Thursday, March 03, 2011
Today’s news and opinions seem to be increasingly mixed. What is news? What is opinion? Where are the facts? The data?
We at the Earth Policy Institute are keenly aware of the need to back up everything we say with real data. In fact, while our books have relatively few graphs or tables, we post online all of the supporting data available for all to use.
Our newest book, World on the Edge, is a shorter book than the last three editions in the Plan B series. One might think, therefore, that we would have less data. In fact, the opposite is true. Our indefatigable research team has compiled even more data sets.
Over the next few months, we’ll be highlighting some of this data. Last week, for instance, we released our first set looking at
• gross world product,
• the number of undernourished people in the world,
• the grains price index (check out the graph that shows the recent price spike—one that is likely to climb),
• the number of high-ranking failing states,
• budgets for meeting social and earth restoration goals compared to the global military budget (a chart that should cause alarm everywhere on how much we spend for military purposes compared with the future of our planet and people),
• world energy growth rates by source (a surprising shift toward renewable energy), and
• Plan B carbon dioxide emissions goals by 2020 (it can be done; we need leadership and public support).
A few weeks ago we released a PowerPoint presentation highlighting a few of the most urgent threats to our global food supply and the trends that created them.
This week, we released a PowerPoint presentation that is basically a summary in slide version of World on the Edge. It explains the threats facing our civilization and how we got to this point, and it presents a plan for how to get out of this dangerous situation. It’s a great supplement for educators. (See our Action Center for examples of how people are using our research.)
We encourage you to view the presentations and data to gain a basic understanding of the issues at hand and how a new “Plan B” strategy can address them. We have also designed them to be shared. So please feel free to use them in your own presentations in the classroom, on the lecture circuit, and to whatever group you believe is appropriate.
Meanwhile, we are keeping track of the trends, both positive and negative, and will keep reporting on them.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Thursday, February 03, 2011
In today’s (February 3, 2011) Financial Times, Ed Crooks reviewed World on the Edge by Lester Brown, saying that it “manages to cover both the grand sweep of global trends and the fine detail of some of the ideas being developed in response.”
He also calls it “a provocative primer on some of the key global issues that businesses will face in the coming decades.”
“It provides a persuasive vision of the markets that are likely to present the greatest challenges, and the technologies and business models that have the greatest potential, in a world of escalating environmental and social problems.”
With concerns about global food security, we appreciate Crooks calling attention to two of the main inputs – water and cultivable land – which are becoming scarce. He writes, “Brown suggests that as well as nearing “peak oil” – the point at which global oil supplies can no longer be increased, and start to decline – we may also be approaching “peak water”.
“With 219,000 people being added to the world population every day, that will mean higher and increasingly volatile prices for water and food, and heightened international tensions over those issues. It will also create an urgent demand for new ideas for water supply, and improved productivity of water use.”
Crooks also notes that Lester provides solutions. “Like others in the new generation of “green business” book authors, he highlights the importance of raising energy efficiency: the one action companies can take that is just about guaranteed to improve the bottom line as well as helping the planet.”
“Trust in energy efficiency as a solution to environmental problems,” notes Crooks, “has come under attack recently because of what are known as “rebound effects”: if energy is used more efficiently, then its productivity increases, so businesses tend to use more of it. That only really applies if the price of energy remains constant, however, and in today’s world that seems unlikely. Brown’s examples, from the Empire State Building to China’s high-speed railways, give a good sense of how broadly the concept can be applied.”
“World on the Edge is a pretty good guide to what is likely to be a turbulent world.”
Next Wednesday, Lester will be speaking at Harvard's Center on the Environment and at the Cambridge Forum. See our Events page.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Thursday, January 27, 2011
As this blog goes to post, Lester Brown is in the final hours of a visit to London to release the Earthscan edition of World on the Edge, meeting with reporters, and giving a Linacre public lecture at Oxford.
The launching of World on the Edge in the United States (W.W. Norton) just two weeks ago has stirred quite a bit of interest. One of the main reasons is that Lester is focusing on the food production bubble and rising food prices. This is one of his areas of expertise, having long studied the food/population equation. And, as events earlier this year have shown, like the price of wheat hitting an all-time high in the United Kingdom, food riots in Algeria, and Mexico buying corn futures, this is likely to be our first global crisis. See his article in Foreign Policy entitled “The Great Food Crisis of 2011.”
