Plan B: Budget For Saving Civilization
By Lester R. Brown
04/21/07 “ICH ” — — Mobilizing to save civilization means restructuring the economy, restoring the economy’s natural support systems, eradicating poverty, and stabilizing population. We have the technologies, economic instruments, and financial resources to do this. The United States has the resources to lead this effort. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute sums it up well: “The tragic irony of this moment is that the rich countries are so rich and the poor so poor that a few added tenths of one percent of GNP from the rich ones ramped up over the coming decades could do what was never before possible in human history: ensure that the basic needs of health and education are met for all impoverished children in this world. How many more tragedies will we suffer in this country before we wake up to our capacity to help make the world a safer and more prosperous place not only through military might, but through the gift of life itself?”
It is not possible to put a precise price tag on the changes needed to move our twenty-first century civilization off the overshoot-and-collapse path and onto a path that will sustain economic progress. What we can do, however, is provide some rough estimates of the scale of effort needed.
To fund the needed restructuring of the energy economy, we rely on shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. For meeting our social goals, the additional external funding needed to achieve universal primary education in the more than 80 developing countries that require help is conservatively estimated by the World Bank at $12 billion per year. Funding for an adult literacy program based largely on volunteers will take an estimated additional $4 billion annually. Providing for the most basic health care in developing countries is estimated at $33 billion by the World Health Organization. The additional funding needed to provide reproductive health care and family planning services to all women in developing countries is less than $7 billion a year.
Closing the condom gap by providing the additional 9.5 billion condoms needed to control the spread of HIV in the developing world and Eastern Europe requires $2 billion—$285 million for condoms and $1.7 billion for AIDS prevention education and condom distribution. The cost of extending school lunch programs to the 44 poorest countries is $6 billion. An estimated $4 billion per year would cover the cost of assistance to preschool children and pregnant women in these countries. Altogether, the cost of reaching basic social goals comes to $68 billion a year.
A poverty eradication effort that is not accompanied by an earth restoration effort is doomed to fail. Reforesting the earth will cost $6 billion annually. Protecting and restoring rangeland will require $9 billion, restoring fisheries will cost $13 billion, and stabilizing water tables will require $10 billion annually. The most costly activities, protecting biological diversity at $31 billion and conserving soil on cropland at $24 billion, account for over half of the earth restoration annual outlay. All told, these efforts will cost an estimated $93 billion of additional expenditures per year.
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