Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Anyone catch Lester Brown and Co.’s Plan B, on PBS last night ? Here, via Mother Earth News, is the heart of the message. Instead of “business as usual,” that is Plan A, Brown, (from the US Department of Agriculture, now at the Earth Policy Institute) and fellow-travelers advocate a radical restructuring of the world’s economy to get to close to carbon free energy by 2020, not to get there part way by 2050 as the US and others are currently staged to do.

In the PBS pitch, Lester Brown teams up with Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman, Tom Lovejoy, Bruce Babbitt and others to make the case for radical restructuring. They advocate for political movements/action on a scale unheard of (at least since World War Two, when President Roosevelt halted the production of automobiles in the US for several years to mobilize for armament production to battle Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito).

Plan B includes four tightly integrated components:

  • Cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020
  • Stabilize population at no more than 8 billion
  • Eradicate poverty
  • Restore the Earth’s natural systems—including forests, soils, grasslands, aquifers, and fisheries

All four components are tightly integrated and all four must move forward at the same time to be effective. There were many familiar themes presented in Plan B. But one that I was glad to see was that they advocate for a carbon tax, instead of some foolish carbon trading scheme. I have argued similarly on my Ecology and Economics blog. Plan B’s components reminded me generally of topics we used to talk about regularly in the Forest Service when I was bombarding people via email, particularly in the early 90s, on Eco-Watch.

[Update]: To make this relevant, which I agree with reader Brian that it is “questionable”, let’s add an inquiry question: Where between the lines of science and advocacy does Brown and Co.’s this rather strident polemic fit?”

How does this, and similar earlier “apocalyptic warnings” either inform forestry debates, else detract therefrom? We already know that there are both disciples and detractors re: global warming and the human-causation factor. We also know that when we attempt to either develop forest policy or apply said policy as forest practice we will encounter both cheerleaders and jeer-leaders. Short of “adaptive governance” political engagement, how are we to deal with any of this?

25 thoughts on “Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization”

    • Let’s see if I can find a reason or two. But first let’s open up the broader discussion whether or not what I used to distribute on Eco-Watch was relevant to Forest Service policy/practice? That “relevancy” was well hashed out in the early 1990s and summarized in feedback messages that I regularly posted, as archived here. We can save that for next week, when I unveil a “post” on that era.

      Now back to your question. Try this NY Times article, Forest Service Shifts Strategy to Address Changing Climate, 7/21/201. It seems to me that any agency that seeks to contribute to a better climate—recognizing that global climate change threats exist—had better keep up on the nature of the debates, science, etc. that surrounds the effort.

      Also consider this little archive of posts on the matter here:

    • Ok.. Maybe I should have waited until I’d had my morning coffee before posting. As an update, I added and an inquiry question and followup. Hope that helps to position this post more in line with Sharon’s continued line of inquiry as to proper roles of science and advocacy in public deliberation. Let’s hash this out yet one more time.

      It is clear to me and maybe only to me that science is not value neutral. It is also clear to me that when we have only one biosphere, global-scale experimentation is impossible. What else is to be done, but to air all “reasonable” views and try to vet them as well as we can. I put quotes around “reasonable” since we are really up in the air as to what constitutes reason these days.

      • Like the “reason” that supports increased GHG emissions coming off our dead, dying and burning forests? We could surely sequester significant amounts of their carbon in wood products. We could also offset other dirtier (and dangerous!) by using safe biomass power, that further reduces GHG’s from forests, while improving forest health and resiliency. That would also reduce the costs of fire suppression and reduces our dependence on letting fires burn during the summer. This would also supply more jobs, where they are needed the most.

        Seems perfectly logical to me that we should be including these ideas in your Plan B. Is simple mistrust of the Forest Service stopping us from planning such work that follows the law AND isn’t litigated AND is economical? The trust issue is a recurrent theme whenever the new Planning Rule is discussed in public.

      • RE: Some of Larry/Foto’s ideas

        Wood Products and Carbon Storage: Can Increased Production Help Solve the Climate Crisis?

        Available at:


        The three main reasons a biomass plant emits around 150% the CO2 of a coal plant and around 300 – 400% of a natural gas plant:

        1. Wood inherently emits more carbon per Btu than other fuels

        • Natural gas: 117.8 lb CO2/mmbtu*
        • Bituminous coal: 205.3 lb CO2/mmbtu*
        • Wood: 213 lb CO2/mmbtu (bone dry)**

        2. Wood is often wet and dirty, which degrades heating value

        • Typical moisture content of wood is 45 – 50%, which means it’s btu content per pound is about half that of bone dry wood. Before “useful” energy can be derived from burning wood, some of the wood’s btu’s are required to evaporate all that water. Fuel moisture dramatically reduces the efficiency of a biomass plant meaning more fuel (emitting more carbon) must be burned to produce the same amount of energy.

