Lester Brown and the first Plan B book, published in 2003. There have been three subsequent editions. Photo: Earth Policy Institute

Dear EarthTalk: Some friends of mine were talking about a book called “Plan B” that proposes a plan for rescuing the environment and ending poverty around the world. Is it a realistic plan or just some utopian pipe dream? — Robin Jackson, Richmond, VA

What started as a book has grown into a movement known as “Plan B” which presents a roadmap for achieving worldwide goals of stabilizing both population and climate. According to Lester Brown, author of the 2003 book, Plan B (and three subsequent updates) and founder of the non-profit environmental think tank, Earth Policy Institute, the plan is based on replacing the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy with a new economic model powered by abundant sources of renewable energy.

Brown argues for transportation systems that are diverse and aim to maximize mobility, widely employing light rail, buses and bicycles. “A Plan B economy comprehensively reuses and recycles materials,” he says. “Consumer products from cars to computers are designed to be disassembled into their component parts and completely recycled.”

Brown even proposes a budget for eradicating poverty, educating the world’s youth and delivering better health care for everyone. “It also presents ways to restore our natural world by planting trees, conserving topsoil, stabilizing water tables, and protecting biological diversity,” says Brown. “With each new wind farm, rooftop solar water heater, paper recycling facility, bicycle path, marine park, rural school, public health facility, and reforestation program, we move closer to a Plan B economy.”

Plan B is an integrated program with four interdependent goals: cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020, stabilizing population at eight billion or lower, eradicating poverty, and restoring the Earth’s natural systems. Where Plan B really hits home is in the numbers: Brown puts realistic dollar values on the various aspects of his plan, and compares these costs with current military spending. Needless to say, restoring the environment and economy looks like a bargain when viewed against what the developed nations of the world spend on being ready for battle.

The beauty of Plan B is that it is feasible with current technologies and could well be achieved by 2020 with a concerted international effort. Brown reportedly wrote the latest incarnation of Plan B as a warning call for leaders of the world to begin “mobilizing to save civilization” given that time is more than ever of the essence. Luminaries from Bill Clinton to E.O. Wilson to Ted Turner have spoken highly of Plan B, and at least one university (Cal State at Chico) has made the latest version of the book (Plan B 4.0) required reading for all incoming freshmen.