As Lester points out when studying the archeological records of earlier civilizations we find that more often than not it was food shortages that led to their downfall. Food appears to be the weak link for our global civilization as well. The question is not whether the food bubble will burst but when. While we might not be able to predict the exact date, all indications are that it is not decades away but any time.
How much time we have is one of the questions Lester looks at in World on the Edge. And in looking at food, he notes that while prices may fluctuate, they will very likely increase because the food bubble is based on environmental trends that cannot be sustained, including overpumping aquifers, overplowing land, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. In World on the Edge, Lester outlines other areas of concern, such as the melting of glaciers, rising sea level, soil erosion, the conversion of farmland for roads and parking lots, climate change, and population growth. The solutions he outlines are clear and can be undertaken today with existing technologies.
To give you a sense of how the book is being received, take a look at some of the early kudos we’ve received.
And here are links to some early reviews of the book:
By Robert Walker, Executive Vice President of The Population Institute
By Ted Glick, Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and co-founder of the Climate Crisis Coalition
By Bryan Walker of Celsias’s Clean Techies Blog.
And some news coverage:
January 17, 2011
“World is ‘one poor harvest’ from chaos, new book warns,” Karen Zeitvogel for Agence France Presse
January 19, 2011
"Beyond the Eternal Food Fight," Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times: Dot Earth
January 17, 2011
"Walker’s World: The U.S., China, and food," Martin Walker, Editor Emeritus of United Press International
January 14, 2011
"A Global Effort to Keep Food Prices from Soaring Higher," interview by Steve Mufson, The Washington Post
January 13, 2011
"In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold," by Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service
January 12, 2011
"One poor harvest away from chaos," by Geoffrey Lean, The Telegraph
January 12, 2011
"The ‘food bubble’ is bursting, says Lester Brown, and biotech won’t save us" by Tom Philpott, Grist
January 12, 2011
"Food for thought," Deborah Zabarenko, Reuter’s Environment Forum blog
Lester’s next travel will be to Boston where he will be speaking at the Cambridge Forum. To keep up with his speaking events, see our Events page.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
A couple weeks ago, we talked about our research program at the Institute. Now I’d like to talk a bit about our outreach work. Because it will take an enormous dissemination effort to guide the global transition to a Plan B economy, we promote our work through a combination of a worldwide network of media contacts, publishers, and the Internet.
Publishing and Book Releases
Our books are the foundation for reaching a global constituency. Thus far, our books have been published in 28 languages.
Key to these translations is helping to launch them. Thus, this year Lester Brown spent the month of May and part of June launching the German, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese editions of Plan B 4.0. During this trip, he also gave presentations in The Netherlands and Romania, where he also received an honorary degree and was elected an honorary member of the Romanian Academy of Sciences, and in Denver where he received the Hero Award from the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado. The trip was planned around an invitation to speak in Rotterdam at a conference designed around promoting investment in a Plan B economy. The sponsor is a convert to Plan B. Working with pension fund managers, he has subsequently set up three Plan B investment funds and is working on others.
Lester also launched the Spanish edition in Bogotá, Colombia, a trip that included a stop in Mexico City where he gave a standing-room-only presentation to 1,200 plus.
Working closely with the world's major news organizations, we have generated over 25,000 news clips since we began in 2001. Our researchers have given nearly 500 interviews for radio and television, including national and international networks such as ABC, the BBC World Service, Voice of America, CNN International, and Al Jazeera, CCTV, NHK TV.
Our policy of free access to our research also means that it is being posted on more and more websites and blogs.
On our EPI in the News page, you can find a number of articles, podcasts, and videos featuring our work and researchers weighing in on the issues. The following are just a few selections.
* a discussion between Lester Brown and Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute
* Lester’s July talk at the Citizens Climate Lobby National Conference
* an interview with Lester on peak water consumption
* an interview with Lester on Japan’s Green TV
* Janet Larsen’s National Journal blog on Plan B
* an interview with Lester by Christina Larson in Foreign Policy
* Lester talking with Tom Weiss (Ride for Renewables) on the importance of political action
The most exciting film this year was the completion of Plan B, the documentary by Marilyn and Hal Weiner, Emmy award-winning producers. An educational edition of this 83-minute film is available. It will also be aired in the United States on PBS on March 30, 2011. Here’s a clip from the film.
Other outstanding documentary films in which Lester was a leading participant included Climate Refugees, produced by Michael Nash, which received a lot of attention at the Sundance Festival, and Dirty Oil, a Babelgum production about the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.
