How Doctors Think
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
Lester R. Brown Apr 2008
The Spark of Life
Christopher Wills & Jeffrey Bada Aug 2008
Doctors Think Jerome
Introduction A young woman
is ill, she has stomach problems, and is loosing weight. However
no doctors had been able to determine what is causing her ailments.
Many doctors tend to focus on their own specialties and their own
C1 Flesh-and-Blood Decision-Making
His first days and months as a doctor - a young intern and 30
years later as an educator teaching medical students.
C2 Lessons from the Heart
A forest ranger has severe chest pain. However he showed no
signs of heart problems. He went home, but came in the next
morning with an acute myocardial infarction. Why wasn't he
diagnosed properly? There are other examples of failed diagnoses.
C3 Spinning Plates More problems, emergency room errors and Native American medicine.
Childrens medicine, doctors trying to see too many patients and
not paying attention to each individual. Problems of
communicating with patients, especially those of slightly different
culture or social group. How to you provide good service when
insurance companies and administrators are telling you to speed up?
C5 A New Mother's Challenge
A baby is adopted from Vietnam. She has medical problems.
The problems with treating diseases that may or may not be
related to foreign countries. Doctors tend to pick on solutions
that they have used before.
C6 The Uncertainty of the Expert
Where do you stick the hyperdermic needle when faced with cardiac
tamponade? And why. Probably where the first person who did
this procedure did it. Or maybe a medical group took a vote.
The problems with diagnoses made without full information, and
who has full information. The continuation of his diatribe
against conformity and orthodoxy. He doesn't like bayesian
C7 Surgery and Satisfaction
The problem with the authors hand and wrist. He has
problems, he got about n different diagnoses and n-1 suggested remedies.
C8 The Eye of the Beholder The problems of radiology. How do you use technology to assist in diagnosis. It can be used or abused.
C9 Marketing, Money, and Medical Decisions The effect of marketing from drug companies and the profitability of medical procedures.
C10 In Service of the Soul A sad story about cancer. Why is it in the book? I don't know.
Epilogue: A Patient's Questions
Physicians should always listen carefully to patients complaints.
Making decisions without full information can results in patient
deaths. Ockham's razor can be useful but it should not be relied
on. Sometimes strange things happen. Often multiple causes
or illnesses are involved.
There is a very good section of notes, 18 pages, and 14 pages of index.
Return to Top
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization Lester R. Brown Apr 2008
Preface In Plan B 2.0 the
data in ice melting were worrying, now they are scary. Then there
were failing states, now there are more. Failing states are a
sign of a failing civilization. Two years ago oil was $50 a
barrel, in late 2007 it was over $90 a barrel. In Plan B 2.0 they
predicted that grain prices would raise due to distillation. Now
corn prices have doubled. Grain production is not less than
consumption. There are four overriding goals in Plan B 3.0 - 1)
stabilizing climate, 2) stabilizing population, 3) eradicating poverty,
and 4) restoring the earth's ecosystems.
Their organization name is the Earth Policy Institute, 1350 Connecticut
Ave. NW, Suite 403, Washington, DC 20036 email:
email@example.com, Web: www.earthpolicy.org
C1 Entering a New World
Ice caps and glaciers all over the world are melting.
Temperature is rising, water tables are falling, population is
growing, and states are failing.
A Massive Marker Failure Nicholas
Stern, former chief economist at the world bank: there
is a massive failure of markets to incorporate the climate change
costs, both direct and indirect,
of burning fossil fuels, this will be in the trillions of dollars.
For the market to work, these costs must be taken into account,
just as labor and equipment costs are used. According to a study
by the International Center for Technology Assessment the costs for
climate change, tax subsidies, military costs of protecting access in
the Middle East, and the health care costs of respiratory illnesses for
a gallon of gasoline are about $12 per gallon. Gas should cost
$15 per gallon if we paid all the costs. Another example is the
flooding in the Yangtze River basin in 1998. Logging allowed
floods which damaged rice crops causing damage of over $30 billion,
much more than the value of the timber.
Environment and Civilization A review of the lessons pointed out in Jared Diamond's book Collapse.
Brown extends this by pointing our several areas in the present
world where we are putting extreme pressure on ecosystems. Some
of his examples are tropical rain forests and ocean fisheries.
China: Why the Existing Economic Model Will Fail
For many years the United States consumed more of the earth's
resources than any other country. This is no longer true, China
has passed the US in most categories. America still leads in oil
consumption but if present trends continue China will need 98 million
barrels of oil a day by 2030. However the world is now producing
85 million barrels of oil per day and we may have passed the peak.
Something will have to give.
Mounting Stresses, Failing States
States fail when national governments lose control of part or all
of their territory and can no longer ensure the personal security of
their people. At this point law and order begin to disintegrate.
They often degenerate into civil war. In the past
governments have been concerned by the concentration of too much power
in a single state, now they are concerned with not enough centralized
power. The number of failing states by one measure increased from
7 in 2004 to 9 in 2005 and then to 12 in 2006. These states tend
to be infectious - their problems spread into neighboring states.
A Civilizational Tipping Point
In the past, when one civilization fail to take into account its
overuse of specific natural resources that civilization failed, but
others were not seriously effected. We no longer have that
luxury, we are all interconnected. For a while we can make up for
disasters in one area by international aid, but we are running out of
our ability to continue this. Soon we must all solve our problems
or we shall all fail together.
Plan B--A Plan of Hope
Brown believes that we still have time before "The Big One".
There are efforts being made, successful efforts. Can these
work? Will they be enough? He thinks they might but we will
all have to work on it.
Section I. A Civilization in Trouble
C2 Deteriorating Oil and Food Security The
twentieth century was the oil century, in 1900 the world produced 150
million barrels of oil, in 2000 it produced 28 billion barrels of oil.
In 2006 we pumped 31 billion barrels of oil but discovered less
than 9 billion more barrels of new oil. We are running out of
oil. The price has been going up dramatically and it will
The Coming Decline of Oil
The price of oil is rising dramatically. Over $50 a barrel
in late 2004, over $100 a barrel in late 2007, in May 2008 over $120 a
barrel. Another way of calculating the decline of oil. In
1956 M. King Hubbert, a geologist, noted that oil discovery in the US
peaked in 1930. He calculated that production would peak in 1970.
