"World on Edge details the vice closing around us: a quadruple squeeze of global warming and shortages in food, water and energy. Then it explains the path out—and how little time we have left to take that path. Got anything more important to read than that?" —Peter Goldmark, former head of the Port authority of New York and New Jersey, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and CEO of the International Herald Tribune
Chapter 13. Plan B: Building a New Future: You and Me
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 civilizational collapse? 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 rapidly that we have not yet fully grasped the meaning of what is happening. Traditionally, concern for our children has translated into ensuring their health care and getting them the best education possible. But if we do not act quickly to reverse the deterioration of the earth’s environmental systems, eradicate poverty, and stabilize population, their world will be declining economically and disintegrating politically. Today, securing our children’s future means not only investing in their education and health care, but also investing in a program to reverse the trends that are undermining their future.
As individuals, we should continue our memberships in environmental and population organizations. We need to improve local recycling programs. We need to vote with our pocketbooks. For example, buying Green Power certificates helps drive investment in renewable energy. We need to do all the things we are now doing to protect the environment. But they are not enough. We have been doing these things for the last 35 years. We have won a lot of local battles, but we are losing the war.
The two overriding challenges are to restructure taxes and reorder fiscal priorities. Saving civilization means restructuring the economy—and at wartime speed. It means restructuring taxes to get the market to tell the ecological truth. And it means reordering fiscal priorities to get the resources needed to restore the earth, eradicate poverty, and stabilize population. Write 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 longer run.
Or better yet, meet with your elected representatives to discuss why we need to raise environmental taxes and reduce income taxes. Work with like-minded friends and associates toward this goal. Put together a delegation to meet with your elected representative. Feel free to download the information on tax restructuring in the preceding chapter from our Web site to use in these efforts. If we cannot restructure the tax system to enable the market to tell the truth, we almost certainly will not make it.
Let your political representatives know that a world spending nearly $1 trillion a year for military purposes is simply out of sync with reality in a situation where the future of civilization is in question. Ask them if $161 billion per year is an unreasonable expenditure to save civilization. Ask them if diverting one sixth of the global military budget to saving civilization is too costly.
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. Organize a letter writing campaign, urging people to contact their elected representatives and local media outlets on this issue.
Push for the inclusion of poverty eradication, family planning, and reforestation in international assistance programs. Lobby for 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 civilization. Someone needs to speak on behalf of our children and grandchildren because it is their world and their futures that are at stake.
Educate yourself on environmental issues and on what happened to earlier civilizations that also found themselves in environmental trouble—and help your friends to become better informed. On this subject I recommend Collapse by Jared Diamond and A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. To understand the case for eradicating poverty, read “Can Extreme Poverty Be Eliminated?” by Jeffrey Sachs in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American. To gain a sense of the enormous potential for boosting energy efficiency, read “More Profit with Less Carbon” by Amory Lovins in the same issue. 38
Remember, challenging though the situation may be, there are signs of the new economy emerging all over the world. We see them in the wind farms of Europe, the fast-growing U.S. fleet of gas-electric hybrid cars, the reforested hills of South Korea, the family planning program of Iran, the massive eradication of poverty in China, and the solar rooftops of Japan.
What we need to do is doable. Sit down and map out your own personal plan and timetable for what you want to do to move the world from a path headed toward economic decline to one of sustained economic progress. Sketch out a plan for the next year of the things you want to do, how you hope to do them, and whom you can work with to achieve the only goal that really counts—the preservation of civilization. What could be more 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.
38. Diamond, op. cit. note 8; Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2005); Jeffrey Sachs, “Can Extreme Poverty Be Eliminated?” Scientific American, September 2005, pp. 56–65; Amory Lovins, “More Profit with Less Carbon,” Scientific American, September 2005, pp. 74–82.
Copyright © 2006 Earth Policy Institute