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Lester Brown's Posts

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Turning toward the sun for energy

One key component of the Plan B climate stabilization strategy is solar energy. Solar is even more ubiquitous than wind energy and can be harnessed with both solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal collectors. Solar PV -- both silicon-based and thin film -- converts sunlight directly into electricity. The growth in solar cell production climbed from an annual expansion of 38 percent in 2006 to an off-the-chart 89 percent in 2008, before settling back to 51 percent in 2009. At the end of 2009, there were 23,000 megawatts of PV installations worldwide, which when operating at peak power could match …

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When the Nile runs dry

A new scramble for Africa is under way. As global food prices rise and exporters reduce shipments of commodities, countries that rely on imported grain are panicking. Affluent countries like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China and India have descended on fertile plains across the African continent, acquiring huge tracts of land to produce wheat, rice and corn for consumption back home. Some of these land acquisitions are enormous. South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, has acquired 1.7 million acres in Sudan to grow wheat -- an area twice the size of Rhode Island. In Ethiopia, a Saudi …

Read more: Uncategorized

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Water shortages threaten food future in the Middle East

A water tower in Al-Muzahimiyah, Saudi Arabia.Photo: Andrew A. ShenoudaThis piece originally appeared in The Guardian. 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 the Arab oil-export embargo of the 1970s, the Saudis realized that since they were heavily dependent on imported grain, they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. Using oil-drilling technology, they tapped into an …

Read more: Food

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A global green economy: ‘Let no man say it cannot be done’

America was able to convert from a peacetime to a wartime economy at a stunning speed.We need an economy for the 21st 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 shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy -- wind, solar, and geothermal -- one that has a …

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Smart planning for the global family

Spreading the message in Malawi.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 peaking at 8 billion in 2042 and then declining. If the goal is to eradicate poverty, hunger, and illiteracy, then we have little choice but to strive for the lower projection. Slowing world population growth means ensuring that all women who want to plan their …

Read more: Living, Population

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China's ordering take-out

Can the United States feed China?

China is worried -- and rightfully so -- that it might not be able to feed itself.Photo: Jerrold BennettIn 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 of the Washington Post's Outlook section with the title "How China Could Starve the World," [$ubreq] it unleashed a political firestorm in Beijing. The response began with a press conference at …

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on a winding road

Wind power surges forward around the globe

Scotland expects renewables to meet all of its electricity needs by 2025.Photo: Kari GibsonFor 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 megawatts. Measured by share of electricity supplied by wind, Denmark is the leading nation at 21 percent. Three north German states now get 40 percent or more of their electricity from wind. For Germany as a …

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grainy days

Why world food prices may keep climbing

Click for a larger version.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 one of the most closely watched in years. Last year, the world produced 2,180 million tons of grain. It consumed 2,240 million tons, a consumption excess that was made possible by drawing down stocks by 60 million tons. To avoid repeating last year's shortfall and …

Read more: Food, Food Safety

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Chart attack

Charts explain our current situation and how to improve it

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. Veering toward the edge: As the world economy has expanded nearly 10-fold since 1950, consumption has begun to outstrip natural assets on a global scale. The same values that have allowed ecological deficits to grow are contributing to ballooning fiscal deficits around the world, threatening to undermine economic progress. Some of the planet’s natural capital, …

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no rain, no grain

The world is one poor harvest away from chaos

An Indian woman sifts grain from a previous harvest. Water shortages could drastically affect this year's harvest.Photo: World BankIn 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 Feb. 3, the FAO announced that the December record had been broken in January as prices climbed an additional 3 percent. Will this rise in food prices continue in the months ahead? In all likelihood, we will see further rises that will take the world …