Saving Civilization

A massive mobilization is needed to prevent total collapse.

Saving civilization will take a massive mobilization, and at wartime speed. The closest analogy is

the belated US mobilization during World War II. But unlike that chapter in history, in which one country totally restructured its economy, the Plan B mobilization requires decisive action on a global scale.

On the climate front, official attention has now shifted to negotiating a post-Kyoto protocol to reduce carbon emissions. But that will take years. We need to act now. There is simply not time for years of negotiations and then more years for ratification of another international agreement.

It is time for individual countries to take the initiative on their own. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark of New Zealand led the way. In late 2007 she announced that New Zealand would boost the renewable share of its electricity from 70 percent, mostly hydro and geothermal, to 90 percent by 2025. The country plans to cut per capita carbon emissions from transport in half by 2040. Beyond this, New Zealand plans to expand its forested area by some 250,000 hectares by 2020, ultimately sequestering roughly 1 million tons of carbon per year.

We know from our analysis of global warming, from the accelerating deterioration of the economy’s ecological supports and from our projections of future resource use in China that the Western economic model – the fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy– will not last much longer. We need to build a new economy, one that will be powered by renewable sources of energy, that will have a diversified transport system and that will reuse and recycle everything.

We can describe this new economy in some detail. The question is how to get from here to there before time runs out. Can we reach the political tipping points that will enable us to cut carbon emissions before we reach the ecological tipping points where the melting of the Himalayan glaciers becomes irreversible? Will we be able to halt the deforestation of the Amazon before it dries out, becomes vulnerable to fire and turns into wasteland?

What if, for example, three years from now scientists announced that we have waited too long to cut carbon emissions and that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is irreversible? How would the realization that we are responsible for a coming 7-meter (23-foot) rise in sea level and hundreds of millions of refugees from rising seas affect us? How would it affect our sense of self, our sense of who we are? It could trigger a fracturing of society along generational lines like the more familiar fracturing of societies along racial, religious and ethnic lines. How will we respond to our children when they ask, “How could you do this to us? How could you leave us facing such chaos?”

From Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.