        3. Biomass boilers operate less efficiently than fossil fuel boilers (data from air plant permit reviews and the Energy Information Administration)

        • Utility-scale biomass boiler: 24%
        • Average efficiency US coal fleet: 33%
        • Average gas plant: 43%

  1. Frankly, I find that it is hard to argue with decarbonizing, feeding the poor, peace and caring for the land. I don’t think you’d find anyone who disagreed in fact religions have been arguing that the latter three, at least, are appropriate behavior for millenia. “Repent, the end times are at hand” is also a long-standing part of human nature. Which leads to a bit of a paradox; improving our behavior would be good, but preaching at people (especially those having trouble making ends meet in this economy) that “we” have to rein in our profligate economic ways may not establish the bond of trust that inspires people to change. In fact, the economy is doing more to reduce people’s lifestyle than any number of PBS shows narrated by movie stars.

    One the other hand, who could be against case studies of successful efforts to solve these longstanding human problems?

    I did notice that once again the “population explosion” is seen to be a problem. But of the six talking heads listed on the right here on the show’s website, only one is female, and she is talking about educating women, not about the other global needs. Somehow I thought we’d be out of the pink intellectual ghetto by 2011. I’m getting deja vu all over again from the 70’s.

    Well, I think I now take the prize for off-topic comments.

    • Sharon,

      Somehow I don’t think you watched the program. One main message was a message familiar to all who have dabbled in “environmental justice,” that it will be the poor of the world who will suffer first and foremost if we continue our wasteful, overly consumptive American ways. For example, twenty five percent of our American corn crop is now going to Ethanol. And who gets left out? The poor of the world. Remember the tortilla riots in Mexico? Remember the food shortages that precipitated, to some extent, recent unrest in N. Africa, at minimum Egypt? And it gets worse if others around the world emulate our lifestyles as they emerge into middle class. Those involved in this film, advocate seeking means to create “tides that lift all boats,” not tides that only lift the upper 5%.

      Yes this message is not different from messages that were around in the 70s and beyond. But a big difference is that, largely in the wake of the Ronald Reagan-cheerled party that we all threw for ourselves from that era forward, we now have pretty much wasted the last 30 years — years that might have helped put us further from a day of reckoning.

      PS. I loved the fact that the producers used Enron as an example of what we’ve all done w/r/t overly-consumptive, lavish lifestyles that are built on a foundation of sand, if not of fraud. In nearly every part of our lives, we’ve allowed what Garrett Hardin called “cc-pp” trap, wherein we’ve allowed our capitalist dark overlords to commonize the costs, and privatize the profits.
      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against capitalism, I’m just very, very much against rapacious, “crony capitalism” — that kind that several noted economists have called “looting.” Note: I save most of these kinds of rants for my Economic Dreams-Nightmares blog.

    • I do believe the world’s continuing “population explosion” is a serious problem, especially if everyone wants to live like an American. I’ve been “fixed” for about a dozen years now and I’m a big proponent of men taking this very simple and relatively easy/benign step towards birth control and responsibility. I’d like to see a policy of free vasectomies for whoever wants them. Over the years I’ve observed that the vasectomy is still very much a taboo subject, but having your wife/partner/girl friend pop nasty hormones into her body for birth-control is A-OK. Pretty weird if you ask me.

  2. Dave,
    Thanks for the update and the question. I offer in defense of my way-too-snarky post that I really like this blog. But if we don’t get the conversations back to the task of developing Forest Plans, my head will explode.

    According to the agency, the current planning regulations (remember those?) are “costly, complex, and procedurally burdensome.”

    We have a Draft Rule out that is supposed to address these issues. The agency is tasked to address “climate change” into its planning process. So I admit that some of this is relevant.

    In response to question posed by Dave:
    I say that a significant part of the problem is that many within the agency want these planning regulations to be about policy (e.g. proactively address climate change) instead of process (i.e. actually formulating a Forest Plan).

    Naturally, my perspective is biased toward multiple use. I see the effort to incorporate ideas at the core of “Plan B” into the planning regulations as an attempt to shift policy away from existing congressional direction toward a much more preservationist oriented mission. Again, I say that is part of the reason the existing planning regs are “costly, complex, and procedurally burdensome.”

