EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

John and Blondeen GravelySaturday, Lester and I attended the funeral for Blondeen and John Gravely. It was an especially sad time for Lester as he and Blondeen had begun working together when he was at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1960s. Fresh from graduating valedictorian of her high school, Blondeen moved to Washington and began doing clerical work for the USDA.When Lester was brought into Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman’s staff, he needed administrative support and Blondeen was transferred to him. They hit it off from the start. Her quick mind and cheerful, upbeat nature, along with her secretarial skills made her a perfect assistant for Lester. She had a flair for clothing, sewing all of her clothes, which often evoked admiration from others.

When Lester moved to head the International Development Agency, he brought Blondeen along to support the Deputy Administrator, Lyle Schertz. Lester and Blondeen were the youngest people in the Agency!

A year after helping James Grant found the Overseas Development Council (ODC) in 1969, Lester convinced Blondeen to join them.

Blondeen’s typing skills (non-correcting typewriters!!) were legendary. She typed so fast and accurately that people would gather around her desk just to watch her! And with the books Lester produced while at the ODC, her fingers were kept very busy. The two were a terrific team.

So it was natural for him to bring Blondeen along when he founded Worldwatch Institute in 1974. Along with Lester and Erik Eckholm, Blondeen was one of the Institute’s three incorporators. While Lester was finishing up his commitments at the Overseas Development Council, Blondeen did all of the administrative work to get the new Institute up and running. She was a central figure in both the creation and evolution of the Institute, initially as administrative officer and assistant treasurer and, later, as vice president for administration and treasurer.  That she simultaneously held two key offices in the Institute was itself a tribute to her capacities and to her contribution.Blondeen's Farewell 1996

Blondeen loved to travel and in the early years of Worldwatch accompanied Lester on a few of his trips, especially to Ethiopia, where they took time to sightsee and hike in the mountains.

Although she took early retirement due to a disability in 1996, we kept in touch, regularly inviting her and her husband John to special events and celebrations. At our last lunch together, Blondeen and Lester talked about the two books he was working on, one of which is his autobiography. They laughed over many shared memories.

So it was a very sad day when we learned that John and Blondeen were in a horrific car accident. John died instantly and Blondeen followed shortly thereafter.

As Lester noted in his testimony for Blondeen on Saturday, she was an important part of his life for 32 years and will remain so.


Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 06/06 at 08:00 AM

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

J. Matthew Roney - Master of ScienceMatt receiving his degreeOur hearty congratulations to Research Associate J. Matthew Roney who just received his Master of Science degree from Johns Hopkins University in the field of environmental sciences and policy with a focus on Chesapeake Bay conservation and management.

Matt kept up a steady stream of evening (and sometimes Saturday) classes over the last few years while maintaining his more than full time work at Earth Policy writing Plan B Updates, Eco-Economy Indicators, and Data Highlights on topics such as Japan’s energy future, renewable energy, and nuclear power. He also answered questions by reporters, gave interviews, spoke with groups about EPI’s research, and gathered data for and gave feedback on Lester’s books, articles.

Be on the lookout; Matt is just getting started!


Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 05/30 at 12:00 PM

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Harvard University recently held its third annual Green Carpet Awards.

The annual event celebrates Harvard staff, faculty, and students who have made significant contributions to on-campus sustainability initiatives. In an unusual move, students voted to give an award to an alumnus and selected Lester Brown for the first-ever Alumni Environmental Sustainability Award.

Lester Brown receiving Alumni Environmental Sustainability AwardReceiving the award

Lester speaking to students and facultySpeaking to students and faculty at lunch.

Watch the video of the entire event. (BTW, the emcee Peter Davis is a hoot!)

Articles on the event:
     Harvard Gazette 
     The Crimson
     Harvard Kennedy School

Many thanks to Harvard for their exciting green campus initiative!

Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 05/08 at 09:00 AM

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Bill McKibben’s 350.org has launched Connect the Dots Day. Scheduled for May 5 this global initiative is to draw attention to the fact that people all over the world recognize that climate change is happening (see poll results in New York Times article) and it is creating unpredictable weather events. Connect the Dots

McKibben is asking everyone to get involved with an event of some kind: a presentation, a protest, a community project, pictures, or another idea. Once compiled, they will deliver the message to politicians and media the world over.

i MatteriMatter
Another initiative regarding climate change has been undertaken by iMatter. Five youths have taken the bold step of suing the federal government for failing to protect the atmosphere. They held rallies throughout the United States on Earth Day, March 22, 2012. And on May 11 in Washington, DC, the lawsuit is being heard. The basic premise is that the atmosphere is a public trust for all generations and the government has a legal responsibility to protect it. The lawsuits would also require the government to put into place plans to reduce carbon emissions by at least 6 percent per year.

In 2008, Lester Brown wrote about the need to connect the dots in his book Plan B 3.0 in relation to water and food.

"The link between water and food is strong. We each drink on average nearly 4 liters of water per day in one form or another, while the water required to produce our daily food totals at least 2,000 liters—500 times as much. This helps explain why 70 percent of all water use is for irrigation. Another 20 percent is used by industry, and 10 percent goes for residential purposes. With the demand for water growing in all three categories, competition among sectors is intensifying, with agriculture almost always losing. While most people recognize that the world is facing a future of water shortages, not everyone has connected the dots to see that this also means a future of food shortages."

Connecting the dots so that other people can see the connections between has been his life work. This is his interdisciplinary or systemic way of thinking. Connecting the dots is more than food and water. It is also carbon emissions and climate change, population growth and declining natural resources, food scarcity and failing states. And to resolve these and more global issues, we need to take action.

“One of the questions I hear most frequently is, What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.” –Lester R. Brown 


Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 04/23 at 09:00 AM

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From time to time, we come across great books that we feel need to be shared. Take a look at these if you are lacking summer reads for vacation or need inspiration.

Reinventing Fire by Amory Lovins & Rocky Mountain InstituteReinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era by Amory B. Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute

Oil and coal have built our civilization, created our wealth, and enriched the lives of billions. Yet their rising costs to our security, economy, health, and environment are eroding and starting to outweigh their benefits. The tipping point where alternatives work better and compete on cost is not decades in the future: it is here and now. And that tipping point has become the fulcrum of economic transformation.

Reinventing Fire offers market-based actionable solutions integrating transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity. Built on Rocky Mountain Institute’s http://rmi.org 30 years of research and collaboration in all four sectors, Reinventing Fire maps pathways for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, one-third less natural gas, and no new inventions. This would cost $5 trillion less than business-as-usual—in addition to the value of avoiding fossil fuels’ huge but uncounted external costs. 

Due Diligence by David RoodmanDue Diligence: An Impertinent Inquiry into Microfinance by David Roodman 

The idea that small loans can help poor families build businesses and exit poverty has blossomed into a global movement. The concept has captured the public imagination, drawn in billions of dollars, reached millions of customers, and garnered a Nobel Prize. Radical in its suggestion that the poor are creditworthy and conservative in its insistence on individual accountability, the idea has expanded beyond credit into savings, insurance, and money transfers, earning the name microfinance. But is it the boon so many think it is?

Readers of David Roodman's openbook blog http://blogs.cgdev.org/open_book/  will immediately recognize his thorough, straightforward, and trenchant analysis. Due Diligence, written entirely in public with input from readers, probes the truth about microfinance to guide governments, foundations, investors, and private citizens who support financial services for poor people. In particular, it explains the need to deemphasize microcredit in favor of other financial services for the poor.

The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity by Jeffrey Sachs The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs

In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, Sachs offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity.

As he has done in dozens of countries around the world in the midst of economic crises, Sachs turns his unique diagnostic skills to what ails the American economy. He finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. 

