Stick to Plan A Instead of Lester Brown's Plan B

By: Shawn Alli
Posted: September 1, 2013


Lester R. Brown's 2008 book, Plan B 3.0 is the third instalment of the typical environmental collapse story that exists for more than two decades. Brown presents no new information on the apparent "crisis" facing humanity. More or less, Plan B 3.0 summarizes information that everyone already hears on a daily basis, which in turn fails to cause change.


But one level of ingenious deception is to have a review from former US President Bill Clinton on the first page advising the reader to "heed his advice." After reading this review you'll see that no one should heed Plan B 3.0's advice.


The preface alone doesn't instil a sense of objective analysis and recommendations. Brown says:

When Plan B 2.0 went to press two years ago, the data on ice melting were worrying. Now they are scary.


Yes, the world is changing, just as everything else on the planet does, along with our DNA. Change is a natural phenomenon by nature (aside from HAARP), and to sound the doomsday alarm about ice melting, or sea water rising by an inch, or even an entire arctic sheet melting, is idiotic and illogical - if it melts, then it melts. Marine life will adapt to the changing landscape as they always do. To blame this increase in temperature on human activity is faulty logic, when clearly, such events happen naturally without human interference.


In the preface Brown talks about the increase in prices and shortages in oil production as it pushes "states to the breaking point." The fact that all commodity prices are controlled and curtailed through trade agreements and manipulated by economic and political policy, means that price increases are not a natural phenomenon of the free market.


The first three pages are devoted to ice melting, which results in catastrophic devastation. Brown estimates that the increase in sea level is 12 metres. That's a considerable increase and will wipe out island countries. The solution? Build higher. How do you think cities are built? It starts with open barren land and is transformed into cosmopolitan cities by humans. Humans are even capable of building artificial cities in the ocean from scratch. If natural water levels cover the islands in the future then so be it.


Humans are quite capable of evacuating and relocating whole populations. If push comes to shove, the most important quality for humans to have is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. As long as people have this quality they'll be able to move forward despite any hardships they may face.


Brown says the problem is our concept of growth overtaking natural resources. This is the usual line for authors who believe the Earth can only handle so many people. This is complete bunk from corporate science and Malthusian principles. The fact that many environmentalists see this as doctrine is quite problematic. But I'm not in favour of corporate hegemony either.


Corporations that pollute the earth should have their license revoked and the board of directors and CEOs banned for life from operating such ventures. Environmentalists should be directing their energy towards corporate accountability and criminal procedures, instead of calling for the end of growth and modernity.


For Brown to claim that ancient Sumer and Maya civilizations collapses because it hits a tipping point in its agricultural sector, is grossly misinterpreting history.


Brown believes that the Western model won't work for China or India. This is nonsense. It's working right now as you're reading this. Aside from the politics, the Chinese government knows how to build cities and infrastructure from scratch and are quite capable of innovating more efficient ways of travel and energy.


Brown says that we need to move like lightning in order to save the human civilization. From what you ask? From extinction of course. Brown, like so many other peak oil theorists and radical environmentalists believe that humanity as a race won't exist if we continue our current energy models.


Personally, I'm surprised that humanity continues to survive for thousands of years despite operating at such a low level of understanding. But the ability to adapt to a changing environment and circumstances is one of humanity's defining characteristics.


Brown brings up an interesting example to accomplish this lightning fast transformation in all industries. He mentions the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Whether the government intentionally allows this attack to occur as an excuse to bring itself into the war, is debatable, but not important in this article. The key is that after the attack happens, the war machine goes into overdrive and in a few months has enough military arsenals for decades. I fear that radical environmental movements will use this type of strategy to accomplish the grand scale changes they desire to "save" humanity.


Brown talks about rising oil prices in comparison to a bushel of wheat, where a sizeable chasm exists between the two, and apparently this is proof of the coming oil decline. Oddly enough, Brown is silent on the greed and artificial price increases that oil corporations intentionally create.


And for Brown to mention Marion King Hubbert as "legendary," holding him in such a revered position shows the readers his bias as a peak oil theorist instead of an objective analyst.


In Chapter 2 Brown talks about the shale oil industry in the late '70s where big oil invests in it, but in '82 pulls out because the price of oil drops significantly. Again, Brown, like all other peak oil theorists miss the key point. The fact that the price of conventional oil drops significantly is a sign the global oil market is rigged and controlled by oil corporations and OPEC.


There is no problem with the supply of shale oil in North America, but rather no incentive to develop it. Brown goes on to mention that the extraction of shale oil requires water (which is true), and that "water scarcity may limit its revival."


There is no such thing as water scarcity in the world. The problem, like many things, is the distribution of water and efficiency to rural, small, and land-locked nations. The idea that humans are not intelligent enough to solve the problem of distribution, is laughable - they are, but political and economic corruption prevents it from becoming a reality.