As any of you who have spent time in our website can testify, we have a huge amount of meticulously researched material available for free. With every new book, we post the data that backs up every fact. We are in the process of doing this now for World on the Edge. You can expect to see the data uploaded and ready for searching on January 5 when the book is released. We will also have the book posted for downloading.
Interested in an electronic version for your e-reader? That’s available, too. Our publisher W.W. Norton has made it available through iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Sony.
People in Action
The Institute’s goal is to generate public awareness and support for Plan B. That goal is being picked up by people around the world and implemented in a number of ways. We invite you to read about them on our People in Action page.
You can help us keep this flow of important research moving with a tax-deductible donation.
Meanwhile, stay tuned ... there's a lot to look forward to in 2011!
Reah Janise Kauffman
Monday, December 06, 2010
In December, we take time to reflect on the year soon to pass. In this and a subsequent blog, I’d like to give you a sense of what we’ve accomplished this year.
Since its inception, Earth Policy Institute has worked to provide a roadmap—Plan B—for saving civilization. We continue to refine Plan B and to support it with the latest scientific data. Human behavior changes either in response to new information or new experience. We disseminate new information through various publications to guide the process of change. Our goal is to generate visibility and to build public support for global action to stabilize climate, stabilize population, and rebuild the economy’s natural support systems.
The Research Agenda
For about half of the year, our research team was consumed with the questions of how much time we have left before our global civilization unravels and how we save civilization. These questions led to a massive research effort fueling a new book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester Brown, which went to our publishers in late October for release in early January 2011.
The team also maintained a flow of Plan B Updates, Eco-Economy Indicators, Book Bytes, and Data Highlights. Two of the Plan B Updates were released at press teleconferences. The first, released in January, was on how the U.S. car fleet shrank by four million vehicles in 2009. Could America’s love affair with the automobile be coming to an end? Lester noted several reasons for this decline, including market saturation, ongoing urbanization, economic uncertainty, oil insecurity, the prospect of higher gasoline prices, the rising costs of traffic congestion, mounting concerns about climate change, and the declining interest in cars among young people who have grown up in cities. We were the first to note this shift, which led to a large number of global media reports.
The second Update was looking at how out of sync the natural world has become due to climate change. Janet Larsen noted that with climate change springtime is arriving earlier and altering the timing of key life-cycle events. Because species are adjusting at different rates, this is disrupting the dance that connects predator and prey, butterfly and blossom, fish and phytoplankton, and the entire web of life.
We responded to the Russian heat wave and fires with an Update in early August entitled “Rising Temperatures Raise Food Prices: Heat, Drought, and a Failed Harvest in Russia.” About 30 reporters were on the teleconference call, generating extensive media coverage including Time, OneWorld, The San Francisco Chronicle, Climate Progress, The Energy Bulletin, TreeHugger, The Moscow Times, Politico, Voice of America, and UPI. It also led to an AP feature in October on the global food situation.
Our research team also released Eco-Economy Indicators on global temperature (the past decade was the hottest on record, wind power (a record year for cumulative installed wind power capacity, and carbon emissions (an overall drop, even though emissions in China grew by nearly 9 percent.
The seven Data Highlights released thus far in 2010 sometimes garnered more press coverage than an Update or Indicator. For instance, the data highlight released on January 21, “U.S. Feeds One Quarter of its Grain to Cars While Hunger is on the Rise,” was reported on in over 75 online news sources. These highlights draw attention to the wealth of data available on the Institute’s website. Along this line, the team updated the popular PowerPoint Plan B presentation with Plan B 4.0 data and information.
The research team also released 26 Book Bytes gleaned from Plan B 4.0. These return considerable feedback and comments from readers and are reposted on websites as well as reprinted in magazines.
We are now prioritizing our research for 2011. You can help us keep this flow of important research moving with a tax-deductible donation.
Meanwhile, stay tuned!
Reah Janise Kauffman
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tom Weis, Ride for Renewables, has been cycling from Colorado to Washington to promote a 100% U.S. renewable electricity grid by 2020. Tom met Lester Brown a few years ago in Colorado and has been a big fan of Lester’s work Plan B ever since.
He’s taken the Plan B message of cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 along with Bill McKibben’s call of 350 ppm and pulled them into his call for a 100 percent renewable energy grid.
He has been pedaling a “rocket trike.” This human-powered recumbent tricycle is wrapped in an aerodynamic body. He said he chose this particular trike “because it represents to me the creative potential of humans to do things differently. And it’s fun.”