By taking a broad, holistic approach—looking at domestic politics, geopolitics, social psychology, and the natural environment as well—Sachs reveals the larger fissures underlying our country’s current crisis. He shows how Washington has consistently failed to address America’s economic needs. He describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. 

Finally, Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around, one that will restore America to its great promise. 

Happy reading!

Reah Janise Kauffman

Note: Much of these descriptions come from the publishers’ book blurbs.




Posted by Reah Janise on 04/17 at 09:00 AM

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Mobile Website initial designWhile our intrepid research team has been diligently working on various Data Highlights and Eco-Economy Indicators (more on the way, so stay tuned!), and while Lester has been immersed in working on his books (spoiler alert!) one on the global food situation, another on the energy situation, and the other his autobiography, the rest of us have been making some changes.Ugh! I'll regret this tomorrow.

One that we hope you will especially like is a mobile website. Our Web Communications Coordinator, Kristina Taylor, took the lead on this initiative, putting in a lot of research and thought on how best to get our research onto mobile devices. She designed the initial pages, which were passed on to the tech and design specialists at Provoc.  Provoc is also the organization that redesigned our website a few years ago.

We are now moving rapidly on completing the mobile website, which should be live in a few weeks. We’ll keep you posted! 

The other change is two-fold and will be mostly invisible. When you order a book from us, it is processed by our in-house “team” of Millicent Johnson. However, the foundation of our in-house publications database started crumbling and so we began looking for an alternative, which is close to completion.Help! I've been captured by a-a-a-choo! files.

In the meantime, Kristina and Millicent teamed up to look for a new shopping cart solution, which also now is nearing completion. 

As for me, I have been delving into dusty files from 30, 40 and 50 years ago to glean information that Lester can incorporate into his autobiography. One of the treasures has been his report cards! He loved to read and would rush through his homework so he could devour yet another library book. His enthusiasm sometimes resulted in homework errors. Another fun item was finding the sari he brought back from his time in India as an IFYE (International Farm Youth Exchange) in 1956. When he gave his talks on life in the villages of India, he would demonstrate how to wrap a sari, which is how he met his wife, Shirley.I wonder what's in this one?


Reah Janise Kauffman



Posted by Reah Janise on 04/02 at 09:26 AM

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lester Brown speaking at Beihang University
Presentation at conference on alternative fuels at Beihang University’s Energy and Environment International Center

Even while squirreled away in his office working on three books (!!), Lester Brown is still finding time to weigh in on topics of interest at conferences.

On Thursday, March 1, he spoke at the symposium “Perspectives on Limits to Growth: Challenges to Building a Sustainable Planet.” Held in D.C. and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the Club of Rome, the symposium celebrated the 40th anniversary of the launching of the book Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers.  The symposium, which was live-streamed, provided perspectives on the challenges to sustainability still facing the planet. Lester’s topic: World on the Edge.

On March 28, he will be speaking at the Affordable World Security Conference, which is being held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., on March 27 and 28. For those who would like to tune in, this conference will be live-streamed. Lester will be participating in a panel looking at new strategies for moving forward. And if you are in the DC area and would like to attend this conference, it is free and open to the public.

Shortly after posting the blog on his travels to Japan and China, we received some additional photos, which are included along the side of this blog.


Reah Janise Kauffman



Honorary Advisor, Beihang University
Appointment as Honorary Advisor, Energy and Environment International Center, Beihang University

Hosts in Beijing
Hosts in Beijing

Tokyo symposium, February 10, 2012
Speaking at symposium in Tokyo on February 10, 2012


Posted by Reah Janise on 03/20 at 11:44 AM

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Japanese edition of World on the EdgeWhen Lester Brown left on his trip to Japan and China two weeks ago, he was just about the only member of the staff who wasn’t fighting or down with a cold, flu, or some other illness. Being a world traveler, he is fortunate to have a strong constitution.

His first stop was Tokyo where he launched the Japanese edition of World on the Edge. The publisher is Diamond Inc., which has a long tradition of publishing books by Lester.

