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  • Feeding the World: The Story of Soy

    Our taste for soybeans is devastating ecosystems and farmers are having a tough time meeting demand. What’s going on here? The bulk of our soy consumption isn’t in the form of tofu, tempeh, or edamame. People worldwide eat millions of pounds of “invisible soy” each year, because soy has become a staple in animal feed. If we’re really interested in feeding the world, maybe we need to rethink the way that we are using our soybean crops. More

  • Full Planet, Empty Plates: Quick Facts

    With falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures making it difficult to feed growing populations, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center stage in the global struggle for food security. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism? Here are a few of the many facts from Full Planet, Empty Plates. More

  • The New Global Food Crisis: Lester Brown’s Full Planet, Empty Plates

    The phrase “global food crisis” may strike us in the developed world as a bit overblown. But in his new book Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Lester R. Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, aptly demonstrates that our current food security situation is anything but normal… and could even represent the “weak link” to maintaining the standard of living to which we’ve become accustomed. More

  • The Great Transition, Part II: Building a Wind-Centered Economy

    Over the past decade, world wind electric generating capacity grew at nearly 30 percent per year, its increase driven by its many attractive features and by public policies supporting its expansion. Wind is abundant, carbon-free and nondepletable. It uses no water, no fuel, and little land. Wind is also locally available, scales up easily, and can be brought online quickly. No other energy source can match this combination of features. More

  • The Great Transition, Part I: From Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy

    The great energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is under way. As fossil fuel prices rise, as oil insecurity deepens, and as concerns about pollution and climate instability cast a shadow over the future of coal, a new world energy economy is emerging. The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced with an economy powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. More

  • Meat Consumption in China Now Double That in the United States

    More than a quarter of all the meat produced worldwide is now eaten in China, and the country’s 1.35 billion people are hungry for more. In 1978, China’s meat consumption of 8 million tons was one third the U.S. consumption of 24 million tons. But by 1992, China had overtaken the United States as the world’s leading meat consumer—-and it has not looked back since. More

  • Governments Spend $1.4 Billion Per Day to Destabilize Climate

    We distort reality when we omit the health and environmental costs associated with burning fossil fuels from their prices. When governments actually subsidize their use, they take the distortion even further. Worldwide, direct fossil fuel subsidies added up to roughly $500 billion in 2010. More

  • Harnessing the Sun's Energy for Water and Space Heating

    The pace of solar energy development is accelerating as the installation of rooftop solar water heaters takes off. Unlike solar photovoltaic (PV) panels that convert solar radiation into electricity, these “solar thermal collectors” use the sun’s energy to heat water, space, or both. More

  • Troubling Health Trends Holding Back Progress on Life Expectancy

    People born today will live for 68 years on average, 20 years longer than those born in 1950. By the mid-twentieth century, industrial countries had already made major strides in extending lifespans with improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and public health. After World War II, rapid gains in life expectancy in developing countries began to narrow the gap between these nations and industrial countries. Although average life expectancy worldwide continues to increase, gains have come more slowly in the last few decades. Worryingly, life expectancy has actually declined in some developing countries, while a few industrial countries have stalled or made slow progress on this important indicator of human health and well-being. More

  • Grain Production Falling as Soil Erosion Continues

    The thin layer of topsoil that covers much of the earth’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. As long as soil erosion on cropland does not exceed new soil formation, all is well. But once it does, it leads to falling soil fertility and eventually to land abandonment. As countries lose their topsoil through […] More

  • Rising Temperatures Melting Away Global Food Security

    By Lester R. Brown Heat waves clearly can destroy crop harvests. The world saw high heat decimate Russian wheat in 2010. Crop ecologists have found that each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum can reduce grain harvests by 10 percent. But the indirect effects of higher temperatures on our food supply are no less […] More

  • Water Shortages Threaten Food Future in the Arab Middle East

    By Lester R. Brown Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and ever growing food insecurity. In some countries, grain production is now falling as aquifers are depleted. After […] More

  • "Let No Man Say It Cannot Be Done": Restructuring the American Economy

    By Lester R. Brown We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model — not for the countries that […] More

  • Smart Population Planning for the Global Family

    By Lester R. Brown When it comes to population growth, the United Nations has three primary projections. The medium projection, the one most commonly used, has world population reaching 9.2 billion by 2050. The high one reaches 10.5 billion. The low projection, which assumes that the world will quickly move below replacement-level fertility, has population […] More

  • Can the United States Feed China?

