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  • Earth Out of Sync: Rising Temperatures Throwing off Seasonal Timing

    Credit: Jack Dykinga/USDA By Janet Larsen A newly hatched chick waits with hungry mouth agape for a parent to deliver its first meal. A crocus peaks up through the snow. Rivers flow swiftly as ice breaks up and snows melt. Sleepy mammals emerge from hibernation, and early frog songs penetrate the night. Spring awakening has […] More

  • Moving Towards Zero-Carbon Buildings

    The building sector is responsible for a large share of world electricity consumption and raw materials use. In the United States, buildings—commercial and residential—account for 72 percent of electricity use and 38 percent of CO2 emissions. Worldwide, building construction accounts for 40 percent of materials use. Because buildings last for 50–100 years or longer, it […] More

  • Data Highlights on Solar Energy

    Concerns about global warming, rising fossil fuel prices, and oil insecurity have prompted calls for a new energy economy, one that replaces fossil fuels with renewables. The sun is an enormous reservoir of energy; in fact, the sunlight reaching Earth in just one hour is enough to power the global economy for a whole year. […] More

  • On Rooftops Worldwide, a Solar Water Heating Revolution

    By Lester R. Brown The harnessing of solar energy is expanding on every front as concerns about climate change and energy security escalate, as government incentives for harnessing solar energy expand, and as these costs decline while those of fossil fuels rise. One solar technology that is really beginning to take off is the use […] More

  • Coal-Fired Power On the Way Out?

    The past two years have witnessed the emergence of a powerful movement opposing the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States. Initially led by environmental groups, both national and local, it has since been joined by prominent national political leaders and many state governors. The principal reason for opposing coal plants is […] More

  • Plan B 4.0 Book Byte: Smarter Grids, Appliances, and Consumers

    By Lester R. Brown More and more utilities are beginning to realize that building large power plants just to handle peak daily and seasonal demand is a very costly way of managing an electricity system. Existing electricity grids are typically a patchwork of local grids that are simultaneously inefficient, wasteful, and dysfunctional in that they […] More

  • Plan B 4.0 Book Byte: Rescuing Failing States

    By Lester R. Brown One of the leading challenges facing the international community is how to rescue failing states, those countries most at risk of collapse due to a combination of weak governance, internal violence, and social upheaval. Continuing with business as usual in international assistance programs is not working, as evidenced by the continuing […] More

  • Plan B 4.0 Book Byte: Mounting Stresses, Failing States

    After a half-century of forming new states from former colonies and from the breakup of the Soviet Union, the international community is today focusing on the disintegration of states. The term “failing state” has entered our working vocabulary only during the last decade or so, but these countries are now an integral part of the […] More

  • U.S. Feeds One Quarter of its Grain to Cars While Hunger is on the Rise

    The 107 million tons of grain that went to U.S. ethanol distilleries in 2009 was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels. More than a quarter of the total U.S. grain crop was turned into ethanol to fuel cars last year. With 200 ethanol distilleries in the country […] More

  • Eco-Economy Indicator: Past Decade the Hottest on Record

    By Amy Heinzerling The first decade of the twenty-first century was the hottest since recordkeeping began in 1880. With an average global temperature of 14.52 degrees Celsius (58.1 degrees Fahrenheit), this decade was 0.2 degrees Celsius (0.36 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than any previous decade. The year 2005 was the hottest on record, while 2007 and […] More

  • US Car Fleet Shrinks by Four Million in 2009

    America’s century-old love affair with the automobile may be coming to an end. The U.S. fleet has apparently peaked and started to decline. In 2009, the 14 million cars scrapped exceeded the 10 million new cars sold, shrinking the U.S. fleet by 4 million, or nearly 2 percent in one year. While this is widely […] More

  • Growing Demand For Soybeans Threatens Amazon Rainforest

    Image credit: Tiago Fioreze at Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license Originally published at Plan B Updates By Lester R. Brown Some 3,000 years ago, farmers in eastern China domesticated the soybean. In 1765, the first soybeans were planted in North America. Today the soybean occupies more U.S. cropland than wheat. And in Brazil, […] More

