Our early twenty-first century civilization is showing signs of stress as individual countries compete not only for scarce food but also for the land and water to produce it. People expect their governments to provide food security. Indeed, the inability to do so is one of the hallmarks of a failing state. Each year the list of failing states grows longer, leaving us with a disturbing question: How many failing states before our global civilization begins to unravel?
“The world is entering a new food era," says Brown, "one marked by rising food prices, growing numbers of hungry people, and an emerging politics of food scarcity. As grain-exporting countries restrict or even ban exports to keep domestic food prices from spiraling out of control, importing countries are losing confidence in the market’s ability to supply their needs. In response, the more affluent ones such as Saudi Arabia, China, and South Korea are leasing and buying large tracts of land in developing countries on which to grow food for themselves.”
Among the countries in which large tracts of land are being acquired are Ethiopia and Sudan, both already heavily dependent on World Food Programme lifelines to stave off famine. In effect, the competition for land and water, in the form of land acquisitions, has crossed national boundaries, opening a new chapter in the history of food security.
“Will we follow in the footsteps of the Sumerians and the Mayans or can we change course—and do it before time runs out?” asks Brown. “Can we move onto an economic path that is environmentally sustainable? We think we can. That is what Plan B 4.0 is about.”
Plan B aims to stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the economy’s natural support systems. It prescribes a worldwide cut in net carbon emissions of 80 percent by 2020, thus keeping atmospheric CO2 concentrations from exceeding 400 parts per million. “In setting this goal,” says Brown, “my colleagues and I did not ask what would be politically popular but rather what would it take to have a decent shot at saving the Greenland ice sheet and at least the larger glaciers in the mountains of Asia.”