The book goes on to discuss many of the major oil fields in the
world and discusses their discovery and peak or predicted peak
production. According to several estimates peak world production
occurred in 2006. Oil prices are discussed as well as "depletion
psychology" where oil producing countries and companies realize that
their supplies are limited and start taking steps to stretch out their
The Oil Intensity of Food
As farming moved from draft animals to tractors the demand for
fuel expanded. As oil becomes more expensive the use of oil is
reducing. In 1973 a ton of grain production required 33 gallons,
by 2005 it was down to 12 gallons. However fertilization,
irrigation, transportation, processing, packaging, marketing, and food preparation all add to the fuel cost of food.
The Changing Food Prospect
Before about 1950 expanding food production meant more land being used.
From 1950 to 1990 expanding food production involved adding
science to food production. Since 1990 much of the increase has
been the addition of new crops, primarily soybeans. Recently the
production of grain has shown a per-capita decline. With the
reduction of irrigation water supplies and global warming this trend
will be increasing.
Cars and People Compete for Crops
Crop based ethanol began in the US in 1978. It wasn't until
2005 with $60 per barrel oil and $3 per gallon gasoline that it became
really profitable. After a few years as a novelty, and then as
separate businesses, the fuel and grain industry are combining and the
price of both is rising. This is now causing serious food
shortages. Other more expensive options are being explored.
Switchgrass and other cellulosic materials can be used to produce
alcohol. Jatropha is a low growing shrub that requires little
fertilizer or water can produce diesel fuel for $43 per barrel.
(Other bioengineered plants may be developed that can produce
The World Beyond Peak Oil
There are many official projections of more than 120 million
barrels of oil per day consumption by 2030. These completely
ignore the amount of production possible. Most national and
industrial planning simply doesn't extend beyond the naive assumption
that things will continue as they have during the past few years.
Much of are society is based on these assumptions, they are
simply not going to happen.
Food Insecurity and Failing States
World hunger had been declining between 1950 and 2000 but that
trend has turned around. We may not have reached a tipping point
yet but we have certainly reached a turning point. The world
simply cannot produce enough food for all of the people. This is
only obvious in isolated areas at present but the problem is getting
C3 Rising Temperatures and Rising Seas
Ten years ago most people discussed climate change in the future
tense, today it is discussed in the present tense. The earth is
getting warmer, this causes a lot of problems. Glaciers are
melting and these provide water for grain, ice sheets are melting and
this raises the level of the oceans. Higher temperatures
evaporate water which causes decreased crop production, heat waves kill
people. Higher temperatures increase the violence of storms, more
intense storms cause more damage which costs insurance companies more
money, insurance rates are raised.
Rising Temperature and Its Effects
The earth's temperature is rising, 1°F since 1970.
Direct measurements of the earth's temperature started in 1880,
the 23 warmest years have occurred since 1980, the 7 warmest
years have occurred in the last 9 years, and 4 of these saw crops
wither in record temperatures. CO2 concentration
started around 277 ppm and were 384 in 2007. Areas experiencing
drought expanded from 15% in the 1970's to 30% in 2002.
Ecosystems are changing and we do not know the full extent of
what this implies.
The Crop Yield Effect
Agriculture has been shaped by a climate that has remained
virtually constant for 11,000 years. For many temperate climate
plants (Ohio) photosynthetic activity raises until the temperature hits
68°F (20°C), then it plateaus until 95°F (35°C), and
then declines until 104°F (40°C) where photosynthesis ceases
entirely. In the field, where temperatures vary, an average
temperature rise of 1°C typically causes a minor reduction of
perhaps 10% in yields where a 2°C rise in temperature can cause a
decline in yields of 37% to 58%.
Reservoirs in the Sky
Snow and glaciers in mountains store water to irrigate the planes
in the summer. The threat is most serious in Asia where 1.3
billion people get their water supply from these waters. The
Gangotri Glacier which supplies water to the Ganges supplies water to
407 million. the Yellow supplies water to 147 billion, the
Yangtze supplies water to 369 million. The Indus in India and
Pakistan supplies water to 178 million and the Brahmaputra and the
Mekong are also in danger of drying up during the summer.
Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in Africa are rapidly loosing their
glaciers. Glaciers in the Andes and snowfields in the Rockies and
Sierra Nevada are also shrinking.
Melting Ice and Rising Seas
The icecaps of Antarctica and Greenland have been studied less
than any other area but we now know that the Arctic regions are warming
faster than anywhere else on earth. The primary fear here is that
ice dams or plugs which keep the ice flowing slowly towards the sea
will break and the glaciers will flow more rapidly. This in turn
would raise the ocean level, which would float the glaciers which will
enable them to flow more rapidly into the sea again raising the sea
level. The total amount of sea level rise is simply unknown, as
well as the time period. A first guess, possibly conservative, is
approximately 10 meters (33 ft) which would flood the living area of
634 million people. Where would these go to live and get food
when their farms are covered in water and the most productive farming
areas are facing drought?
Tropical storms are caused by solar radiation warming tropical
waters. When the ocean water is already warmer than normal the
storms form faster and more often. These storms are causing
increasing amounts of damage. Probably the best measure of this
is the rapid rise in insurance rates where they are offered at all.
Some areas simply cannot be insured.
Cutting Carbon 80 Percent by 2020
In 2004 Pacala and Socolow wrote a paper where they identified a
stabilization wedge which consists of a billion metric tons of CO2 per year. They describe 15 ways using proven technologies that could remove a stabilization wedge of CO2 per year. This could go a long ways toward solving our increase in CO2
content in the atmosphere. Brown does not think that this will be
enough. Due to the melting of ice sheets, melting of permafrost,
and rising sea levels, he feels that our goal must be to contain CO2 concentrations to less than 400 PPM. This will take much more than the stabilization wedges of Pacala and Socolow.