He’s getting great print and television coverage. At each stop he calls on people to sign his petition calling for 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.
In talking with him recently, he said that everyone he has met on the trip agrees with his goal—from farmers in small towns to the members of Chambers of Commerce—and about needing to ramp up renewable energy now. (Read his blog.)
They are worried about our future—and that of their children—and they are ready for a bold message. Perhaps we are ready for Plan B!
Reah Janise Kauffman
P.S. Check out this YouTube interview Tom did with Lester.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Yesterday we hosted a brown bag lunch with Jonathan Watts, author of When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save the World—or Destroy It.
Jonathan has been living in China since 2003 and in his job as the Asian reporter for the Guardian has traveled from mountain paradises to industrial wastelands, visiting tiger farms, melting glaciers, cancer villages, science parks, coal mines, and eco-cities. What he details in his book is an environment in crisis. His interviews with high-ranking officials and ordinary individuals puts a face on this country that has become a global economic powerhouse and a massive emitter of carbon dioxide.
His experiences and insights into the jumps China has made and is making economically and environmentally—the good and the devastating—underpin the information in this highly readable and eye-opening book. What it comes down to is something Lester Brown wrote about in his 1995 book Who Will Feed China? When you multiply anything by a billion it is a lot.
Lester’s book analyzed the effect of China coming into the world grain market in a huge way—and how China could easily purchase most of the world’s exportable supplies of grain, leaving other grain-importing countries scrambling.
Lester’s analysis is now coming true. On November 4, it was reported that food prices were going up. The main reason? The demand for meat in China is driving up prices for grain, which in turn leads to higher prices for all of the products related to grain: chicken, steak, bread, pasta, even eggs. (See articles in the Wall Street Journal and China Daily.)
Lester has continued to follow the developments in China. See Plan B Updates Learning from China: Why the Western Economic Model Will Not Work for the World and China Replacing the United States as World's Leading Consumer. He has also written about China’s massive renewable energy projects, including the seven wind mega-complexes being created in six provinces that will have a combined generating capacity of nearly 130 gigawatts—the equivalent of China building a new coal plant every week for two and a half years.
What Lester and Jonathan agree on is that is all comes back to the question of what kind of a world we want to leave for future generations and what we are prepared to do to make it possible.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Over the past six months Lester Brown and our amazing research team has been working on a new book. Now that we have put it into the hands of our publishers, we can tell you about it.
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse will be released in January 2011. If you pre-order your copy today, you can get it in December.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1, On the Edge:
The media described the 2010 heat wave in Russia and the flooding in Pakistan as natural disasters. But were they? Climate scientists have been saying for some time that rising temperatures would bring more extreme climate events. Ecologists have warned that as human pressures on ecosystems mount and as forests and grasslands are destroyed, flooding will be more severe.
The signs that our civilization is in trouble are multiplying. During most of the 6,000 years since civilization began we lived on the sustainable yield of the earth’s natural systems. But in recent decades humanity has overshot the level that those systems can sustain.
We are liquidating the earth’s natural assets to fuel our consumption. Half of us live in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry. Soil erosion exceeds soil formation on one third of the world’s cropland, draining the land of its fertility. The world’s ever-growing herds of cattle, sheep, and goats are converting vast stretches of grassland to desert. Forests are shrinking by 13 million acres per year as we clear land for agriculture and cut trees for lumber and paper. Four fifths of oceanic fisheries are being fished at capacity or overfished and headed for collapse. In system after system, demand is overshooting supply.
Meanwhile, with our massive burning of fossil fuels, we are overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2), pushing the earth’s temperature ever higher. This in turn generates more frequent and more extreme climatic events, including crop-withering heat waves, more intense droughts, more severe floods, and more destructive storms.
The earth’s rising temperature is also melting polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers. If the Greenland ice sheet, which is melting at an accelerating rate, were to melt entirely, it would inundate the rice-growing river deltas of Asia and many of the world’s coastal cities. It is the ice melt from the mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau that helps sustain the dry-season flow of the major rivers in India and China—the Ganges, Yangtze, and Yellow Rivers— and the irrigation systems that depend on them.
We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Can we think systemically and fashion policies accordingly? Can we move fast enough to avoid economic decline and collapse? Can we change direction before we go over the edge?
That’s what World on the Edge is all about. We’ve posted the Table of Contents and Chapter 1 online so you can get a preview of the book.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
In 1972, Lester Brown, then a Senior Fellow with the Overseas Development Council, a private, nonprofit organization he’d helped found, penned the first book ever published on globalization—before the term was even coined.