    Other fans of this blog have a different perspective, I’m sure.

    I have a genetic defect: I am an optimist. I believe this blog could provide a venue to learn what in the draft rule the opposing perspectives agree and disagree on. (Did that make sense?) If the agreements and disagreements could, somehow, be articulated in a concise paragraph or two, we might actually do something productive for this important process.

    I’ll end by (again) quoting that Quincy Library lawsuit and a section from BRC’s scoping comments:
    …. the Forest Service must be pro-active in restoring our forests to structures and compositions that are both natural and sustainable, with full regard for both ecological and human necessities.”

    “We reach out to truly-interested officials, agency employees, organizations and individuals to stand up in this process for active and continuing use of the Forest System.  Whatever our differences, we face a common foe who would seize this point in our bureaucratic “evolution” to transform the visions of Pinchot, Roosevelt, and Leopold into a Forest System that excludes meaningful use.  The core vision is valid, only its implementation need be improved.  We need incremental change to existing planning frameworks, not a dramatic new vision that only threatens continuing judicial skepticism.”

    Thanks for listening and for being patient with me.

    • The trouble with the QLG is that they don’t have a solid scientific base for their projects, and that they don’t fully conform to existing rules, laws and policies. The worst thing about the QLG is that they satisfy everyone but the local radical activist and his eco-lawyer wife. I worked on some of the projects that were successfully litigated. Scattering these 2 acres partial patch cuts all over the forest isn’t very scientific or economical. Eco’s are calling these “virtual clearcuts” but, all trees over 30″ dbh are retained.

      Meanwhile, the Plumas keeps suffering larger and more frequent big wildfires. The eastside of the forest is particularly choked with off-site white fir and small cedars. Meanwhile, the Quincy small log mill has been closed for a year, until the Forest Service can work something else out.

  3. As usual, Matt is sidestepping the biomass issue. The comparison is not about REPLACING coal plants. The comparison is that unmined coal doesn’t burn, fouling our air and polluting our water and destroying wildlife habitat, while standing dead forests do. The eco’s view of biomass is that foresters will clearcut vast lands solely to provide for more and more giant biomass plants. The reality is that biomass can only provide a portion of our power needs, at best. Matt, how long have biomass burners been used in the Bitterroot Valley, now? Have they been so inefficient and dirty that they have been shutdown in the home of the Sierra Club? The eco’s scare tactics are saying that 30 million acres will be immediately clearcut if biomass gets any subsidies.

    It is far better to thin forests, sequestering carbon in excess sawlogs and using submerchantable and waste materials for biomass, leaving the forests more resilient, more resistent to insects and disease, and restoring some forests back to their original splendor. Matt thinks it is better to leave all those dead trees in place, waiting for the next inevitable firestorm to release centuries of sequestered carbon into the upper atmosphere, where plants cannot re-sequester the carbon. (Yes, such a lovely vision, eh?) AND, these firestorms do KILL PEOPLE!

  4. Matthew Koehler :
    2. Wood is often wet and dirty, which degrades heating value

    Water content only effects per pound heating value. It doesn’t effect the amount of emissions per BTU. Assuming that the water content is low enough to start combustion then it’s only an issue as to shipping cost.

    Burning something in a fireplace is not the same as an industrial steam boiler operating at 600C.

    I.E. Power River Basin coal has about 8,500 BTU’s/lb. Central Appalachian coal has about 13,000 BTU’s/pound. Both emit almost identical amounts of CO2 per BTU. They have different water content, Powder River Basin coal having more water content.

    Wood is a highly localized resource, even air dried the BTU content for wood ranges from 5,300 BTU’s/lb for Balsam Fir and 6,300 BTU’s/lb for White Pine.

    If a use a comparison with Powder River Basin coal, which sells for $14/ton which has 17 MBTU’s. To ship it from Wyoming to a major South Eastern US coal fired electricity plant by rail costs $60. So the delivered price ends up being $74 for 17 million BTU’s or $4.35/Mbtu.

    If I shipped an Air dried Balsam Fir tree from Wyoming to a major south eastern utility I would end up paying the same shipping per ton. $60…but I would only get 10.6 MBTU’s per ton delivered. Even if the tree is free it would cost $5.66 per MBTU’s in shipping.