C4 Emerging Water Storages
Lake Chad in Africa has shrunk by 96% in 40 years, other lakes
have shrunk but not as much. Many major rivers are drying up in
the summer. The availability of fresh water is decreasing rapidly.
Water Tables Falling The water
level in many aquifers are being pumped down. Some, like the
shallow aquifer under the North China Plain and under India are being
replenished. Others like the US Ogallala, the deep aquifer under
the North China Plain, and the Saudi aquifer are not being replenished.
Their water is millions of years old, a long time to wait for
your next drink. He takes a quick verbal tour of the world,
describing the problems with falling water tables in many countries.
Rivers Running Dry Water
tables are hidden, most people don't know about them until the pump
runs dry. Rivers are visible. Some of the important rivers
that often run dry are the Colorado, the Yellow, the Nile, the Indus,
and the Ganges. Many smaller rivers have disappeared entirely.
Dams reduce water through evaporation and irrigation.
Again, a quick tour of many of the worlds rivers.
Lakes Disappearing Some
of the lakes that are disappearing are Lake Chad, the Aral Sea, the See
of Galilee and the Dead Sea. More than 2,000 lakes have dried up
in China's Qinhai Province. Surrounding Bejing, in Hebei
Province, 969 of 1052 lakes have dried up. These are only the
Farmers Losing to Cities When farmers and cities compete for water, farmers loose. This is hitting the South Western US very hard.
Scarcity Crossing National Borders
This is a problem primarily with smaller countries. The
same problem as above except that international politics gets mixed in.
So far the wars have been primarily economic, that may not hold
in the future.
Water Scarcity Yields Political Stresses
To date the violence associated with water shortages have been
primarily tribal in nature. Again, this may not hold.
C5 Natural Systems Under Stress
in 1938 Walter Lowdermilk an official in the Soil Conservation
Service of the USDA toured many countries looking at soil conservation
practices. His report was one of the first to look at soil
erosion and livability. Without soil most life cannot exist.
Shrinking Forests: The Many Costs
An itemization of many areas in the world where forests are being
destroyed. One of the scariest problems is the recycling of
water. When water coming in from an ocean falls on a tropical
rain-forest, 1/4 runs of in rivers but 3/4 is transpired back into the
atmosphere and later falls as rain further inland. When the
forest is cut down for grazing or farming much more water runs off in
rivers and the there is much less rain to fall inland.
Losing Soil Almost all
agricultural production is due to topsoil, which in many cases is only
around six inches deep. Where erosion exceeds soil production,
productivity is lost. He descries the 1930's Dust Bowl, the
Soviet Union's Virgin Lands Project in the 1950's, Mongolia, Central
Africa, Pakistan, and Ethiopia currently.
From Grassland to Desert Many of the worlds grasslands are losing soil, again a list.
Advancing Deserts Deserts
are the end point when forests and grasslands lose soil. When so
much soil is lost that it can no longer store enough water for
vegetation to grow throughout the year a desert is the result.
Deserts are expanding in many areas of the world.
Collapsing Fisheries The
amount of ocean fish caught has been rising for 500 years. In
1950 the catch was 19 million tons. In 1997 it was 93 million
tons. That was the high point, it is now declining. Many of
the most productive fishing areas have collapsed or are in rapid
decline. Overfishing is only one of the problems. Coastal
wetlands that serve as spawning areas are being destroyed. Coral
reefs are being destroyed by poor harvesting techniques, global warming, and pollution.
Disappearing Plants and Animals
Between human caused environmental change and atmospheric change
(global warming) the populations of millions of species of plants and
animals are being effected and thousands are facing extinction every
year. The creation of parks and wildlife preserves has been a
traditional response to this. With global warming this solution
is no longer adequate.
C6 Early Signs of Decline
May problems are now showing up for the first time. America
now has less than 1 million farmers and more than 2 million prison
inmates. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider,
and there is a growing number of failing states.
Our Socially Divided World
The worlds poorest billion live at or below subsistence level and
the richest billion suffer from diseases of over eating.
Illiteracy, poverty, and poor health all tend to concentrate in
specific areas, one result is that these people find themselves
increasingly poorly equipped tocompete in our modern world.
Health Challenge Growing The
world had been making rapid progress in reducing the incidence and
effect of many infectious diseases. This progress is starting to
go negative. Africa has been very hard hit with AIDS.
Pollution is becoming a major problem in China. There has
been a dramatic rise in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in industrial
countries, six in Europe plus the US, Canada, Japan, and Australia.
The suspects are pesticides, and other chemical pollutants.
There has been a tremendous increase in the number of chemicals
released into the environment that were unknown 100 years ago, many of
these have never been evaluated for potential toxicity.
Throwaway Economy in Trouble
A huge number of disposable items are being used that did not
exist 50 or 100 years ago. We are also running out of the raw
materials to produce these items, paper, oil, and numerous minerals.
The cost of disposing of this garbage is also growing rapidly.
Conflicts over food, water, and the land to grow food on are
increasing, especially in Africa but also in the Middle East, India,
and Central Asia.
Environmental Refugees on the Rise
In many of these same countries people are trying to escape to
what they hope will be better conditions elsewhere. This is also
the case for many Central American countries where people are trying to
escape to America.
Mounting Stresses, Failing States
Because of the above problems, many of the countries of these
regions are failing to respond appropriately which causes a breakdown
in law and order, with a rise of warlords, tribal chieftains, or
religious leaders. Environmental damage rises, lawlessness
increases and these countries become sources of terrorists, drugs,
weapons, diseases, and refugees.
Section II. The Response--Plan B
C7 Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population
In 2000 the UN set a goal of cutting the number of people living
in poverty by 1/2 in 2015. By 2007 this appears to be right on
track, China and India have been making major strides. Several
countries in SE Asia are also doing well. Sub-Saharan Africa is
not doing well. Other goals such as reducing hunger and
infectious diseases are doing less well. Although the US under
Bush is resisting new goals involving family planning that to has
entered the planning.
Universal Basic Education
The World Bank started a program for funding education.