Other than media interviews, the main event in Tokyo was the symposium, World on the Edge, sponsored by Japan for Sustainability, headed by long-term associate Junko Edahiro, Aijinomoto, and Nippon Koa Insurance. Lester gave the keynote to a standing room only (and then some) crowd. We heard later that the feedback from the audience was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Earth Hall of Fame Kyoto
Click for larger image.

Lester then went on to Kyoto where he and Klaus Topfer were inducted into the prestigious Earth Hall of Fame Kyoto (see previous blog). The response to his presence in Kyoto was that every bookstore in Kyoto sold out of the Japanese edition of World on the Edge.

From Kyoto, Lester headed to Beijing to launch the Chinese edition of World on the Edge, published by Shanghai Scientific & Technological Education. His first stop was to keynote a conference on alternative fuels at Beihang University’s Energy and Environment International Center, where he was appointed an advisor. Afterwards, he was interviewed by CCTV NewsChinese edition of World on the Edge

In what has become a routine stop for Lester when in Beijing, he gave a presentation at Bookworm Bookstore, one of the gathering places for expats.

Concluding his time in Beijing, Lester spoke to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China at The Netherlands Embassy. His talk, which was well received by the correspondents, was on why food prices may keep rising.

Spanish edition of World on the EdgeLester is now back at work on two books, one planned for release this September is entitled Full Planet, Empty Plates.

So stay in touch!


Reah Janise Kauffman

P.S. JUST IN! The Spanish edition of World on the Edge is available. Copies can be ordered from the Centre of Studies for Sustainable Development (CEID), Carrera 7 # 237 – 04, Bogotá, Colombia Email: [email protected]

Posted by Reah Janise on 02/23 at 10:01 AM

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Monday, February 06, 2012

On Sunday, February 12, Lester Brown will be inducted into the Earth Hall of Fame Kyoto.

This prestigious award is given in recognition of the achievements of people who have contributed to the conservation of the global environment. The significance of the award being given in Kyoto, Japan, is that this city is the birthplace of the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto is also a beautiful city, with its temples, shrines, and gardens, designed around the truth that “man is part of nature, and his life comes from nature.” Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple located in Matsuo, Nishikyō Ward

The award, which was first given in 2010, was begun as a way to affirm that all people, regions, and countries have a share in solving our planet’s environmental problems. Thus those who receive the award are people who have worked on behalf of Earth.

Temple in KyotoThe theme for 2012 is on the global commons and commemorates last year’s catastrophic disasters in the Tohoku region of Japan.

This is the third year of the award. Inductees in 2010 were Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and chairperson of the United Nations’ World Commission on Environment and Development, whose 1987 report, “Our Common Future,” advocated the concept of sustainable development; Syukuro Manabe who developed a model used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Climate Change to project global warming; and Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, for her untiring efforts to promote coexistence with the environment. 

Inductees in 2011 were Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics, who proved that management of communal resources is most effective when a community with vested interests in the resource plays a complementary management role; His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Kingdom of Bhutan, who proposed the concept of Gross National Happiness, stressing a “better way of life” respecting both culture and nature; and Masazumi Harada, who has conducted social medical research on environmental pollution issues beginning with Minamata disease.

Klaus Toepfer, Head of UNEPThis year’s inductees are Lester Brown and Klaus Töpfer

Klaus Töpfer is Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Known for promoting environmental and sustainable development, Töpfer believes that environmental policy is the peace policy of the future. As Germany's Minister of Environment, he introduced groundbreaking environmental regulations and laws, including the life-cycle economy and "Green dot." He actively contributed to the success of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and was a forerunner in the negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the establishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The Earth Forum Kyoto, which oversees this award, is the result of the cooperation between the prefectural government and many of Kyoto’s universities and research organizations.

The Earth Hall of Fame Kyoto Management Council is comprised of Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Japanese Ministry of the Environment, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, International Institute for Advanced Studies, and the Kyoto International Conference Center.

