Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saving the planet

Book Review from the October 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

PLAN B 4.0 Mobilising to save civilisation by Lester R. Brown. Earth Policy Institute. W.W.Norton and Company.

The book is built around what Brown sees as four mutually dependent goals – stabilising the climate by cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020, stabilising the population at 8 billion or less (a rather contentious and difficult proposition), eradicating poverty and restoring the Earth's natural systems, soil, aquifers, forests, grasslands and fisheries. 'Plan B is the alternative to business as usual – the ambitiousness of the plan is not driven by perceived political feasibility but by scientific reality.'

The early chapters lay out the extent of the challenges he sees presented by pressures on water and land, climate change and the transition to non-fossil fuel energy, followed by chapters laying out his response to each of these areas in well documented detail. He offers plenty of evidence to show just what could be achieved in a relatively short period of time if there is the will to do it. However, in the capitalist system we live in this, the will, is what is so often shown to be lacking.

The chapters are crammed with solid information, some citing examples of good practice around the world, examples which could be followed with advantage to both people and planet. With his use of unemotional, dispassionate matter of fact language which presents the plan as realistic and rational it could be difficult for some to grasp why world leaders haven't already grabbed the concept and run with it.

It is in chapter 10, the last chapter, that, as socialists, we get what we know to expect somewhere along the line; the let-down of how we are actually expected to put this plan into practice. Up to this point socialists and non-socialists alike could agree that here is a plan about which we could largely have consensus. It would appeal to most rational thinking people who believe we have to address immediately the problems that are facing us right now. But we are about to be divided again. It is the means to the end that divides us.

Non-socialists will accept without question that there is an economic equation to be discussed and will believe that politicians will be focussed in this direction for the good of the planet, reforming taxes and subsidies to achieve the objective and if they're not then pressure will need to be brought to bear on them. This would be some of the action required.

Socialists, on the other hand, will simply want to point out that it is the use of such methods over the long term that has brought us to where we're at now and it is this very system which perpetuates and deepens the problems. Only a move right away from the capitalist profit system will suffice to save the planet. Business not as usual means removing all financial incentives, taxes, subsidies and money itself from the equation, abolishing the wages system in favour of common ownership in a classless society.

Janet Surman