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  • Reducing Urban Water Use

    By Lester R. Brown U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once noted that “civilized people ought to know how to dispose of the sewage in some other way than putting it into the drinking water.” The one-time use of water to disperse human and industrial wastes is an outmoded practice, made obsolete by new technologies and water […] More

  • Conserving and Rebuilding Soils

    By Lester R. Brown The literature on soil erosion contains countless references to the “loss of protective vegetation.” Over the last half-century, clearcutting, overgrazing, and overplowing have removed so much of that protective cover that the world is quickly losing soil accumulated over long stretches of geological time (see “Civilization’s Foundation Eroding”). Preserving the biological […] More

  • Topsoil: Civilization's Foundation Eroding

    By Lester R. Brown The thin layer of topsoil that covers the planet’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. This soil, typically 6 inches or so deep, was formed over long stretches of geological time as new soil formation exceeded the natural rate of erosion. But sometime within the last century, as human and […] More

  • Solar Cell Production Climbs to Another Record in 2009

    By J. Matthew Roney Solar photovoltaic (PV) cell manufacturers produced a record 10,700 megawatts of PV cells globally in 2009—an impressive 51-percent increase from the year before. While growth in 2009 slowed from the remarkable 89-percent expansion in 2008, it continued the rapid rise of an industry that first reached 1,000 megawatts of production in […] More

  • The Limits and Potential of Plant-Based Energy

    By Lester R. Brown As oil and natural gas reserves are being depleted, the world’s attention is increasingly turning to plant-based energy sources. These include food crops, forest industry byproducts, sugar industry byproducts, plantations of fast-growing trees, crop residues, and urban tree and yard wastes—all of which can be used for electrical generation, heating, or […] More

  • Geothermal: Getting Energy from the Earth

    By Lester R. Brown The heat in the upper six miles of the earth’s crust contains 50,000 times as much energy as found in all the world’s oil and gas reserves combined. Despite this abundance, only 10,700 megawatts of geothermal electricity generating capacity have been harnessed worldwide. Partly because of the dominance of the oil, […] More

  • A Global Shift to Renewable Energy

    By Lester R. Brown As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about climate change cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new energy economy is emerging. The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced by one powered by wind, solar, and geothermal […] More

  • Rising Temperatures Raise Food Prices

    By Lester Brown Around midnight on Wednesday, August 11th, a group of commodity analysts will gather at a meeting site in the massive South Building of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Once they are assembled, the door will be locked. Cell phones will be collected. Phone and Internet lines will be […] More

  • Raising Appliance Efficiency: A Big Win for Consumers and the Climate

    By Lester R. Brown There are enormous opportunities to use energy more efficiently. Investing in energy efficiency is often far cheaper than expanding the energy supply to meet growing demand. Efficiency investments typically yield a high rate of return, saving consumers money, and can help fight climate change by avoiding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from […] More

  • The Emerging Politics of Food Scarcity

    By Lester R. Brown A dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging in which individual countries, acting in their narrowly defined self-interest, reinforce the trends causing global food security to deteriorate. This began in late 2007 when wheat-exporting countries, like Russia and Argentina, attempted to counter domestic food price rises by limiting or banning exports. […] More

  • The Return of the Bicycle

      By Lester R. Brown The bicycle has many attractions as a form of personal transportation. It alleviates congestion, lowers air pollution, reduces obesity, increases physical fitness, does not emit climate-disrupting carbon dioxide, and is priced within the reach of the billions of people who cannot afford a car. Bicycles increase mobility while reducing congestion and […] More

  • The Population-Poverty Connection

    By Lester R. Brown The 21st century began on an inspiring note: the United Nations set a goal of reducing the share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty by half by 2015. By early 2007 the world looked to be on track to meet this goal, but as the economic crisis unfolds and […] More

  • Raising Water Productivity to Increase Food Security

    By Lester R. Brown With water shortages constraining food production growth, the world needs an effort to raise water productivity similar to the one that nearly tripled land productivity over the last half-century. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce 1 ton of grain, it is not surprising that 70 percent of world […] More

  • How Many Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Does It Take to Close 705 Coal Plants?

    By Lester R. Brown The lighting sector is on the edge of a spectacular revolution, a shift from the century-old, inefficient incandescent light bulb to far more efficient technologies. Perhaps the quickest, most profitable way to reduce electricity use worldwide—thus cutting carbon emissions—is simply to change light bulbs. The Current Standard in Energy-Saving Light Bulbs: […] More

  • Cars and People Compete for Grain

    By Lester R. Brown At a time when excessive pressures on the earth’s land and water resources are of growing concern, there is a massive new demand emerging for cropland to produce fuel for cars—one that threatens world food security. Although this situation had been developing for a few decades, it was not until Hurricane […] More

  • Parking Lots to Parks: Designing Livable Cities

    By Lester R. Brown As I was being driven through Tel Aviv from my hotel to a conference center in 1998, I could not help but note the overwhelming presence of cars and parking lots. It was obvious that Tel Aviv, expanding from a small settlement a half-century ago to a city of some 3 […] More

  • Reclaiming the Streets: Urban Transportation Innovations

    By Lester R. Brown Cars promise mobility, and in a largely rural setting they provide it. But in an urbanizing world, where more than half of us live in cities, there is an inherent conflict between the automobile and the city. After a point, as their numbers multiply, automobiles provide not mobility but immobility, as […] More

  • Offshore Wind, Not Offshore Oil

    By Janet Larsen The enormously devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just one reminder that stretching out an addiction to a polluting and planet-warming fossil fuel poses risks to our health, our environment, and our economy. U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels per day. Since then production has […] More

  • Reduce, Recycle, and Replant – Data Highlights on Restoring the World's Forests

    The world’s forests, which cover a third of Earth’s land area, provide us with many essential services. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and give us oxygen, limit soil erosion, aid in flood control and aquifer recharge, and host a wealth of biodiversity. But as human populations have grown, so, too, have the demands […] More

  • Saving Civilization is Not a Spectator Sport

    By Lester R. Brown Given the enormous environmental and social challenges faced by our early twenty-first century global civilization, one of the questions I hear most frequently is “What can I do?” People often expect me to talk about lifestyle changes, recycling newspapers, or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly […] More

  • Plan B – A Plan to Save Civilization

    By Lester R. Brown There is much that we do not know about the future. But one thing we do know is that business as usual, including our continuing failure to reverse the environmental trends undermining the world food economy, will not last for much longer. Massive change is inevitable. “The death of our civilization […] More

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    Taxpayer Dollars Subsidizing Destruction

    By Lester R. Brown One way to correct market failures is tax shifting—raising taxes on activities that harm the environment so that their prices begin to reflect their true cost and offsetting this with a reduction in income taxes. A complementary way to achieve this goal is subsidy shifting. Each year the world’s taxpayers provide […] More

  • Lowering Income Taxes While Raising Pollution Taxes Reaps Great Returns

    By Lester R. Brown As economic decision makers—whether consumers, corporate planners, government policymakers, or investment bankers—we all depend on the market for guidance. In order for markets to work and economic actors to make sound decisions, the markets must give us good information, including the full cost of the products we buy. Unfortunately, markets largely […] More

  • Wind Power Soared Past 150,000 Megawatts in 2009

    By J. Matthew Roney Even in the face of a worldwide economic downturn, the global wind industry posted another record year in 2009 as cumulative installed wind power capacity grew to 158,000 megawatts. With this 31 percent jump, the global wind fleet is now large enough to satisfy the residential electricity needs of 250 million […] More

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