Brown continues his peak oil model to almost everything from wheat to corn and to rice. Apparently everything has peaked or nearing peak levels. This is complete nonsense of course. These grains are in use for thousands of years, and to think the timeline is near an end in the first decade of the 21st century is erroneous.


He then moves onto climate change and implicates the warmer temperatures as being responsible for extreme weather. This is one reason I include climate change in my 2012 book, Oil, The 4th Renewable Resource. Climate change has no connection to the oil industry, and to implicate developing oil fields as causing "extreme weather," which in turn causes horrific catastrophes on human lives, is unethical and manipulative.


Brown questions the use of ethanol for fuel instead of being used as a food crop. And the argument is debateable. On the one hand peak oil theorists want to support anything other than oil as fuel, and nation states like the energy independence fuel crops give them. On the other hand if you tie grain crops into fuel crops, the market price also increases. It's a tough call either way, but I think grains can co-exist as a cash crop and food crop. Brown mentions cellulose ethanol as an alternative, which is a great idea and deserves more than the one paragraph he gives it.


Just like Richard Heinberg, Brown's claims border on the sensational:

Cheap airfares may soon become history.


Really? Air travel isn't going to make it in our new sustainable revolutionary future economy? Are all the airline industries fooling themselves and squeezing the oil till the last drop? Of course not. Brown, like Heinberg live in delusional fantasies where some sort of utopia exists where no one can harm the earth and everyone lives in harmony.


Brown mentions food products being causally connected to the decline in oil. I'm all for local organic produce. In fact, if every person grows their own produce in their backyards or community gardens, grocery stores will have real competition. While community gardens exist, backyard produce gardens don't. Until then, I see no ethical or social reason why people shouldn't continue to buy produce from 5000 miles away.


Brown ends Chapter 2 by claiming grain crops for ethanol is responsible for the hunger in developing nations, and prior to this action, "steady progress" occurs in ending hunger. Hunger and poverty is not a supply problem at all. To a degree it's economic due to the lack of infrastructure and trade restrictions. But in the end it's a political problem, namely through corruption and the greed of tyrants. For Brown to say it's due to grain fuel crops shows incompetence.


In Chapter 3 Brown spouts the usual line of radical environmentalists in regards to climate change. Drought? The answer is man-made climate change. Heat Wave? Man-made climate change. Record temperatures? Man-made climate change. More wild fires? Man-made climate change. More storms and hurricanes? Man-made climate change. Polar bears turning to cannibalism? Man-made climate change. Low crop yield? Man-made climate change.


Yes, the Earth is getting warmer, but would you rather it get colder? How about in the middle where temperatures stay the same? Unfortunately that's not how the temperature of the Earth works; it's either getting warmer or cooler in various geographic areas, but never really staying the same.


It's almost like a relationship. In a relationship both partners should be growing. If the emotional connection is stagnant at the same level, it's a boring relationship and will fail in the end. It's either growth or bust for a relationship. It's either warming or cooling for the planet. And I choose warming. But like all people, when it gets too hot I vote for cooling. Thus is the contradictory nature of humans.


Brown goes into articles about rivers being too hot for salmon in the future. There's no need to worry about the salmon - they have a better connection with nature then humans do. I'm sure salmon are quite capable of adapting to changing environments and will head out before the surface water becomes uncomfortable to them.


The truly despicable part of Brown's arguments is when he talks about hurricanes, heat waves and low crop yields and all the deaths it causes. To claim that the hydrocarbon industry is causing these deaths is not only false, but emotional manipulation. This is a commonality that Brown shares with Heinberg and Chris Martenson as well. All of these authors are attempting to emotionally manipulate their readers. They should all publicly apologize for this deception.


In Chapter 4 and 9 Brown talks about the water shortages around the world.

Low water productivity is often the result of low water prices. In many countries, subsidies lead to irrationally low water prices, creating the impression that water is abundant when in fact it is scarce. As water becomes scarce, it needs to be priced accordingly. Provincial governments in northern China are raising water prices in small increments to discourage waste. A higher water price affects all water users, encouraging investment in more water-efficient irrigation technologies, industrial processes, and household appliances.


With 70% of the Earth as water, all arguments about water shortages are completely invalid. Yes, ground water aquifers can be emptied...and? Oceans of water are plentiful and humans can and already do make use of them through desalination plants. It's not that humans aren't capable of distributing water to all populations on the earth; it's because of political corruption and capitalistic greed that the equal distribution of water doesn't become a reality.


There is, and in the foreseeable future of millenniums, no problem with the supply of water. But without water, all other issues are irrelevant, from education to technology to laws. For Brown to suggest nations increase the price of water to reflect its "scarcity," is erroneous and unethical.


