Plan B goal of stabilizing population is set at 8 billion or lower simply because I do not think world population will ever reach the 9.2 billion projected by U.N. demographers for 2050. The vast majority of the 2.4 billion people projected to be added by 2050 will be born in developing countries—countries where the land and water resource base is deteriorating and hunger is spreading. Many support systems in these countries are already in decline, and some are collapsing. The question is not whether population growth will come to a halt before reaching 9.2 billion but whether it will do so because the world shifts quickly to smaller families or because it fails to do so—and population growth is checked by rising mortality. Plan B embraces the reduced fertility option.
Eradicating poverty is a priority goal for three reasons. One, in combination with giving women everywhere access to reproductive health care and family planning services, it is the key to accelerating the global shift to smaller families. It also helps bring impoverished nations into the international community, giving them a stake in such matters as stabilizing climate. When people are not sure where their next meal is coming from, it is difficult for them to get excited about trying to stabilize the earth’s climate. And third, eradicating poverty is the humane thing to do. One of the hallmarks of a civilized society is the capacity to care about others.
The fourth component of Plan B involves repairing and protecting the natural systems that support humankind. This includes conserving soil, banning deforestation, promoting reforestation, restoring fisheries, and making a worldwide effort to protect aquifers by raising water productivity. Unless we can reverse the deterioration of these systems, we are unlikely to reverse the rise in the number of hungry people, now totaling over 1 billion.
The ambitiousness of this save-our-civilization plan is matched by the urgency with which it must be implemented. Success depends on moving at wartime speed, restructuring the world energy economy at a pace reminiscent of the restructuring of the U.S. industrial economy in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States shifted from producing cars to turning out planes, tanks, and ships within a matter of months. The current restructuring cannot be achieved without a fundamental reordering of priorities. And it will not be accomplished without sacrifice. For example, the key to the 1942 industrial restructuring was a nearly three year ban on the sale of new cars.