Congratulations to Lester and Klaus Töpfer.


Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 02/06 at 10:25 AM

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

As noted in our previous blogs, we rely on a network of publishers to translate and publish our publications, thus helping us to reach a global audience. Hamid Taravati, who translates and arranges for our books to be published in Iran, sent us an email recently updating us on some of the environmental work going on there. He is also a member of our Board. The following are excerpts from his letter.

Farsi edition of Eco-Economy

A few weeks ago I received a call from Jahad Daneshgahi, a semi-governmental organization that is the publisher of Plan B and other Lester books and is very close to Iran reformists, asking me when the translation of the World on the Edge would be finished. That was the third time they had called to ask this. I apologized for the delay and promised to deliver the edited text soon. This seldom happens in Iran, a country where the rate of book reading is terribly low. Normally it is writers and translators, especially for scientific books, who ask the publishers, many times, and insist a lot to convince them to publish their books. But for Lester books it is different. At the end, the caller said, "People want to know what will happen next."

Around two weeks ago Farzaneh and I were invited to a meeting in which three distinguished agronomists and university professors were present. They had selected us to be honorary members of the board of a new organization established to issue licenses for bio farmers. [The first such organization in Iran.] At dinner, Professor Koochaki, one of the most prominent agronomy professors of Iran and author of many academic books, asked me about Plan B goals and said that your books—Lester's books—have been the most impressive books he had ever read in the environment field because they are so "comprehensive."

A few months ago I was invited to a conference to talk about environmental ethics. I quoted Mones Sperber, the German psychologist and philosopher, who says “When a society is confronted with a crisis—environmental, social or political, like confronting a despotic government—the best way to get out of it is not to focus on misery, devastation, crime, etc.—bad news—but to show how we can get out of that, to create hope. Then people will move."

People want to know what will happen to their life. They need to have a complete picture of what is happening, good or bad, and to know in what direction they should go. This is what Lester provides, and they absorb it with much enthusiasm. There are many scientists whose books are taught at Iran universities, but those who have read Lester's books have a prejudice to that. I am glad that Lester has started writing his autobiography and I think it will have an important effect on environmentalists. As the Board has discussed last year: "Lester has been one of the very first to promote sustainable development and making it popular."  People who have impressed the human community in their real life are the best candidates to write an autobiography. And I am glad that the book will be published by the EPI. I eagerly expect to receive it and start translating immediately.

Another important point is that EPI always uses its own human resources for research and writing, so EPI is recognized as an independent center of producing new environmental reports and insight. This is a precious principle for every research institute.

We live in a part of the globe where nothing comes to one's mind except bad thoughts! I think that in the coming year the world will be expecting horrific events—environmental and social. I hope they will not destroy everything we have. One of the most important is the food crisis.  The price of food is increasing so rapidly in this country that is worrisome. The price of a loaf of bread which used to be 45 Tooman is now 450 Tooman, ten times more. Also Iran is producing 1 million cars a year. It takes 12 to 14 hours to go from Tehran, the capital, to Chalus on the Caspian Sea, by car on holidays and the distance is only 150 Km [about 93 miles]. The reason is that there are too many cars.

Finally I want to thank Lester, and all of you, for the great work that you are doing. We normally post an email each week to all the Iranian NGO's and to our fans and friends, containing an article from EPI or part of the Plan B's books. This is the only thing that can now be done here since nobody reads the existing newspapers. What I receive in response is very encouraging, supportive and comforting. I hope EPI will become more popular day by day and Lester, as one of the most influential thinkers of the world, will guide us to the new routes of breaking the vicious circle of population growth, poverty and environmental degradation.

All the best,


Hamid and others like him are our inspiration. Through their personal sacrifices, they are making a difference. It is largely because of the work of Hamid and Farzaneh that environmental issues are front and center in Iran. They have provided the information.

So, to all who are similarly working, thank you!


Reah Janise Kauffman


Posted by Reah Janise on 01/04 at 11:10 AM


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