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Book Review "Plan B 3.0"

A review of the recently published book "Plan B 3.0" by Lester Brown. Reviewed by Brother Phap Thanh.

Plan B 3.0 book coverBook review

Plan B 3.0

Mobilizing to Save Civilization

By Lester R. Brown

W. W. Norton & Company, 2008

Paperback, 398 pages


Reviewed by Brother Phap Thanh


This book is not a Buddhist book, it does not contain a single Buddhist term. Nonetheless it is an important book for every Buddhist practitioner to read. Though it uses different words, Plan B 3.0 is about our interconnectedness with all beings, and about suffering and ways to end suffering. The book asks for our diligent practice of compassion and wisdom to overcome one of the most challenging situations humanity has ever faced. Ultimately it is a book of hope.


Plan B 3.0 is about us, our children and our planet, and about saving all beings. It is a book about Bodhisattva vows, and it helps us to be in contact with the suffering of all species on our planet. Those who read this book are encouraged to not turn away from suffering, but look it straight in the eyes.


The first part of the book describes the status quo of our planet and all its inhabitants: Humans, fish, forests, soil, water, and many others. This part, although fascinating to read, is not so easy to digest. Brown reports about deteriorating oil and food security, rising temperatures and rising seas, emerging water shortages, natural systems under stress, and early signs of the decline of our civilization. We are facing individual and global suffering here, and we learn about the underlying causes of our malaise on the blue planet. We learn that we, the human species, are a major cause of the suffering of many other inhabitants of planet earth.


The second part of the book is about hope. Yes, there is a way out of this suffering, and I am immensely grateful to the author to point this out to us. Brown has put an enormous amount of skill and experience into compiling a vast field of scientific research into a very readable form. Then we encounter the author's proposal for the way out of this suffering: he has named it “Plan B”. Plan B includes eradicating poverty, stabilizing population, restoring the earth, feeding eight billion people well, designing cities for people, raising energy efficiency and turning to renewable energies.


The third part of the book talks about the great mobilization that is needed to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2020 to stabilize our climate. It shows concretely and in financial terms what needs to be done to save our civilization. Brown summarizes that we “already have the resources to eradicate poverty, stabilize population, and protect the earth's natural resource base. We can get rid of hunger, illiteracy, disease, and poverty, and we can restore the earth's soils, forests, and fisheries. Shifting one sixth of the world military budget to the Plan B budget would be enough to move the world onto a path that would sustain progress. We can build a global community where the basic needs of all the earth's people are satisfied.” The author points out that the two overriding policy challenges are to restructure taxes (to get the market to tell the ecological truth) and to reorder fiscal priorities (to get the resources needed for Plan B).


The question remains: Can our compassion and wisdom overcome our fear, hatred and greed? We are faced with this question on the individual and the collective level. As a civilization we have to answer this question soon. In the author's words: “It is decision time. Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we can decide to stay with business as usual and watch our modern economy decline and eventually collapse, or we can consciously move onto a new path, one that will sustain economic progress. In this situation, no action is a de facto decision to stay on the decline-and-collapse path.“


It is up to our practice of courage, compassion and wisdom to face the challenges and overcome fear, greed, hatred and ignorance to save our civilization and reduce an otherwise enormous amount of suffering. As practitioners we can help raise awareness, starting with ourselves. We can then decide together with our Sangha what the appropriate actions are.