Rio+20: Books on Sustainability

Descriptive Review*

Book

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

by

Lester Brown

“The relationship between population and natural systems

 is a national security issue, one that can spawn

conflicts along geographic, tribal, ethnic, or religious lines”

Lester Brown

Lester Brown’s Plan B (2009) is about goals to stabilize climate and population, eradicate poverty and restore the earth’s damaged ecosystems. He does not focus on education, but on a change of the economy to move towards a path of sustainability. He thinks that governments should pay attention to two fundamental policy changes: restructuring taxes and reordering fiscal priorities. Brown says that the first political step to take action is to elect leaders who support positive environmental and social initiatives. And the first personal step is to pick an issue that is important and focus on educating yourself and others about it. The book is practical as it lays out a set of solutions.

Descriptive Review

Chapter 5 provides specific data on countries that are ahead on renewable energy.  It also gives general information about each of the energy types. According to Brown the shift to renewable sources of energy is moving at a pace and on a scale we could not imagine even two years ago. I was surprised to know that energy transition is under way. Plan B goal for developing renewable sources of energy by 2020 is to reduce worldwide net carbon dioxide emissions by 80% replacing all coal- and oil-fired electricity generation with renewable sources (wind, solar and geothermal energy). He says the shift is plausible, but we must do it in wartime speed.

Another chapter that caught my attention was chapter 7 on “Eradicating Poverty and Stabilizing Population”. The author cites “Bolsa Família”, a Brazilian program “that offers poor mothers up to $35 a month if they keep their children in school, have them vaccinated, and make sure they get regular physical checkups” (p. 169). As a Brazilian citizen, the issue here is that public services are chaotic in the country. To really increase health levels and for the program to be effective it is necessary that the Brazilian government provide more and better basic education, health services, welfare services and initiatives for inclusion in the labor market. The conditionalities can work as inducements but if the basic services are not offered, it does not make a real difference. Despite the popularity of the program, I consider it a palliative. It is necessary to adopt long-term measures to really end poverty and change the citizen’s life.

I read two articles recently that focused on how socioeconomic status can affect education. Tarabini’s (2010) text discoursed about education and poverty, while Marie et  al’s (2008) article discussed the roles of cultural identity and social disadvantage in educational achievement. I believe this is one more reason why poverty is on the top of the UN Millennium Development Goals. However, The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2009 stated, “major advances in the fight against poverty and hunger have begun to slow or even reverse as a result of the global economic and food crises” (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/). The United Nations thinks the solution is to strengthen global cooperation and solidarity to reach the MDGs.

I truly rely on civic participation for the campaign to succeed. Unfortunately action is on the government’s hands, as Lester  Brown would reinforce “elect the right leaders”. There must be strong political commitment to really have a shift. I also believe that for a proposal like the United Nations’ MDGs to be fruitful, it should impose strict penalties against ‘violators’. A good example is the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol’s Compliance Committee decided to make the targets legally binding and enforceable. As Brown asserts poverty is inherited, he says that the solution to break the culture of poverty is education. Education has several impacts on eradicating poverty and stabilizing population. When female education rises, fertility falls. Basic education tends to increase agricultural productivity. And informing and educating the youth is more effective to conduct health campaigns to prevent diarrhea or AIDS, for instance.

Population growth and lack of resources, fertility rates and education, they are important issues for sustainable development and social justice. Brown thinks the most alarming trend in the world is population growth. Shrinkage of resources rises with population growth and is the main source of social tension leading to political tension, conflict, and social tragedy (Brown, 2009b). “The relationship between population and natural systems is a national security issue, one that can spawn conflicts along geographic, tribal, ethnic, or religious lines” (Brown, 2009b, para.11). All Plan B goals are connected, like the web of life. They are all social issues by nature and achieving them is achieving social justice. The actual economic model is the major villain of us all. As to Brown (2009) “Eradicating poverty is not only the key to population stabilization, political stabilization, and a better life, it also provides hope” (p. 242).

Brown suggests three models of social change: the catastrophic model, the gradual change model and the sandwich model of social change. I agree with the author that the sandwich model is the most attractive one. But if we do not awaken we will end up facing the catastrophic model. Since information is in the center of this big change Brown is addressing, I cannot help myself from interpreting his ideas into learning, learning, learning. He says we need to restructure the global economy immediately. And the most important thing we should do to start this is to get informed. Read about the social issues we have been facing and engage in social discussions.  If the jargon “think globally, act locally” is put into action, we can start the change. His analogy between World War II and the need for a change now is enlightening: “The United States completely restructured its economy within months once it decided to enter World War II, changing the course of the war. We, too, can change the world, but we need to start now”, Brown says.

I will graduate from my Master Degree in International/Intercultural Education wanting to change the World just like Lester Brown, at wartime speed. I started the courses last year in International and Multicultural Education and ended up falling in love with Global Change and Sustainable Futures. To know is to suffer, but more than that, knowledge inspires, sets us free and it is an addiction.

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* FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY /  COLLEGE OF EDUCATION / Miami, Florida / A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the course EDF 7937 to Professor Robert Farrell – Spring 2010

References

Brown, R. L. (2009b). When Population Growth and Resource Availability Collide. Earth Policy Institute. Retrieved September 18th, 2009 from http://www.earthpolicy.org/Books/Seg/PB3ch06_ss5.htm

Brown, Lester R. (2009). Plan B 4.0:  Mobilizing to Save Civilization.  Washington,

D.C.: Earth Policy Institute.

Marie, D., Fergusson, D. M., & Boden, J. M. (2008). Educational achievement in Maori: The roles of cultural identity and social disadvantage. Australian Journal of Education, 52(2), 183-196.

Tarabini, A. (2010). Education and poverty in the global development agenda: Emergence, evolution and consolidation. International Journal of Educational Development 30, 204-212.

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