By Lester R. Brown
One of the questions I am frequently asked when I am speaking in various countries is, given the environmental problems that the world is facing, can we make it? That is, can we avoid economic decline and the collapse of civilization? My answer is always the same: it depends on you and me, on what you and I do to reverse these trends. It means becoming politically active. Saving our civilization is not a spectator sport.
We have moved into this new world so fast that we have not yet fully grasped the meaning of what is happening. Traditionally, concern for our children has translated into getting them the best health care and education possible. But if we do not act quickly to reverse the earth’s environmental deterioration, eradicate poverty, and stabilize population, their world will decline economically and disintegrate politically.
The two overriding policy challenges are to restructure taxes and reorder fiscal priorities. Saving civilization means restructuring taxes to get the market to tell the ecological truth. And it means reordering fiscal priorities to get the resources needed for Plan B. Write, call, or e-mail your elected representative about the need for tax restructuring to create an honest market. Remind him or her that corporations that left costs off the books appeared to prosper in the short run, only to collapse in the long run.
Or better yet, gather some like-minded friends together to meet with your elected representatives to discuss why we need to raise environmental taxes and reduce income taxes. Before the meeting, draft a brief statement of your collective concerns and the policy initiatives needed. Feel free to download the information on tax restructuring in Chapter 13 of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization from the Earth Policy Institute Web site to use in these efforts.
Let your political representatives know that a world spending more than $1 trillion a year for military purposes is simply out of sync with reality when the future of civilization is in question. Ask them if the Plan B budget–an additional $190 billion a year for eradicating poverty, stabilizing population, and restoring the earth–is an unreasonable expenditure to save civilization. Ask them if diverting one sixth of the global military budget to saving civilization is too costly. Introduce them to Plan B. Remind them of how we mobilized in World War II.
Make a case for the inclusion of poverty eradication, family planning, reforestation, and renewable energy development in international assistance programs. Urge an increase in these appropriations and a cut in military appropriations, pointing out that advanced weapons systems are useless in dealing with the new threats to our security. Someone needs to speak on behalf of our children and grandchildren, because it is their world that is at stake.
In short, we need to persuade our elected representatives and leaders to support the changes outlined in Plan B. We need to lobby them for these changes as though our future and that of our children depended on it–because it does.
Educate yourself on environmental issues. If you found this book useful, share it with others. It can be downloaded free of charge from the Earth Policy Institute Web site. If you want to know what happened to earlier civilizations that also found themselves in environmental trouble, read Collapse by Jared Diamond or A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright.
If you like to write, try your hand at an op-ed piece for your local newspaper on the need to raise taxes on environmentally destructive activities and offset this with a lowering of income taxes. Try a letter to the editor. Put together your own personal e-mail list to help you communicate useful information to friends, colleagues, and local opinion leaders.
The scale and urgency of the challenge we face has no precedent, but what we need to do can be done. It is doable. Sit down and map out your own personal plan and timetable for what you want to do to move the world off a path headed toward economic decline and onto one of sustainable economic progress. Set your own goals. Identify people in your community you can work with to achieve these goals. Pick an issue that is meaningful to you, such as restructuring the tax system, banning inefficient light bulbs, phasing out coal-fired power plants, or working for “complete streets” that are pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly in your community. What could be more exciting and rewarding?
The choice is ours–yours and mine. We can stay with business as usual and preside over an economy that continues to destroy its natural support systems until it destroys itself, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that changes direction, moving the world onto a path of sustained progress. The choice will be made by our generation, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.
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Adapted from Chapter 13, “The Great Mobilization,” in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), available for free downloading and purchase at www.earthpolicy.org/Books/PB3/index.htm.
Please stay tuned for Earth Policy Institute’s next release about some of the inspiring actions people are taking to spread the Plan B message around the world.
Why only focus on diverting the monies spent on the military? Most will agree that the populations of the planet on which we live do not comprise one big happy family. Military escalation is a necessity in a world where any number of despots seeks the total annihilation of other nations and ethnic groups. If one nation fails to provide for its (and its allies) defense, another will eventually seek its destruction. It’s foolhardy to discount the dangerous world in which we live.
Tax restructuring sounds like a workable solution on the surface, but how does one actually do it? In the United States, approximately 10% of the taxpayers pay 97% of the taxes. Some 50% of the population pay no taxes, and many in this segment of society already receive government (taxpayer) funded health care, food stamps, welfare, and social security. How much more can you bleed that first 10% to fund this new round of grand ideas? Would you be willing to levee some taxes on the 50% that get a free ride; or possibly reduce the benefits this segment currently receives? I know that asking America’s poor to make sacrifices for the greater good of the planet is unpopular, but most of the poor in the United States are wealthy when compared to the world’s poor.
Would the environmental movement be willing to rethink its past victories, which may not have worked out so well? Would you allow the limited use of DDT to lower the number of unnecessary human deaths caused by malaria, West Nile virus, etc.? Would you seek the removal of the subsidies and the tariffs that protect domestic ethanol production? The food surplus that used to feed the world is dwindling since it now fuels your car. Would you support domestic energy exploration? The United States uses the cleanest, safest technology available to secure its natural resources. Several other nations have abysmal records on both fronts.
Would the environmental movement be willing to dissolve some of its socio-political alliances? Would you accept patient – not taxpayer – funded abortions in cases where the need is not medical? If you assume a conservative cost estimate of $500 per abortion and accept the industry’s own estimate of 44 million abortions since 1973, you come up with something like $22 billion that could have been used on other programs? Would you support the Cape Wind Project even though the green movement’s political allies have taken the “not in my back yard” stance against it? Why should those pushing green on the populace get a pass just because it obstructs their view of the ocean? Will you tell the public how T. Boone Pickens’ energy plan correlates with his plan to privatize and sell water from a major aquifer to thirsty cities? Maybe you should mention how he’s cozying up to the president of the Sierra Club to gain its support.
You see, we all want to create a global utopia but this supposed global crisis is mired in politics. And truth be told, none of the major political ideologies is willing to make concessions to another. You are not going to concede to any of my wishes, and I am not going to accept your solutions at face value. Arguably, the green movement’s solution of choice (expanding socialism) has not delivered on its utopian promises in any of the nations where it has been implemented; yet it remains the central theme of your efforts. Although I do not remember what “–ism” ruled the people in the book “Utopia” (and every other story along its line for that matter) dissention still existed even though everyone had their basic needs met? Do you really believe that it is within the realms of possibility to “save” the planet and make everyone happy at the same time?