Lester Brown: Plan B 2.0

We went straight from the pub to Lester Brown’s lecture at MSU this evening so I didn’t have a pen or pad of paper with me. I need to jot something down before I forget so why don’t I blog it…

President of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown’s talk was based largely around his recently updated book Plan B 2.0. Essentially this was an ecological economics discussion, and many of his examples echoed what I heard at the THEMES summer school earlier this year (did I blog that yet? I should). For example, one clear message was that biofuels (ethanol) is NOT a viable alternative to gasoline for running cars; the resources and area demanded to grow the products to produce the biofuel are to great to ensure it’s economic or ecological viability. A more sustainable alternative presented was wind power; the US could satisfy its annual electricity needs by installing wind turbines in just the three windiest states (I forget which they are). If the number of hybrid electricity/gasoline cars increased this wind power could be efficiently harnessed, stored and used for travel.

Orders for wind turbines globally are so high that waiting lists for production currently stretch to 2008. Why not use the infrastructure already in place in the form of automobile factories to constuct these wind turbines? Unfeasible? Not possible? The example of the shift from automobilie manufacture to arms manufacture in the US during the second World War shows that “where there’s a will there’s a way”.

But do we want have the will? Are we in denial? Why is it so easy to persuade ourselves that there isn’t a problem? Lester Brown suggests that one reason is that we’re not doing our economics properly; we’re hiding many of the costs of the products we produce just as Enron did before their collapse. It may only ‘cost’ $3 to produce a packet of cigarettes (at least that’s the cost they could sell at before tax), but when you factor in ecological and human health into the equation we find that it actually costs $7 in terms of ecosystem and health services.

Echoing Al Gore in his recent movie (still need to blog about that), unless the environmental question is on the lips of the constituent when they meet their political representative, these issues can get swept under the carpet. We need to have the will to make the necessary changes, and we need to let our politicians know we want that change.

And I need to get some sleep so that my presentation tomorrow doesn’t collapse into farce…

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