Lester Brown

Lester R. Brown is founder and president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Follow EPI: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn

Inferno on Earth: Wildfires spreading as temperatures rise

The following is a Plan B Update by my colleague Janet Larsen, the Director of Research for the Earth Policy Institute, about the connection between the increase of wildfires and rising temperature. 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 Feb. 9, now known as “Black Saturday,” the mercury in Melbourne topped 115 degrees F as fires burned over 1 million acres in the …

The Copenhagen Conference on food security

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 countries of East Asia and the Caribbean, more powerful storms and storm surges are a growing worry. This climate change conference is about all these things, and many more, but in a very fundamental sense, it is a conference about food security. We need not go beyond ice …

Three models of social change

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 model, where a dramatic event fundamentally changes how we think and behave. The second model is one where a society reaches a tipping point on a particular issue often after an extended period of gradual change in thinking and attitudes. This I call the Berlin Wall model. The …

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 Chapter 7 data: World population has grown steadily over the past half century, increasing from 2.5 billion in 1950 to a projected 6.8 billion in 2009. The United Nations medium fertility level scenario projects that world population will grow to 9.2 billion in 2050. Their high …

The rising tide of environmental refugees

Desertification of formerly productive farm land is one of the many reasons for a growing number of environmental refugees around the world.Photo: pizzodisevo via FlickrOur 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 be affected by the projected rise in sea level. As overpumping depletes aquifers, millions more are forced to relocate in search of water. Desert …

U.S. headed for massive decline in carbon emissions

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, part of it is also from efficiency gains and from replacing coal with natural gas, wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The U.S. has ended a century of rising carbon emissions and has now entered a new energy era, one of declining emissions. Peak carbon is now history. What had appeared to be hopelessly difficult is happening at amazing …

PONZICONOMY

Our global pyramid scheme

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 return on investment as a result of savvy investment decisions when in fact these irresistibly high earnings are in part the result of consuming the asset base itself. A Ponzi scheme investment fund can last only as long as the flow of new investments is sufficient to sustain the high rates of return paid out …

trash crash

Throwing out the throwaway economy

Photo: Editor BThe stresses in our early twenty-first century civilization take many forms–social, economic, environmental, and political. One distinctly unhealthy and visible illustration of all four is the swelling flow of garbage associated with a throwaway economy. Throwaway products were first conceived following World War II as a convenience and as a way of creating jobs and sustaining economic growth. The more goods produced and discarded, the reasoning went, the more jobs there would be. What sold throwaways was their convenience. For example, rather than washing cloth towels or napkins, consumers welcomed disposable paper versions. Thus we have substituted facial …

how to save a life

A civilizational tipping point

In recent years there has been a growing concern over thresholds, or tipping points, in nature. For example, scientists worry about when the shrinking population of an endangered species will fall to a point from which it cannot recover. Marine biologists are concerned about the point where overfishing will trigger the collapse of a fishery. We know there were social tipping points in earlier civilizations, points at which they were overwhelmed by the forces threatening them. For instance, at some point the irrigation-related salt buildup in their soil overwhelmed the capacity of the Sumerians to deal with it. With the …

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