We recently unearthed a 30-minute television discussion Lester gave shortly after the book was published. This black-and-white film might seem dated, but just listen to the subjects discussed. A world without borders is one “which recognizes the common destiny of all mankind.”
The following is an excerpt from the book—as true today as it was then:
The nation-state with its sacred borders brings with it a concept of territorial discrimination which is increasingly in conflict with both the emerging social values of modern man and the circumstances in which he finds himself. It says, for instance, that we can institutionalize the transfer of resources from rich to poor within national societies, but not among societies. The poor on the other side of a national border are somehow less needful or less deserving than those inside the border. If we consider ourselves as members of a human family, can we continue to justify territorial discrimination any more than religious or racial discrimination?
The dimensions of the problems confronting late twentieth century man are unique in their scale. Man has always experienced catastrophes—famines, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions—but they were local and temporary. Over time, more and more crises have become global in character. Only in this century have wars been world wars; only in recent decades, with such scientific “breakthroughs” as the detonation of the atomic bomb, has man acquired the capacity to threaten the entire species.
We live in an age when problems are increasingly worldwide—the world food problem, threat of world inflation, world population problem, world environmental crisis, world monetary crisis, world drug problem, and so forth. Few, if any, of mankind’s more pressing problems have purely national solutions. They can be solved only through multinational or global cooperation. No country can protect the value of its currency or the health of its people without the extensive cooperation of other countries. Even our daily weather can be influenced by man’s activities elsewhere in the world. The earth’s ecosystem will continue to support human life only if countries can cooperate to eventually limit the discharge of waste materials.
As rapid population growth in much of the world continues, mankind’s backlog of unsolved problems is growing. Questions of global poverty, rising numbers of unemployed and massive rural-urban migration in the poor countries, and a global ecosystem showing signs of acute stress, emerge before our expanded consciousness. Each promises to worsen in the years immediately ahead.
Given the scale and complexity of these problems, the remainder of the twentieth century will at best be a traumatic period for mankind, even with a frontal attack on the principal threats to human well-being. At worst it will be catastrophic. At issue is whether we can grasp the nature and dimensions of the emerging threats to our well-being, whether we can create an integrated global economy and a workable world order, and whether we can reorder global priorities so that the quality of life will improve rather than deteriorate.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
What a busy time. Two weeks ago Lester Brown traveled to Montreal to give presentations at the World Energy Congress, where he also participated in CNBC's "Energy Opportunities" program before flying to Zurich to speak at the Swiss Management Association's Forum. His message: we must shift to renewable energy.
This week finds him traveling again. In Mexico City, he is giving a lecture at the prestigious Miguel Aleman Foundation to nearly 1,000 people. The foundation was named for Miguel Aleman Valdez, one of Mexico’s more dynamic presidents. The presentation, happening tonight, will be broadcast live on Mexico’s Channel 34 and streamed on the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico’s website.
Tomorrow he flies to Bogota, Colombia, where he will launch the Spanish edition of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. The translator and publisher is CEID Colombia, an educational consultancy organization on environment and sustainable development. Gilberto Rincon had heard Lester speak at a conference in Ottawa, Canada, and had gotten a copy of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. The book fit in so well with his organization’s goals that he asked if they could publish a Spanish edition.
Since that edition, CEID Colombia also published Plan B 3.0 and now Plan B 4.0. Even before the book was off the press, Giuseppe LaManna ordered 300 copies, which he will distribute to people attending his presentations on global warming. LaManna advocates cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 and scaling emissions down to 350 ppm (parts per million).
CEID has arranged a number of television interviews for Lester in addition to holding the III International Congress on the Environment, where the Spanish edition will be officially launched.
But the busy-ness will not stop when Lester returns because on Sunday, October 10 (10/10/10) he will participate in a rally in Washington, DC. This “Get to Work” rally, sponsored by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, is part of 350.org’s Global Work Party. The rally is part of 350.org’s campaign to push cutting carbon dioxide emissions back to 350 ppm, which is considered the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Currently we’re at 388 ppm, which will accelerate the pace at which the globe is warming. The Global Work Party is designed to be a day to celebrate clean energy solutions.
Lester will be joined at the podium by Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, Joe Romm of Climate Progress, and a number of others. They will be calling on President Obama to get to work on leading a national and global policy push toward 350 ppm.
Earth Policy Institute’s global plan to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 is one of the ways to make this happen.
Reah Janise Kauffman