Saving the Planet: How to Shape an Environmentally Sustainable Global Economy

Authors: Lester R. Brown, Christopher Flavin, and Sandra Postel
ISBN: 0-393-30823-5
224 pages
November 1991

Two decades after the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the world faces a choice between reforming its economic and political systems or risking a future of irreversible ecological decline, according to Saving The Planet. "The challenge is to go beyond responding to disasters, to shaping environmentally healthy societies," say the book's authors, Lester Brown, Christopher Flavin, and Sandra Postel.

So far, no country has an economy that is sustainable—one that can endure over the long term without consuming its natural base. But, for the first time in history, the outlines of what a sustainable economy would look like are becoming clear, according to the Worldwatch research team.

The technologies and know-how are already at hand to enhance the quality of life while healing the planet. Saving the Planet describes how a less polluting, solar energy-based economy would function—and how technologies that already exist can make it a reality. The book suggests new ways of using—and reusing—materials. It discusses less resource intensive means of growing food and strategies for preserving forests.

"The next step is to go beyond viewing environmental issues as discrete problems, and begin making the basic economic reforms needed to save the planet," say the authors. "The transition will not be orderly or predictable. The social and political transformations are likely to be even more challenging than the economic and technological changes." For instance, fair distribution of land is a cornerstone of sustainable agriculture. And population size is unlikely to stabilize without access to education and health care for women.

"At the national level, a key challenge is to go beyond regulation as the primary approach to environmental protection. Unsustainable growth in all sectors—energy, transportation, industrial production, and agriculture—is far outpacing the ability of environmental laws to protect natural systems."

Saving the Planet urges national governments to consider major changes in their tax policies—partially shifting from taxing income to taxing energy use, pollution, and other activities that damage the environment. "Environmental taxes can make prices better reflect true costs, helping to ensure that those causing environmental harm pay for it."

"The effort to create a sustainable society is more like mobilizing for war than any other human experience," the book concludes. "Time itself is the scarcest resource as we begin preparing for the struggle that will unfold in this decade and beyond."