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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 the book to consider: There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night—many of them with empty plates. As a result of chronic hunger, 48 percent of all children in India …

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

By Lester R. Brown In the race to transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and avoid runaway climate change, wind has opened a wide lead on both solar and geothermal energy. Solar panels, with a capacity totaling 70,000 megawatts, and geothermal power plants, with a capacity of some 11,000 megawatts, are generating electricity around the world. The total capacity for the world’s wind farms, now generating power in about 80 countries, is near 240,000 megawatts. China and the United States are in the lead. Over the past decade, world wind electric generating capacity grew at nearly 30 …

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

By Lester R. Brown 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. The Earth’s renewable energy resources are vast and available to be tapped through visionary initiatives. Our civilization needs to embrace renewable energy on a scale …

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By the Numbers – Data Highlights from Full Planet, Empty Plates

More than 150 data sets accompany Lester R. Brown’s latest book, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. These tables and graphs help to explain the precarious situation in which humanity finds itself, as the world leaves an era of food surpluses and enters one of food scarcity. Here are some highlights from the collection. Food Prices Rising Between 2007 and mid-2008, world grain and soybean prices more than doubled. Record food price inflation led to food-related riots and unrest in some 60 countries. Prices eased somewhat due to the Great Recession, but even then remained well …

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Arctic Sea Ice in Free Fall

By Emily E. Adams and Janet Larsen The North Pole is losing its ice cap. Comparing recent melt seasons with historical records spanning more than 1,400 years shows summer Arctic sea ice in free fall.  Many scientists believe that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summertime within the next decade or two, and some say that this could occur as early as 2016.  The last time the Arctic was completely free of ice may have been 125,000 years ago. Between March 20 and September 16, 2012, the Arctic lost ice covering 11.8 million square kilometers—an area larger than …

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Heat and Drought Ravage U.S. Crop Prospects—Global Stocks Suffer

By Janet Larsen September estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show 2012 U.S. corn yields at 123 bushels per acre, down by a fourth from the 2009 high of 165 bushels per acre. Yields are the lowest since 1995 and well below the average of the last 30 years. The summer heat and drought also hit U.S. soybean yields, which are down 20 percent from their 2009 peak. High temperatures have combined with the worst drought in half a century to wreak havoc on American farms and ranches. Some 80 percent of U.S. farm and pasture land experienced …

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World Forest Area Still on the Decline

By Emily E. Adams Forests provide many important goods, such as timber and paper. They also supply essential services—for example, they filter water, control water runoff, protect soil, regulate climate, cycle and store nutrients, and provide habitat for countless animal species and space for recreation. Forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. (One hectare = 2.47 acres.) This is down from the pre-industrial area of 5.9 billion hectares. According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation was at its highest rate in the 1990s, when each year the world lost …

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Offshore Wind Development Picking Up Pace

By J. Matthew Roney Wind power is the world’s leading source of renewable electricity, excluding hydropower, with 238,000 megawatts of capacity installed at the start of 2012.  Thus far, almost all of this wind power has been tapped on land; worldwide just 4,600 megawatts of offshore wind farms were operating as of mid-2012. Offshore wind capacity is growing quickly, however, expanding nearly six-fold since 2006. Twelve countries now have wind turbines spinning offshore, and more will be joining them to take advantage of the powerful winds blowing over the oceans. More than 90 percent of offshore wind installations are in …

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We Can Reforest the Earth

By Lester R. Brown Protecting the 10 billion acres of remaining forests on earth and replanting many of those already lost are both essential for restoring the earth’s health. Since 2000, the earth’s forest cover has shrunk by 13 million acres each year, with annual losses of 32 million acres far exceeding the regrowth of 19 million acres. Restoring the earth’s tree and grass cover protects soil from erosion, reduces flooding, and sequesters carbon. Global deforestation is concentrated in the developing world. Tropical deforestation in Asia is driven primarily by the fast-growing demand for timber and increasingly by the expansion …

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Hot dam: Hydropower continues to grow

A version of this article originally appeared on Earth Policy Institute.

World hydroelectric power generation has risen steadily by an average 3 percent annually over the past four decades. In 2011, at 3,500 billion kilowatt-hours, hydroelectricity accounted for roughly 16 percent of global electricity generation, almost all produced by the world’s 45,000-plus large dams. Today hydropower is generated in over 160 countries.


Four countries dominate the hydropower landscape: China, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. Together they produce more than half of the world’s hydroelectricity.

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