School lunches are an important factor in getting children to
Developed countries have pretty well solved the problem of
population expansion, it is primarily the poorest countries (in Africa)
that still have rapidly expanding populations. Some countries,
like Iran promoted higher birth rates but it quickly became obvious
that this was causing an unbearable burden on society and these were
reversed. Contraception and family planning programs have worked
well in many countries.
Better Health for All
Heart disease and cancer (also diabetes) - diseases of aging -
are the leading cause of death in industrial countries. In
developing countries infectious diseases are the major killers.
Water free waste disposal systems may prove more effective than
water based systems. Some infectious diseases are being
eliminated. Smoking is being banned in more and more countries.
Curbing the HIV Epidemic
HIV is being reduced by access to condoms and education.
The costs of treating AIDS is quite high but the cost of not
treating it may be much higher.
Reducing Farm Subsidies and Debt Farm
subsidies in developed countries have had the effect of undermining
local agriculture in developing countries. Likewise huge debt
owed to the World Bank and the IMF have forced many countries to
concentrate on cash crops and debt reduction instead of food,
education, and health care for their people. This is slowly
starting to change.
A Poverty Eradication Budget
The slowing of population growth is often one of the major
factors in raising countries out of debt and being able to insure food,
health care, and education to their citizens. Brown presents a
table of additional annual funding needed to reach basic social goals.
The total is $77 billion, a large number but quite small compared
to the annual arms budget for many countries.
C8 Restoring the Earth
Restoring the earth, grass lands, croplands, forests, fisheries,
etc. is the most important task before us. Without these we will
simply not have enough food to survive.
Protecting and Restoring Forests
Forests provide a number of services, pulp for paper, lumber,
environmental services, food, and habitat for plants and animals.
The products need to be used more appropriately, they need to be
recycled and their services need to be properly evaluated when making economic comparisons.
Conserving and Rebuilding Soils
An important term here is "loss of protective vegetation".
When the vegetation is removed, the soil will erode. Some
of the methods used in the US since the 1930's Dust bowl have included
tree shelterbelts, strip-cropping, contour farming, no-till and
minimum-tillage. A number of countries are beginning to use these
and other techniques to retain soil and to prevent desertification.
The traditional way of saving specific fisheries has been to
restrict the catch of individual species. This sometimes works
and sometimes doesn't. A new technique that is showing promise is
to create marine reserves or marine parks. These would completely
ban fishing in the area in hopes that fish would breed in these areas
and populate the areas in which fishing is allowed. Tests of this
show that it works spectacularly well. Another requirement is
that governments eliminate fishery subsidies. We have too many
fishing trawlers already.
Protecting People and Animal Diversity
The driving force behind all environmental degradation is too
many people. Too many mouths to feed, too many acres needed for
crop production, etc.
Planting Trees in Sequester Carbon Plant more trees to sequester more CO2,
great idea - however (editorial comment - If your goal is more pretty
trees, this works - however if your goal is to sequester CO2 a better idea is to maintain - and restore - a better way is to maintain biodiversity in the land. More CO2
is held in the soil and it is maintained there longer than in trees.
A forest on this land is very good, so is a healthy grassland.
They both can be used for human need products as long as they are
treated responsibly.) There are many instances where trees can be
used very profitably for reducing wind, runoff, temperature, etc.
All of these should and are being used.
The Earth Restoration Budget
Brown presents a current "best guess" budget for the annual
funding needed to restore the earth. His total is $113 billion.
This is broken down into 7 categories and each is discussed with
regard to where, special problems, and uncertainties. Question,
can the world afford this? Better question, what is the cost of
not doing this?
C9 Feeding Eight Billion Well
China is the poster boy (girl?) in this question. It has
slowed population growth, dismantled the collective farms and replaced
them with family farms, expanded food production, and as a result has
almost completely eradicated hunger. Unfortunately in sub-Saharan
Africa and in parts of India the problem has gotten worse. Also
the techniques used by China and others are becoming less and less
effective, ground water tables are lowering, etc.
Rethinking Land Productivity
How can we increase productivity without using more fertilizer
and irrigation. Some possibilities: breeding drought and cold
resistant crop varieties. Increase multi-cropping where the
climate permits. Numerous examples of this are given.
Other techniques are the planting of leguminous trees and grain.
The grain can be harvested and later the trees drop their leaves
providing nitrogen and organic matter to the soil for the next grain
crop. The trees can be cut for fuel. Secure land ownership
gives incentives to owners to improve their land.
Raising Water Productivity
A common measure of productivity is tons or bushels of grain per
hectare or acre. Another useful measure is kilograms of grain per
ton of water used. The use of this measure would encourage
efficient water usage and the planting of water efficient crops.
New irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation save water.
Local water users associations can help in spreading more
efficient techniques and publicizing the issue. One thing I don't
like about this chapter is that he equates meat, milk, and egg
production with grain. There is very little necessity for grain
in the production of any of these other than perhaps eggs, chickens
need something to eat in harsh winter areas. All can be produced
on land that is inappropriate for grain production.
Producing Protein More Efficiently The
main point of this section is the use of more efficient means of
converting the energy in plants to protein. Generally fish are
more efficient than poultry, poultry is more efficient than port, and
pork is more efficient than cattle.
Moving Down the Food Chain
Question: "How many people can the earth support?" Counter
question: "At what level of food consumption?" Semi-answer: at
the US level or 800 kg of grain per year - 2.5 billion, Italian level
of 400 kg - 5 billion, India level of 100 kg - 10 billion. In the
US, approx 100 kg is eaten directly as bread, the remaining 700 is
animal food. In India almost all is eaten as bread, rice, etc.,
very little is converted to animal food. The answer seems a
Action on Many Fronts
Grain prices are rising rapidly. We are going to have to
make changes on many fronts to maintain any reasonable life style.
There are going to be major changes in energy, agriculture,
water, transportation, etc. to maintain ourselves.
C10 Designing Cities for People
Most cities have evolved with their transportation system.