    • So, maybe a better comparison is how much does it cost to transport the coal from West Virginia to, say, Denver, compared to how much it costs to buy, harvest and transport biomass from the Rocky Mountain Front. Of course, that comparison would mean building enough biomass burners to match the output of a single coal plant. Of course, that amount of biomass burners would have to be sustainable based on the current restrictions on forested lands. Of course, some of that biomass is already bone dry, from successful bark beetle attacks. Of course, the biomass industry would also get any pro-rated subsidies that coal mining already gets. Of course, biomass issues are different in different parts of the country.

      Seems to me that, with transportation costs being high, that local energy sources are much better for many western communities. Why not provide a use for SOME of all those dead trees on 22 million acres of dead forests? Again, do we REALLY need “pristine” dead forests?

  5. Well … I was heartbroken to see this excellent Documentary. I almost didn’t want to watch it because I know how serious things are …given what I see everyday …with no change of direction in sight.
    Lester Brown could not have presented a more truthful, factual, and kind attempt at informing us where we are on the curve toward environmental and civilization annihilation.

    We are very likely … maybe too late to prevent it.

    BUT …!!! If this Documentary were to be watched by a critical mass of people … then maybe we would decide that we have the power to absolutely STOP the machinery (Corporate and Governmental) that is the root cause of our current situation.

    There are a few hopeful notes in the movie … we have the technology to go Clean. Quickly. We have prototype GIANT solar cylinders in the dessert (Sahara?). As pointed out in the movie, the dessert is an area where harnessing solar energy for 1 hour would provide enough juice to power the entire earth for 1 year (sorry if my math is off …but even if I’m off by an order of magnitude …the concept is staggering.)
    Give the revenue (initially) to the crybaby Corporate interests that have gotten us into this mess …let them have the MONEY. Anything. We MUST reverse the course we are on … or we will peril. This is essence of the movie.

    We are lied to everyday by those with vested interests in keeping us on their path. Twitter this movie link. Facebook it. Email it to as many people you can. Let them know where we are at.


  6. I am rather skeptical of the hype over man caused global warming. Science by consensus isn’t science it’s politics. Climate modeling is no better than Forplan modeling, it is a prediction. I don’t believe Plan B is practical or even needed. It is mainly theoretical and wishful thinking for a perfect world as envisioned by some. I believe it’s mostly propaganda used to stress the urgency of following the wisdom of the true believers. It’s an interesting mix of religion, politics, and science. All three of which should not be mixed. The catastrophic man caused global warming message is losing ground lately in the eyes of the public. I hesitated to comment as I think in general folks will jump all over this, but I don’t think the end of the world is nigh. There will be problems no doubt, but to claim we need to adopt the plan or else, is over the top to me.

    • Michael … your prespective is maybe self-comforting, certainly rife with denial. Your claim that this Documentary is “an interesting mix of religion, politics, and science…” is unfounded, also not true. View the Documentary … not that I think it will change your opinion.

      We don’t have time to bicker over how provable it is that humans are causing global warming. Of course it is difficult to “absolutely prove”. So then … we ignore all of the evidence that very strongly argues that humans are both causing and accelerating global warming. Is that your position?

      Sorry to say that Plan B is an essential awareness … probably the only chance we have of stopping the slide we are going into. To NOT KNOW where we are at on this curve … and then to NOT STOP it … is to suffer unimaginable consequences.

      And my ONE wish is that I am proven wrong. I’m afraid I’m likely arguing with the Wall … so that’s about all I have to say.

  7. I hesitate to respond, and certainly don’t want to argue. Instead I’ll attempt to explain where I am at in regards to catastrophic global warming. I used to be a semi believer 5 or 6 years ago, but never really looked into it, I’d just believe the media reports. So I started looking into it and found it to be what I call advocacy science. Climate science and especially climate modeling is in it’s infancy. Al Gore’s movie struck me as sensationalism and definitely made me realize politics was a main player. What was more disturbing to me was to see science papers (the infamous hockey stick) eliminating the Medieval Warm Period, and the Little Ice Age in order to make the recent warming seem unprecedented to add urgency to the issue. Then the so called “climate gate”, scientists ignoring FOIA requests, and manipulation of the peer review process to only accept papers which met their agenda, added to my skepticism. And things like advocates claiming snow would be a rarity in Washington DC due to warming, and then having back to back heavy snow winters, which of course was then blamed on global warming.

    I do believe man has had some influence on climate but the role of CO2 has been greatly exaggerated. The climate on earth has changed in the past and will continue to change as it always has. I also believe the environmental movement has a religious side to it. I think most religions predict catastrophes when one doesn’t follow their doctrine.

    • Michael notes,

      Then the so called “climate gate”, scientists ignoring FOIA requests, and manipulation of the peer review process to only accept papers which met their agenda, added to my skepticism.