  • Ice Melting Faster Everywhere

    By Alexandra Giese From the Arctic sea ice to the Antarctic interior and the mountainous peaks of Peru, Alaska, and Tibet, ice is melting at an alarming rate. The accelerating loss of ice sheets, sea ice, and glaciers is one of the most powerful and striking indicators of a warming climate. The most notable ice […] More

  • Stabilizing Climate: Beyond International Agreements

    by Lester R. Brown from Book Bytes Note: the following was written in July 2009, before the Copenhagen climate change conference. From my pre-Copenhagen vantage point, internationally negotiated climate agreements are fast becoming obsolete for two reasons. First, since no government wants to concede too much compared with other governments, the negotiated goals for cutting […] More

  • The Localization of Agriculture

    by Lester R. Brown In the United States, there has been a surge of interest in eating fresh local foods, corresponding with mounting concerns about the climate effects of consuming food from distant places and about the obesity and other health problems associated with junk food diets. This is reflected in the rise in urban […] More

  • Inferno on Earth: Wildfires Spreading as Temperatures Rise

    Janet Larsen Future firefighters have their work cut out for them. Perhaps nowhere does this hit home harder than in Australia, where in early 2009 a persistent drought, high winds, and record high temperatures set the stage for the worst wildfire in the country’s history. On February 9th, now known as “Black Saturday,” the […] More

  • Plan B Update: The Copenhagen Conference on Food Security

    Lester R. Brown For the 193 national delegations gathering in Copenhagen for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in December, the reasons for concern about climate change vary widely. For delegations from low-lying island countries, the principal concern is rising sea level. For countries in southern Europe, climate change means less rainfall and more drought. For […] More

  • Plan B 4.0 Book Byte: Three Models of Social Change

    Lester R. Brown Can we change fast enough? When thinking about the enormous need for social change as we attempt to move the world economy onto a sustainable path, I find it useful to look at various models of change. Three stand out. One is the catastrophic event model, which I call the Pearl Harbor […] More

  • Plan B 4.0 by the Numbers — Data Highlights on Poverty and Population In Chapter 7 of the recently released Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Lester Brown lays out the Plan B goals for eradicating poverty and stabilizing population. Behind the scenes are a number of datasets and graphs that delve deeper into the trends discussed in the chapter. Here are some highlights from the […] More

  • Plan B 4.0 Book Byte: The Rising Tide of Environmental Refugees

    Lester R. Brown Our early twenty-first century civilization is being squeezed between advancing deserts and rising seas. Measured by the biologically productive land area that can support human habitation, the earth is shrinking. Mounting population densities, once generated solely by population growth, are now also fueled by the relentless advance of deserts and may soon […] More

  • U.S. Headed for Massive Decline in Carbon Emissions

    By Lester R. Brown Emissions Drop 9 Percent in Last Two Years For years now, many members of Congress have insisted that cutting carbon emissions was difficult, if not impossible. It is not. During the two years since 2007, carbon emissions have dropped 9 percent. While part of this drop is from the recession, […] More

  • Book Bytes: Our Global Ponzi Economy

    October 7, 2009 Our Global Ponzi Economy Lester R. Brown Our mismanaged world economy today has many of the characteristics of a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme takes payments from a broad base of investors and uses these to pay off returns. It creates the illusion that it is providing a highly attractive rate of […] More

  • A Civilizational Tipping Point

    By Lester R. Brown In recent years there has been a growing concern over thresholds or tipping points in nature. In my latest book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, I state that scientists worry about when the shrinking population of an endangered species will fall to a point from which it cannot recover. […] More

  • Learning from Past Civilizations

    By Lester R. Brown To understand our current environmental dilemma, it helps to look at earlier civilizations that also got into environmental trouble. Our early twenty-first century civilization is not the first to face the prospect of environmentally induced economic decline. The question is how we will respond. As Jared Diamond points out in his […] More

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