  4. What else should be done about it?

The first two questions point to framing an agenda, where we should start. The last two questions refer to appropriate policy.

The list posed by Plan B include these artifacts, or Worlds:

  1. population growth of about 70 to 80 million per year
  2. economic growth
  3. the poor, the excluded, the hungry, the thirsty, and the poisoned
  4. failed states
  5. the implicit players in the geopolitics of World Sustainability, which includes the USA, the EU, China, India, and Brazil

The carrying capacity factors that are natural to the Earth include this list:

  1. energy, particularly the Peak Oil hypothesis
  2. global warming
  3. loss of quantity and quality of water
  4. deforestation
  5. extinction of plants and animals
  6. soil erosion and the loss of farmland
  7. desertification
  8. overfishing and the pollution of the oceans.

Finally, note good news cited by Brown regarding the human inhabitation of Earth. Lots of success stories and even progress is cited, but these cases and events may be engulfed by the global crisis. We don't know.


©Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. | Initialized: 12/5/2009 | Last Update: 02/24/2011 | V. 2.0, Build #6