      You are aware, are you not Michael, that the so-called “climate gate” controversy is no longer in play, as all involved have been exonerated. Or am I being hoodwinked by the non-FOX American media, including those who cover “science.” Google up “Climategate debunked” and see what you find. And if you’ve got more or newer or better evidence than I, please share.

  8. Exonerated is a stretch, the investigations appeared to me to be a white wash. And no I don’t watch fox news. Read the leaked e-mails which appear to bundled for a FOIA which was never released until they were leaked. Regardless science should be open for review and auditing of results. That’s part of the process, not hiding the data and saying trust us. You can tell it is political when the response to criticism usually resorts attacks on the messenger and not the message. And no I’m not a Republican or belong to the tea party. I consider myself a moderate independent. I ride a bike to work in the summer, heat my house with bio-mass (firewood) and grow an organic vegetable garden. If your really interested in climate gate or the other side of the story check out Steve MacIntire’s Climate Audit blog. He has a very detailed account of the other side by someone who was aware of the entire affair.

    • Ok.. I looked at “Climate Audit” and looked into Steve Mcintyre. I stand by my earlier assertion. Try “”, try “” or just follow the links from the earlier search I mentioned “climategate debunked.” And don’t believe all you read on blogs, even this one.

  9. Dave- Every time I read the climate discussions, I am glad I am in the public lands biz. They weren’t exonerated, but some people defended their (bad) behavior. The level and passion related to the climate science infighting makes my eyes glaze over.

    As a person who deals with many FOIAs, I wasn’t very sympathetic to the idea that the law only applies to non-researchers.

    Here’s a post from Judith Curry on the current controversy- should Muller have testified to Congress, using what data- which had 210 comments when I read it. In our world that level of detail about how many stations used, adjustments, etc. would not have the same following.

    • Sharon,

      I agree that our little arena is tame, relative to climate change forums. I’m glad to see the latter getting lots of attention. I only wish we would get a little more attention. I have noted long ago that when blogs get 200+ comments on a given post, there is a lot of what we might call “true believers” jousting with “true dissenters.” In such cases it becomes hard to separate “wheat from chaff”, even if such separation were possible given complex systems and wicked problems.

  10. I just found an interesting new blog on Climate Science and modeling. It is from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and authored by Isacc Held (Wikipedia). Interestingly, it is yet-another-blog on a government server, published with this simple disclaimer:

    I am employed by NOAA (and also lecture and advise graduate students at Princeton University). The opinions that I express are mine and not official positions of NOAA. However, I consider working on this blog to be fully consistent with NOAA’s outreach and communications policies.

    I found it via RealClimate in a recent post titled Blogging Climate Science. I also found an interesting expose of the continuing right wing attack on climate science, in a post titled Friday round-up, 3/25/2011. A snip:

    Last week, Nature published another strong statement addressing the political/economic attack on climate science in an editorial titled “Into Ignorance“. It specifically criticized the right wing element of the U.S. Congress that is attempting to initiate legislation that would strip the US EPA of its powers to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants.

    The wars rage on, as summarized well in An essay on the current state of the climate change debate Don Aitkin, 3/29/2011.
    [Note: this comment was updated about 10 times so as not to add too many more comments here.]

  11. Thanks Dave for the links.. I liked the Don Aitkin piece which I hadn’t seen- I loved this quote- may use it for a science policy quote of the month when I catch up:

    It seems to me that the AGW debate has shifted to, and is alive and well in, what is now called ‘the blogosphere’ — the set of websites all over the world interested in the issue. There are at least several hundred of them, and there may be thousands. Their readership is uncounted but, I would estimate, very large. It may be in the millions. Twenty years ago the world of what we now call ‘climate science’ hardly existed, and its output was confined to academic journals. The Internet and its astonishing spread have changed all that. ‘Peer-reviewed’ journals are still the locus of important published work, but by and large the peer-review process operates to support the orthodoxy (as it does in every field). The real debate takes place in the websites in response to published papers, and it is immediate. Long before a response to a given paper can go through the hoops of peer review, responses to peer critiques, deadlines, the backlog of publication, and all the rest, the paper to which it is a response may already have been completely dissected in many websites, and argument about its point, methodology and conclusions may have raged on within, and between, rival websites. Within ten years, I should think, Internet technology will have fundamentally changed the printed academic journal as we have known it since the 1880s.

    It will be great when that happens for all kinds of science, in my view, including forest related sciences.


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