In Chapter 5 Brown talks about the loss of forestry, desert lands, and over-fishing. While I can't speak for other countries, any trees cut down in Canada for commercial paper mills are replanted. This is a legal requirement. However, clearing forests to make use of the land for commercial development is a real problem and people should fight by any means to save irreplaceable natural forests.


In regards to cultivated land transforming into desert land, human ingenuity is the answer in developing technology to re-grow the land.


Over-fishing has always been a problem, but logically it shouldn't. Take what you need and allow time for the fish to reproduce. If fishermen aren't able to follow this simple logic, they only have themselves to blame.


In Chapter 7 Brown goes into solutions to various economic and social problems in Chapter 6. He starts off with education:

One way of narrowing the gap between rich and poor segments of society is by ensuring universal education.


This already exists in developed countries yet there is still a wide chasm between the rich and poor. On the surface, education is seen as the universal stepping stone to a better life; but underneath the onion layer is indoctrination, useless work activities that don't apply to real life, and the idea of submission to higher authorities such as employers, police officers and government officials.


Brown continues his Plan B to save civilization with programs that already exist such as reproductive options, media and film campaigns about unwanted pregnancies, water filtration, basic sanitation workshops, anti-smoking campaigns, sex education, getting rid of commodity subsidies (public drinking water is not a commodity), changing light bulbs, energy efficient appliances and buildings, recycling industrial materials, and re-planting millions of trees.


In Chapter 10 Brown mentions composting toilets. And this is definitely a great way to revolutionize the unsightly industry of human waste. Composting toilets use microbes to break down human waste instead of polluting municipal drinking water, and if done properly there's no odour. This can be utilized by individuals who already live off the grid, significantly cutting down the daily stresses in a septic system. Unfortunately, companies usually seize every opportunity to make money and green living is no exception. There are many composting toilet models made in various countries, but in Canada and the US the price tag is from $1000.00 - $3000.00. For individuals that have a house or live off the grid I recommend making your own.


Brown moves into the use of motorized vehicles and says that driving cars causes "deprivation of contact with the natural world." This is fake psychology to justify public transport. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against public transportation; but I advocate their use in terms of human ingenuity and efficiency, not out of "dire" consequences to the planet. I look forward to mayors, city councillors and government officials becoming more intelligent in the design of cities and implementing innovative vision.


I don't support the penalization of motorists like Brown does through taxation, using the funds to create new eco-cities. Living in Toronto, public transportation is horrendous, operating beyond capacity, and needs a complete overhaul of its vision. But even Toronto is not as bad as India, Beijing and Tokyo. Brown's utopian dream of public transportation being environmentally sustainable ignores the massive social problems that cities face, also known as "reality."


One of Brown's more audacious plans is to impose a federal tax on gasoline of 40 cents/gallon to "encourage" fuel efficient vehicles and "offset" the increase with income tax reductions. I think the correct term is "forcing" fuel efficiency and the switch to alternative energy. I don't think it's too much to say that if Brown suggests this at a public meeting in Canada or the US, he'd be ejected by the audience for wasting their time. In Chapter 13 he expands on his carbon tax in order to save humanity from "chaos."

The most efficient means of restructuring the energy economy to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels is a carbon tax. Paid by the primary producers - the oil or coal companies - it would permeate the entire fossil fuel energy economy.


The simple logic that Brown forgets is that oil corporations will pass on the tax to consumers at the pumps, and anywhere hydrocarbons are used, such as electricity. An increase in gas and electricity prices may give radical environmentalists the scenario they want - an all out protest and revolution by the people. And even if such a thing does occur in the US or Canada (highly unlikely), a new economy may be the end result; but a new economy done through manipulation, is disingenuous and utterly worthless.


In Chapter 11 Brown moves into more dire claims:

The ice melting effects of climate change alone could increase the number of failing states to a point where civilization would begin to unravel.


Really? Failing states because of climate change?


Give me a break.


In Chapter 12 Brown does a good job of exploring alternative energy sources such a solar, wind, geothermal, water and biomass. But like all other radical environmentalists, his ideologies go off the deep end:

This is Plan B - a wartime mobilization, an all-out response proportionate to the threat that global warming presents to our future.


And this is one of the scariest things that Brown, Heinberg, and Martenson all have in common - a self fulfilling prophecy. So if a collapse ever does happen 10, 20 or 40 years later, they get to tell the world "I told you so." Authors and speakers who use this type of strategy to instigate change are a disgrace to genuine innovation and human growth.


Plan B 3.0 gets 1 out of 5 stars for not bringing anything new to the table and rehashing the same environmental arguments every other speaker makes. While the book only gets 1 star it still gets a passing grade of D+.