Most cities of the world have evolved with the automobile-truck
system. With the coming end to this era how will the next
evolution take place? The dependence on oil based transportation
is strangling our cities, a few forward thinking leaders have pushed
their cities along a different path. Will these be the pathways
to the future or will it be something else?
The Ecology of Cities
Modern cities were built on cheap oil. Without cheap oil
how will they evolve? Without cheap oil will they die? He
describes several examples of very small cities that have been
effective. Can these solutions transfer to cities like New York,
Tokyo, Beijing, Mexico City, etc.? Instead of glowing talk of
livable cities I would like to see the plan for keeping them livable
with $10 per gallon diesel, $20 per gallon diesel, etc. I am
afraid that they just may not be capable of sustaining any life but the
Redesigning Urban Transport
Can we convert to an urban transportation system based on rail,
bus, bicycles, and walkways? How much and what will we have to
change. He devotes several pages to the joys of riding bicycles.
In general I agree, but how do we get there? Before I
retired I commuted 35 miles one way to work. Are we going to
require millions of people to sell their homes or give up their jobs
(my wife drove 20 miles the other way) of do require that most
businesses support telecommuting? These are big problems that are
going to have to be solved - and it will be difficult.
Reducing Urban Water Use The
traditional urban water system of collecting pure water, contaminate
it, and dump it into the ocean, a river, or underground is a disaster
only getting worse. One way to look at this as a
pathogen-dispersal system. There are options, the composting
toilet, separating urine from fecal material and treating each
separately - usually separating them from the water system.
Cities are beginning to recycle their own water. Many
industrial procedures can be redesigned to either recycle their water
or use much less water.
Farming in the City Many
cities are making provisions for urban gardens in vacant lots,
rooftops, etc. Given appropriate zoning much of the food consumed
in a city can be raised immediately adjacent to the city. In some
places water removed from the wastewater stream at the appropriate spot
in treatment is being used to raise fish. There are many
opportunities, they just need to be seized.
Upgrading Squatter Settlements
Much of the projected population increase in the next 50 years is
going to occur in and around cities in developing countries. Much
of this will take place in squatter communities. This phenomenon
must be taken in to account by these countries and cities. This
causes many problems but ignoring them is not a solution.
Cities for People This
section examines the health, both physical and psychological of people
in auto oriented cities. Also the unfairness of tax supported
provisions for automobiles without a similar level of support for
people who walk, ride a bicycle, or use public transportation.
Also the cultural and esthetic possibilities of converting much
of the space currently designatedfor automobiles to walkways, parks, trails, etc.
C11 Raising Energy Efficiency Our main goal has to be the reduction in CO2.
The worst offender is burning coal so this as a source of energy
must be reduced as much as possible. Oil is almost as bad but it
is running out soon so this is of secondary importance. Nuclear
power is an alternative but at present it is not going to solve all of
our problems any time soon. So what can we do?
Banning the Bulb The
quickest and cheapest way to make a major dent in the problem is to
replace the incandescent light. This is already underway in many
areas with the introduction of compact fluorescent bulb and soon LED's
will become economically feasible. Another reduction in energy
use is to simply turn off lights when they are not used. This can
be automated by motion sensors quite easily and more efficient use of
Everyday kitchen appliances waste a huge amount of energy, both
in terms of efficiency of operation and standby mode. More
efficient appliances are being produced but not nearly fast enough.
It would help immensely if governmental programs would cover some
of the design and insulation costs.
Most older and commercial/governmental buildings are very energy
inefficient. Rising energy prices, better design, and more
appropriate insulation can save a huge amount in terms of heating,
cooling, and lighting.
Restructuring the Transport System
The auto centered transportation of th West is clearly
unsustainable. Not only are we running out of space for the
automobile and its required roads and parking, we are running out of
fuel. It is fairly obvious that the mid-range solution is high
A New Materials Economy
On author has suggested that, "Pollution is a symbol of design
failure." In almost all industries there are tremendous
opportunity for greater recycling and more efficiency. Brown
devotes several pages to different recycling opportunities.
The Energy Saving Potential
With all of these methods we could save a great deal of energy
and greatly reduce the need for fossil fuels. He also recommends
adding a carbon tax of $20 per ton of carbon burned every year for 10
years. This is a high tax, totaling $240 per ton after 10 years,
but it still does not come close to covering the indirect costs of
burning fossil fuels.
C12 Turning to Renewable Energy
All over the world countries are switching to renewable sources of
energy. This is moving at a rate which is politically feasible.
However this is not the assumption that Plan B makes. The
goal of Plan B is to prevent irreversible climate change. He sees
this as requiring a sort of wartime economy, similar to the economy of
the US during WW II. This is possible. The use and
production of personal computers, mobile phones, solar cells, and wind
power are growing at exponential rates. Energy costs have not yet
risen enough to drive us toward energy sustainability. If we wait
for that point we may not have time to convert before there is a system
Harnessing the Wind Wind
turbine technology has been advancing rapidly. Problems:
Danger to birds - proper design and siting reduce the danger,
it also may have been overemphasized, other human created risks
are much more sizable. Esthetics - Some people don't like them,
some do. Wind appears to be one of the most attractive options
that we have.
Wind-Powered Plug-in Hybrid Cars
Hybrid cars get very good gas mileage. The larger the
battery they carry the farther they can go before the fossil fuel
engine turns on. With the replacement of much of the steel in
auto bodies with polymer composites the weight of the vehicle can be
drastically reduced which would again decrease the amount of energy
needed to carry a passenger a mile. Using all of these
technologies should greatly lengthen the period of time that personal
automobiles are feasible.
Solar Cells and Collectors
Not including passive solar heating Brown identifies three major
techniques, solar collectors primarily to heat water, solar cells to
convert sunlight directly to electrical energy, and solar boilers.
These use reflectors to concentrate sunlight to raise an
operating fluid to high temperatures to generate steam to run
conventional stean powered generators. Again, good progress is
being made, we just need to speed it up.
Energy from the Earth
Relatively little has been done in using geothermal energy.
