Lester Brown

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

Growing Water Deficit Threatening Grain Harvests

Many countries are facing dangerous water shortages. As world demand for food has soared, millions of farmers have drilled too many irrigation wells in efforts to expand their harvests. As a result, water tables are falling and wells are going dry in some 20 countries containing half the world’s people. The overpumping of aquifers for irrigation temporarily inflates food production, creating a food production bubble that bursts when the aquifer is depleted. The shrinkage of irrigation water supplies in the big three grain-producing countries — the United States, India, and China — is of particular concern. Thus far, these countries …

Rising Temperatures Melting Away Global Food Security

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 serious.  Rising temperatures are already melting the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Recent studies indicate that a combination of melting ice sheets and glaciers, plus the thermal expansion of the ocean as it warms, could raise sea level by up to 6 feet during this century. Yet even …


The good news about coal

Big Coal faces a powerful new enemy in its quest to build new plants: you.

Solar Power

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 …

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 …


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 …

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 …


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 …

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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