How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse

But signs all around us indicate that we can no longer assume that our current growth will continue without consequences or constraints. We are now destroying our economy’s natural supports as our collective demands outstrip supply in system after system. Water shortages, soil erosion, climate change, and other trends are constricting our global food supply even as population growth, rising affluence, and ethanol production increase demand for crops. The world’s weakest governments are failing and its poorest populations are struggling to feed their families. This “perfect storm” of factors threatens our civilization with political and economic chaos.

How can we make sense of this situation?

WOTE indicatorsAt the Earth Policy Institute, we watch a number of indicators, including global food prices, hunger rates, and the number of failing states around the world, to get a sense of how close to the edge our civilization might be. This slideshow presentation, based on Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, explains the threats facing our civilization and how we got to this point.

It also presents a plan for how to get out of this dangerous situation and highlights the progress being made. For example, renewable energy is taking off. In the United States between 2007 and 2010, oil and coal consumption each dropped 8 percent while over 300 wind farms came online. Energy efficiency is reaping big gains. Tree planting projects are under way. More children around the world are making it to primary school. By correcting existing market failures and redefining global priorities to address the current threats to our security, we can prevent environmental and economic collapse.

We encourage you to view the presentation to gain a basic understanding of the issues at hand and how a new “Plan B” strategy can address them. The slides are designed to be shared, so feel free to pass along the link to others who might be interested. Use the slideshow to anchor a lesson in the classroom or to spread the word within your community on why and how we need to mobilize to save civilization. You are welcome to modify it to suit your needs. We ask only that you appropriately credit Earth Policy Institute and the photographers, notably Yann Arthus-Bertrand, eminent French photographer and friend of EPI, whose works appear within.

If you find this tool useful, please let us know how you are using it in your community, classroom, or congregation by sending an e-mail to We may add your example to our ever-growing list of the many ways folks around the world are spreading the Plan B vision.

Remember, we all have a role to play. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

By Lester R. Brown,