Half the worlds geothermal energy is used by the US and the
Philippines. Mexico, Indonesia, Italy, and Japan account for most
of the rest. Most of the easily available energy is in the "Ring
of Fire" around the Pacific, the Rift Valley of Africa and the Eastern
Mediterranean. Iceland at the head of the mid-Atlantic trench is
Plant-Based sources of Energy
Forest waste is widely used in northern areas. Other
sources are sugar cane, burning garbage, using biomass to produce
methane, and biofuels. Other cellulosic fuels are being
considered for electrical generation.
River, Tidal, and Wave Power
Large hydropower dams are very importand but there are few locations
left. Small dams and in-stream turbines seem to have promise.
The first large tidal generator was built in France 40 years ago
and is still in use. There are a number of plants under
construction or planned and it seems to be promising. Wave power
is considerably behind but many projects are being planned.
The World Energy Economy of 2020
The section ends with an overall summary of current energy
generation from renewable sources as well as the goals for 2020.
It is broken into to categories, electrical and thermal. My
summary ignores the minor sources so the totals do not add up.
||goal for 2020
|Rooftop solar cell
|Rooftop solar water
Section III. An Exciting New Option
C13 The Great Mobilization We know that we must do
something, we also know that it can be done, witness the US response in
WW II. We know that we cannot wait for standard method if
international negotiation, drawing up of treaties, and years of
ratifications. Countries must step up and unilaterally take
immediate action. New Zealand has already done this. How
can we answer our children if we fail to take action and glaciers
disappear cutting water to major food producing areas, when the
Greenland ice sheet slides into the sea with a 23 ft rise in sea level?
We don't know exactly what will happen, but we do know that
something will happen.
In part Enron failed because their corporate accounting system left
many costs off the books. Our global economic accounting system
leaves many costs off the books. When will we change the
accounting system. It has been noted that "Socialism collapsed
because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth."
Will capitalism collapse because it does not allow the market to
tell the ecological truth?
Shifting Taxes and Subsidies
We need to lower income taxes and raise levies on environmentally
destructive activities. We need a way to calculate the indirect
costs in pricing goods and services. An example is the US study
of the costs of smoking. A 2006 report by the CDC came up with
the cost of $10.47 per pack. The ecological services provided by
a tree (flood control, carbon sequestration, etc.) can be calculated
and anyone wanting to cut the tree would pay this. A carbon tax
is a good example.
A study of the indirect costs to society of a gallon of gasoline
(climate change, oil tax breaks, oil supply protection, oil industry
subsidies, auto exhaust-related respiratory illnesses, etc.) totals
about $12 per gallon. Someone has to pay for these costs, why not
the user of the fuel?
This is not a new idea, Germany shifted taxes from labor to energy and
created a huge number of jobs. Sweden shifted taxes from income
to ecologically destructive activities. Many other European
countries are doing similar things. Many other creative
techniques can be used.
Summing Up Climate Stabilization Measures The author provides a table with a series of actions and the resultant reductions in CO2. According to Plan B an 81.5% reduction in CO2
emissions from 2006 is possible by 2020. In addition to the "big
ticket" items there are many smaller scale or life style changes that
can make large changes, but they need to be done one person at a time.
These changes will also produce a cleaner, healthier world that
is much closer to being sustainable.
A Response to Failing States
Historically danger was assessed by the concentration of power in
a single state or group of states. Now danger is more likely to
be found in states with very little power that are sliding into
anarchy. In response our foreign policy must change to reflect
this new concern. One common suggestion that he makes is to
create a corps of young people to work for a year on domestic or
international problems. A parallel proposal is to create another
corps of older retired people who have management or technical skills
that would be invaluable for many countries with failing societies.
A Wartime Mobilization
Brown uses the Second World War as a model as to how an economy
can be shifted extremely rapidly in response to an outside threat.
My only real question is what will it take to convert the economy
of the world to shift in such a manner. Where will we get the
leaders, what will it take to stimulate us like Pearl Harbor stimulated
the US in 1941. Can we respond before we hit some sort of
climatological "tipping point"?
Mobilizing to Save Civilization
This section poses some of the needs and some of the
alternatives. He offers facts that indicate that we could change
our economies but not whether or not we have the will. Can we
break ourselves out of our preoccupation with the "arms race" and
rechannel the money in to solving our real problems?
What You and I Can Do
There are some suggestions for political action:
Restructure taxes and reorder fiscal priorities. Probably
the most important is to reorder our fiscal priorities so that the
market reflects the sustainable ecological truth. Communicate
with elected representatives to urge them to help create an honest
market, one in which all of the costs are included in the balance
sheet, not like Enron where some costs were "hidden" in the books until
they went bankrupt.
Meet with friends, draft a brief statement of your collective
concerns and the policy initiatives needed. Then meet with our
elected representatives and discuss why environmental taxes need to be
raised and income taxes lowered. Remind your representatives that
the world is spending more than $1 trillion per year on armaments.
The future of civilization is in peril. Would $190 billion
per year be too much to spend to save civilization. Remind them
of how we mobilized in WW II.
Make a case for the inclusion of poverty eradication, family planning,
reforestation, and renewable energy development in international
assistance programs. Urge an increase in spending for these items
and a cut in military appropriations. Many of our advanced
weapons systems are useless in the face of the new threats to our
national security. Write letters to the editor or op-ed pieces to
local newspapers. We need to make the choice of comfort for
ourselves today or comfort for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.
The book with all of the tables and figures is available at the web site. Earth Policy Institute, 1350 Connecticut
Ave. NW, Suite 403, Washington, DC 20036 email:
firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: www.earthpolicy.org
The book has 83 pages of notes, and 20 pages of index.
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The Spark of Life
Christopher Wills & Jeffrey Bada Aug
Subtitled: Darwin and the Primeval Soup
Introduction In an effort
to safely store radioactive waste from nuclear reactors the Swedes
drilled a tunnel 3 km long that is 500 meters below the surface.
To determine the conditions they did considerable evaluation of
the rock, water, etc. They found many different species of
bacteria from three different large groups. Could life have
originated here, between the hostile surface and the deep hot depths of
the earth? Probably not, but it certainly lives there now.
