Dr.Lester Brown, unarguably one of the most influential thinkers of our time and an expert Environment Analyst, was in New Delhi recently and I had the privileged opportunity to listen him talking. An interactive session with him was hosted at the Teen Murti House auditorium in New Delhi on the 13th of June, on the eve of the release of Hindi Version of his latest book Plan B 3.0 Mobilising to Save Civilisation. The book explains in detail how we are standing on the verge of two tipping points – nature and political. If the nature’s tipping point is to be triggered it is a catastrophe to say the least where as the political tipping point could help us avert the disaster. Some of the important points that were raised during the interactive session that lasted for about an hour are highlighted below. Also present in the panel discussion was Mr. Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary magazine who is seen listening keenly as Dr. Brown speaks in the picture below.
Restructuring the existing tax regime to incorporate those hidden costs which otherwise are not included while exploiting the exhaustible sources of energy. This is based on the contention that people pay for the production of fuel or technology but they don’t pay for the outcomes like the impact it leaves on the environment or humanity. For instance, the markets do not incorporate the climate change costs of burning fossil fuels. The costs could easily run into the trillions of dollars. The market prices for fossil fuels including their environmental costs are way higher. Introduction of a new tax on the lines of a green tax or a carbon tax and offsetting it with a reduction in the income tax will ensure a fair pricing mechanism and more importantly stabilize the imbalances in the market. To make this work, the top policy makers must understand the relationship between environment and economics. If we don’t address this problem with utmost urgency, we certainly are heading to a deeper trouble.
While the grave problems arising with usage of fossil fuels are being realized and recognized, another harsh reality to be dealt with is that the petroleum reserves are fast drying up or the decline of oil is certain and it’s just a matter of time given the current levels of consumption. So, an effective way of tackling this double-headed problem is to shift focus our focus from conventional sources of energy towards alternate clean/green sources of energy. Dr. Brown cited the example of the state of Texas that has proposed to set up a wind farm with a capacity of generating 24000MW of clean energy, enough to address the power needs of the majority of its population. T. Boone Pickens, one of the oil barons of Texas has also invested in a 4000MW plant as a part of the grid. This exemplifies the business potential that is being perceived in relation to alternate sources of energy and their future. Human beings cannot survive without electricity after all.
In the pursuit towards alternate energy also comes with a cost, which is being felt across the world in the form of rising food prices. Cultivation of grains for ethanol rather than food is already manifesting itself globally. To make things worse, The US is planning to double its share of harvest for production of alternate fuel leading to decline in the global food production levels resulting in steep increase of food prices. This again reminds us and reinforces the fact that we are not dealing with a set of different problems but with one single enormous problem with multiple dimensions to it. The solution therefore needs to be a comprehensive, one that could address to these issues holistically rather than one at a time.
Be it economic and policy measures or shifting to alternate fuels, these solutions deal with only specific sections of people who consume them and are subsequently exposed to tax. Naturally they are people who occupy a relatively higher position in the society whereas the problem needs to be addressed at the grass roots who, in fact, are the worst victims. Therefore, the real solution to this problem also lies in taking these issues to the grass root level, raising adequate awareness and working towards a practical solution. The efficiency and success of this exercise at the grass roots can be maximal only if it is a mass movement. Dr. Brown highlighted how in the US, the civil societies have been fighting against the move to construct coal fired power plants and have successfully stopped the construction of plants which do not satisfy the emission norms. Even some international financial institutions have decided not to lend to coal fired plants.
The session concluded with note of stress on how the youth have to come together in a mass mobilization to address this problem, as we will be the ones inheriting this earth in its present form or, in the event of not taking positive measures, an even worse condition. In short, if we don’t act immediately, we might have to pay the heavy price of the evolution of the current global scenario and the price may be as heavy as the question of survival of the civilization itself.
The Plan B 3.0 book can be downloaded from http://www.earth-policy.org/Books/PB3/Contents.htm