Time for Plan B: Our Civilization Is on the Edge of a Systemic Breakdown

“How many failing states before we have a failing global civilization?” asks environmental pioneer Lester Brown in Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, premiering March 30 on PBS as part of its continuing Journey to Planet Earth series. It’s a Gordian knot of a question with no simple answer and nothing but complex, demanding solutions, fearsomely put forth as the fate of humanity totters in the balance.

Based on Brown’s book of the same name, Plan B is likely the scariest horror film that was ever disguised as a documentary, despite its calm narration from superstar Matt Damon. That’s because the acclaimed environmentalist has deeply studied the variety of environmental and geopolitical tipping points we are fast approaching, and found that we’re headed for a seriously dark dystopia if we don’t turn civilization as we know it around, and fast. A catastrophic confluence of food and water shortages, overpopulation and pollution, collapsed governments and communities and more natural disasters than Roland Emmerich can dream up await us on the other side of Plan A, which Brown calls “business of usual.”

“Environmentalists have been talking for decades about saving the planet, but the planet is going to be around for some time to come,” Brown told AlterNet by phone from his Washington D.C. office at theEarth Policy Institute, which he founded at the turn of the century after decades of public and private service in the name of sustainability. “The question is will civilization as we know it be around for some time to come? Can it survive the mounting global stresses of rising pollution, starvation, food prices, water shortages and failed states? These are the real threats to our security now, but we’re not responding to them.”

In a sense, we are without knowing it. Japan’s bungled response to a mounting nuclear crisis, thanks to one of Earth’s most destabilizing earthquakes and tsunamis, has in a cosmological eyeblink reset the entire world’s nuclear ambition. Uprisings in hotspots like Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and more, compounded by America’s continuing quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, are squarely knitting together civilization’s crappy experiments like preemptive war, biofuels and light-speed financial stratagems into one titanic mess that is demanding new theories of cleanup.


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