    By Lester R. Brown In 1994, I wrote an article in World Watch magazine entitled “Who Will Feed China?” that was later expanded into a book of the same title. When the article was published in late August, the press conference generated only moderate coverage. But when it was reprinted that weekend on the front […] More

  • Wind: The Centerpiece of the Plan B Economy

    By Lester R. Brown For many years, a small handful of countries dominated growth in wind power, but this is changing as the industry goes global, with more than 70 countries now developing wind resources. Between 2000 and 2010, world wind electric generating capacity increased at a frenetic pace from 17,000 megawatts to nearly 200,000 […] More

  • Why World Food Prices May Keep Climbing

    By Lester R. Brown In February, world food prices reached the highest level on record. Soaring food prices are already a source of spreading hunger and political unrest, and it appears likely that they will climb further in the months ahead. As a result of an extraordinarily tight grain situation, this year’s harvest will be […] More

  • By the Numbers – Data Highlights from World on the Edge

    The hundreds of data sets that accompany Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, illustrate the world’s current predicament and give a sense of where we might go from here. Here are some highlights from the collection. More

  • World One Poor Harvest Away From Chaos

    By Lester R. Brown In early January, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that its Food Price Index had reached an all-time high in December, exceeding the previous record set during the 2007-08 price surge. Even more alarming, on February 3rd, the FAO announced that the December record had been broken in January […] More

  • Lester Brown's World on the Edge: Mobilizing against Collapse

    For a number of years, we’ve used the Apollo project as metaphor for the kinds of transformation we need to create in terms of our energy and resource use. It’s a compelling, aspirational vision that draws on our desire to reach goals that might seem unattainable. No doubt such concepts harness creativity and ingenuity… and […] More

  • Environmental and Demographic Forces Threaten State Failure

    By Lester R. Brown Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the Middle East at the start of 2011 have reminded the world just how politically fragile some countries are. But the focus of international politics has been shifting for some time now. After a half-century of forming new states from former colonies and from the […] More

  • Restoring Food Security for All Takes Action on Many Fronts

    By Lester R. Brown Today there are three sources of growing demand for food: population growth; rising affluence and the associated jump in meat, milk, and egg consumption; and the use of grain to produce fuel for cars. Population growth is as old as agriculture itself. But the world is now adding close to 80 […] More

  • World on the Edge: Quick Facts

    We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Can we think systemically and fashion policies accordingly? Can we change direction before we go over the edge? Here are a few of the many facts from the book to consider: There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there […] More

  • 2010 Hits Top of Temperature Chart

    Topping off the warmest decade in history, 2010 experienced a global average temperature of 14.63 degrees Celsius (58.3 degrees Fahrenheit), tying 2005 as the hottest year in 131 years of recordkeeping. This news will come as no surprise to residents of the 19 countries that experienced record heat in 2010. Belarus set a record of […] More

  • World on the Edge: When Will the Food Bubble Burst?

    “Our early 21st century civilization is in trouble. We need not go beyond the world food economy to see this. Over the last few decades we have created a food production bubble—one based on environmental trends that cannot be sustained, including overpumping aquifers, overplowing land, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide,” notes Lester R. […] More

  • Future at Risk on a Hotter Planet

    By Lester Brown We are entering a new era, one of rapid and often unpredictable climate change. In fact, the new climate norm is change. The 25 warmest years on record have come since 1980. And the 10 warmest years since global recordkeeping began in 1880 have come since 1998. The effects of rising temperature […] More

  • Improving Food Security by Strategically Reducing Grain Demand

    By Lester R. Brown After several decades of rapid rise in world grain yields, it is now becoming more difficult to raise land productivity fast enough to keep up with the demands of a growing, increasingly affluent, population. From 1950 to 1990, world grainland productivity increased by 2.2 percent per year, but from 1990 until […] More

  • 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

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