Most religions have their own creation myths. Giordano Bruno was
burned at the stake in 1600 for espousing a different belief than the
Catholic Church supported. It is certainly better today in the
West - but not that much better.
The earliest (creatures?) are often called protobionts
instead of living cells. They exhibited some of the features that
we associate with life today but not all. Some of the features
that they had at this early stage must have been:
Over billions of years the current mechanisms of life originated, DNA,
RNA, the use of ATP, and the other chemical means that current life
uses. This book explores many of the questions that arise.
- They were able to make approximate replicas of themselves.
At this state accurate reproduction was not essential because
there was very little competition.
- They were able to survive the harsh environment of a primitive
Earth, either by hiding in favorable locations or by being very tough.
- They were able to draw energy from their environment, either by
energy rich gases or from sunlight. They must have used this
energy to make high energy molecules. Current cells produce ATP,
this was probably not the first or only molecule used but it is today
used to transfer energy to power the remainder of the activities of the
- And finally they must have had the ability to die. Without death there can be no selection for superior traits.
C1 The Rise and Fall of Spontaneous Generation
We know that life originated once. Did it arise several
times? Could it arise in our modern world? In the past
thought that life could originate in mud, river water, garbage, etc.
Many ancient thinkers including Aristotle, Archimedes, Ptolemy
held this view. The authors describe the many challenges to this
view that started around 1600 and lasted well into the 1800's.
The experiments of Pasteur and Tyndall in 1864 and 1876 generally
settled the issue. A related issue, panspermia, the view that
life could travel from star to star, enjoyed a brief run from the late
1800's until modern times but it is only a hypothesis with very little
experimental evidence one way or another.
C2 Primordial Soup The first two modern scientists
to propose that life could arise out of normal chemical reactions were
Aleksandr Oparin in Russia in 1924 and J. B. S. Haldane in England in
1928. They both suggested that strictly chemical reactions
created fatty molecules which increased in concentration until the
precursors of protobionts began to have the ability to absorb them and
create even more sophisticated molecules inside their membranes.
Then in 1953, Stanley Miller, a graduate student at the
University of Chicago, following up on a suggestion by his thesis
advisor, Harold Urey, built an apparatus to test Urey's suggestion.
It consisted of two flasks connected by tubes. One flask
contained water and could be heated. The other was filled with a
mixture of methane, ammonia, and hydrogen and two electrodes which
could be charged to make sparks. The first two day experiment
produced several amino acids. Later, longer and more
sophisticated experiments allowed him to identify more than 33 amino
acids including more than half of the amino acids commonly found in
proteins. Later experiments by others showed that it was possible
to create adenine - a precursor of ATP.
Other researchers later found that when mixtures of amino acids were
heated on surfaces they formed polymers that when later dissolved in
water formed structures that were similar to cell walls. They
formed tiny, hollow spheres. One of the problems with these
approaches is that most of the molecules formed are purely random.
The next step, getting these to join together is lifelike
organizations might take billions of experiments over millions of
years. The earth had the time and the space, chemists typically
don't have the money or the time to duplicate this. There is
another approach, this is to break life down into its essentials and
thus demonstrate the steps which must have been taken to create life.
The next few chapters will discuss recent finding using the bottom-up ideas and then they will switch to the top-down approach.
C3 The Earth's Apocalyptic Beginnings In 1993
J. William Schopf at UCLA announced the finding of chains of
single-celled organisms in 3.5 billion year old rocks. Other
similar fossils have been discovered in 1 to 2 byo rocks but these were
the oldest. There is chemical evidence of 3.8 byo life but this
is still controversial.
Current thinking is that the rocky inner planets coalesced over a
period of only about 10-20 million years, the gas giants a little
longer. Many proto-planets were ejected from the solar system by
gravity and the planets ones in the inner orbits acted as vacuum
cleaners absorbing the smaller debris. Images from the Hubble
telescope have shown that this is occurring in other star systems.
There have been many estimates of the age of the earth. The most
famous in the West is the estimate of Bishop Ussher in 1658, his
estimate was 4004 BC. In A.D. 169 Theophilus of Antioch came up
with 5529 B.C. In 120-130 B.C. Hindu priests estimated the
Earth's age as 1.9 billion. The first scientific estimate was 24
million years by Lord Kelvin in about 1850. In 1907 Rutherford
began publishing estimates based on radioactive decay. His last
estimate in 1929 was 3.4 by with the age of the sun at 4 by.
During the 1940's the estimates remained around 3.5 by - which
was accepted by Pope Pius XII in 1951. By 1956 the age had been
refined to 4.55 by +/- .07 by. This is still the accepted date.
Current thinking is that the Earth formed but then later it was hit by
another forming planet, perhaps Mars sized. The debris left from
this collision settled into two bodies, one the Earth and the newly
created Moon. This "new" Moon was very close to the Earth,
perhaps only 15,000 miles away. This created huge tides which
gradually slowed the orbital speed of the Moon and pushed it out to
it's current 240,000 miles.
Life could not have formed until the Earth cooled considerably as
organic molecules would have decomposed. There is very little
evidence about the conditions on Earth between 3.5 bya and 600 mya.
There is evidence to suggest that there were planetary ice ages
around 2.2 bya and again between 800 mya and 500 mya. There is
considerable discussion of the effect that life has on climate, the
Gaia effect, and the relationship between weathering following mountain
building and ice ages.
C4 Prebiotic Soup: The Recipe Beginning in 1806
chemists have been analyzing meteorites. Many contain large
amounts of carbon. Some even have contained tiny round shapes and
contain oil-like hydrocarbons. In 1969 a recent meteorite fall
was examined and many different amino acids were found. The
amounts of these were similar to the amino acids created by the Stanley
Miller experiments in 1953. This showed that the precursor
chemicals of life have been formed on bodies that were not from the
Earth. These samples also showed the same polymeric, oily goo
that was found inside of Miller's apparatus.
Oil spills like that of the Exxon Valdez and the tarry residue from
Miller type experiments slowly release adenine, amino acids, and
sunlight breaks them down releasing methane. They also release
some molecules that have properties similar to fat molecules.
Ocean vents may also be sources of organic molecules. Some
minerals, including pyrites, clays, thioesters may act as catalysts and
support structures for the creation of organic molecules.
C5 Sorting Out the Gemisch
(German word for mixture) The authors hypothesize that the
early earth contained fairly dilute mixtures of many primitive carbon
compounds. They would have concentrated in spots only to be
washed away again. However unusually sticky or hardy compounds or
mixtures would have remained for long periods of time. As
currents and tides swirled past they too were put under stress and
parts of them washed away, however over time more resistant mixtures
would persist. These globs could be washed away (death) or they
could persist (life). There was still no mechanism for
reproduction (no genes). These (organisms) could form on beaches,
pools, or even in hot springs. Miller and his students have shown
that such chemical reactions can occur. Water with solutions of
these chemicals which passes through beach sand is capable of
separating out specific chemicals in a natural geochromatography
Progress is slowly being made as to why the 20 amino acids occurring in
life were selected instead of some of the other 70 or so which can be
made by chance. A large unknown is who L-amino acids were
selected instead of D-amino acids. The best guess at present is
that it is just pure chance.
C6 The First Protobionts
There is no way of knowing at present how these first (organisms)
began to replicate or how many different methods of replication were
"explored" but it now seems that RNA was the second to last method and
it still has a place in cell replication today. Perhaps proteins
were a precursor, they certainly play a significant role today.
Other molecules may also have played a part. They discuss
peptide nucleic acid - a molecule similar to DNA.
Another possibility is that the first important step was the creation
of "cell" membranes and that the "memory" molecules - RNA, DNA, PNA,
etc. were a later step. These tiny "bags" would have concentrated
the chemicals and made complex synthesis more likely. Once these
protobionts differentiated themselves into individual units and
contained some sort of heritability true darwinian evolution could
begin. A possible model for these protobionts is the AIDS virus.
It has only 10 genes and it cannot live independently of host
cells. The simplest independently living organism known at
present is the bacterium called Mycoplasma which has somewhat less than
500 genes and over 500,000 bases of DNA. Someplace between these
two is the simplest possible independent life form.
C7 From Top to Toe
Another way of determining how this all works is to start at the
other end. Start where we are now and by taking away some of the
variables of a working system and see where the system has problems.
DNA (and RNA) are composed of codons
which are groups of three spaces for amino acids, and each can be one
of four different amino acids. Currently RNA is composed of
uracil, adenine, sytosine, and guanine (U, A, C, and G). In DNA
the U is replaced by T (thymine). Computer and chemical
experiments have shed considerable light on the problems and advantages
of different constructions of codons. The whole chapter is quite
technical and involves a lot of chemistry. It ends with an
in-depth discussion of mitochondria and ATP and possibilities for the
evolution of photosynthesis.
C8 Journey to the Center of the Earth Life on
earth very probably on beaches and tide pools and the surrounding rocks
but could it have appeared elsewhere? The authors give an example
of the desert in White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. A
few millimeters below the surface of the gypsum there is a very thin
green layer of microorganisms. Their environment is almost
unbelievably harsh but they use nitrogen from the air and other
essential elements from the almost pure gypsum they live in.
There are other very different environments that harbor life all
over the earth. The only things they have in common is that they
are mainly single cells and they live life very slowly.
One of the most amazing facts is the depth at which these organisms
live below the surface of the earth and the (probable) total number of
them. Colonies of bacteria have been found at 3,500 meters below
the surface of the earth.
C9 Evolution by Committee A highly speculative
chapter. Most reproduction involves very tiny changes from one
generation to another however sometimes there are major mutations that
almost always involve lethal changes. These are things like two
headed calves, legs replacing antenna on fruit flies, etc.
However very rarely these mutations result in successful
survival. In less complex organisms it is fairly common for
entire groups of genes to transfer from one species (genus, family,
etc.) to another. Many disease organisms seem to use this
technique. In other cases it would seem that one type of organism
invades another and the resultant organism benefits from this merger.
It seems that mitochondria were once free-living bacteria.
There are many examples of this. One variety, the cryptomonad's
seem to have genes of at least five different species in its cells.
All of this implies that the science of genetics still has a lot
of secrets to uncover. Some evidence suggests that all life on
earth with the exception of perhaps one species died out on earth about
2 to 2.5 bya. Another reading of this evidence says that
successful genes invaded the nuclei of all other organisms at about
this time. It is possible that examples of decedents of the
earlier life forms may still exist in isolated locations but they have
not yet been reported.
C10 Life Elsewhere Perhaps even more highly
speculative than the previous chapter. The possibilities of life
on other planets of the solar system, possibilities of the past (Mars,
which seems to have had running water at one stage) and perhaps the
future (the moons of Jupiter and Saturn). SETI and the
possibility of life on rogue planets (planets ejected from their parent
solar system). Even if we were to discover life on some other
world that was chemically and biologically distinct from life on earth
would it tell us much? About chemistry and biology certainly but
probably not much about how life on earth (or the other body)
originated, only that it was possible for it to originate in several
C11 Epilogue Is it
possible to create life in the laboratory? The authors think that
it is. The time necessary to go from simple chemicals to
recognizable life has been estimated from over a billion years to 200
million years to less than 10 million years. The authors point
out that for a long period of time the earth was subjected to
sterilizing asteroid impacts. They believe that the time between
the last series of huge asteroids until life was fully established was
about 200 million years. They suggest that the early
concentration of organic molecules quickly built up but the processing
of ocean water through vents would have destroyed these chemicals over
time. It is likely that the concentration built up into the primordial soup and perhaps as little as a few thousand years the first life forms originated.
Scientists do not have to duplicate each step of this process in every
experiment. They can build upon the results of others. The
most promising routes could be explored at each step in the process,
random chance would not be necessary for every new link. A
top-down approach would help as it would suggest ways of shortcutting
the tedious experiments.
There is a 5 page glossary of terms, 13 pages of notes and references, and an 11 page index.
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