Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Lester Brown’s first book was entitled Man, Land, and Food. Published in 1963, it started off as a suggestion from his branch chief, Quentin West, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). At the time, they were in the Asia branch of the Economic Research Service. West asked Lester to put together agricultural supply and demand projections for Asia to the end of the century.
Lester was always interested in the big picture, and he realized that unless you know the relative supply and demand relationships in the rest of the world, you wouldn’t know if commodities would flow into or out of the region. To obtain correct projections, he would need to include data for the world. Thus the projections would necessarily have to be world supply and demand projections. Unfortunately because he worked for the Asia branch by rights that was all he was allowed to cover. The USDA was a bureaucracy and everyone had a specialty.
After a few weeks of back and forth discussion on these points, West said he would provide cover for Lester to do the global projections. For the next six months that is what he did while continuing to do his work as a regional economist.
By the end of 1962 he finished the study, and entitled it Man, Land, and Food: Looking Ahead at World Food Needs. He’d also included a population dimension. The trick now was to get it published. In entered the bureaucracy. The regional director said he couldn’t send it for publication because the other branches—Latin America, Europe, Africa, etc.—didn’t know the study existed and since Lester was doing their projections, they wouldn’t agree to it. (Turf wars!)
But the regional director knew it was a good study. So when he went on vacation a couple months later, he appointed West as acting regional director, letting him know that if he wanted to send the study for publication, it would be his call. And that’s what West did. The cat, in essence, was out of the bag and conflict came in its wake, but it didn’t stop the presses.
However, despite the fact that the book was getting printed, Lester knew it could still get deep-sixed, because it dealt with population and at the time the U.S. government did not touch population issues. He needed a strategy to keep it from being buried, so he turned to the media. Getting a good article published about the report would keep it alive.
So, before the book was off the press, Lester contacted the U.S. News and World Report, thinking the magazine might be a good fit because it frequently used graphics and data in its articles. He met with one of their agricultural reporters and went over a copy of the study, even giving a precious copy to the reporter. In the age before the copy machine or PDFs, it was a carbon copy. However, the reporter didn’t seem too engaged with the ideas.
To Lester’s surprise, a couple weeks later the reporter came back with his senior editor. They called the book a pioneering work, the first time anyone had tried to project world agriculture—land, water, food, fertilizer, and population—to the end of the century. This all happened in September/October of 1963. The article was slated for release in the last issue of November 1963.
And here history intervened. As many may remember, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The media focused their attention on the assassination, the appointment of the Warren Commission, Vice President Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President, which Cabinet members would stay, which would leave, policy changes, etc. And the article on Lester’s book seemed to have been forgotten.
When Christmas came along, Lester, his wife Shirley Ann, and their three-year-old son Brian, went as they always did to his in-law’s Wyoming ranch. They took the train. A week later, Lester returned to work while his wife and son stayed in Wyoming for another week. At the newsstand in the Cheyenne train station he picked up the January 6, 1964 issue of U.S. News & World Report. It carried two cover stories. One was on the great train robbery in London where $14 million had been stolen. The second was “The Changing Food World Prospect,” the four-page article on Lester’s book. The article made news around the world.
And suddenly a rather obscure economic analyst came to the attention of the Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman. Freeman and his staff wondered who this Lester Brown was and who’d authorized the study. As Lester said, “It was never budgeted for. After I finished it, it existed, but it didn’t exist, because it was never on any schedule or any plan of work. It was sort of in between worlds. I was entirely outside the realm of being a proper bureaucrat, doing an unauthorized study at the global level, when my responsibility was only in Asia.”
The end result was that Secretary Freeman appointed him as his Foreign Policy Advisor, which eventually became an appointment as Administrator of the International Agricultural Development Service. Lester had always had the goal of understanding world agriculture and all that went with it. Man, Land, and Food was one of the first major manifestations of this.
And as his latest book attests, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, he is still looking at the big picture.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
We sometimes get comments from readers wondering how we are able to stay optimistic about the the world implementing Plan B. While it does sometimes seem like a Sisyphean task against partisan politics and the fossil-fuel industries, there are glimmers of hope.
Beyond Zero Emissions based in Australia was established to reduce our levels of atmospheric greenhouse emissions NOW. Their core goal is to facilitate the implementation of the social changes and technologies that will reduce the impacts of climate change and give our society and global ecosystems a chance of surviving into the future. They have developed a plan to make Australia fully renewable by 2020. The plan was covered by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Oberlin College and the City of Oberlin in Ohio have launched the “Oberlin Project,” a working model of sustainability that integrates economic revitalization, greenbuilding, education, agriculture, forestry, public policy, renewable energy, and finance into an integrated system. The four main goals are to:
(1) develop a 13-acre block in the center of the city as a “Green Arts District” beyond the LEED Platinum level for neighborhood development and use that development to catalyze a prosperous city-wide economy;
(2) develop a post-carbon energy system for both the city and the College based on efficiency and renewable energy;
(3) develop a 20,000 acre greenbelt around the city to revive local agriculture and forestry; and
(4) create the most exciting educational experiment in the U.S. by using the entire effort as an educational laboratory for all students in the Oberlin area.
Oberlin is transforming into a vibrant downtown, a resilient economy powered by efficiency and renewable energy, a model of integrated sustainable development, an exciting educational laboratory, and a catalyst for change throughout the upper Mid-West.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Shanghai has launched a Low Carbon City initiative, catalyzing various stakeholders to improve energy efficiency (industry, construction, and transportation) as well as develop renewable energy features that work within the city.
Scholars in China have developed Plan C, based on Lester Brown’s pioneering work in Plan B, which is intended to bring China into the 21st century, enhancing social and economic development, but not at the expense of the environment.
We are also energized by people committed to on-the-ground action. For instance, 350.org has launched "A Day to Celebrate Climate Solutions." Over a thousand groups have registered their plans to hold a Work Party on October 10, 2010. Many will pressure leaders to pass strong climate change policies that promote clean energy and reduce emissions. Anyone can register a Work Party in their community. Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org was recently on the David Leterman show.
Yet another activity that gives us hope is the near-moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States. As of the end of 2009, this movement, begun by activists and helped by the Sierra Club, has resulted in the derailment of 109 of 151 proposed plants. Protest is effective. To read about this inspiring movement see Climate Hope: On the Front Lines of the Fight Against Coal by Ted Nace. We weighed in on the movement in two Plan B Updates, one by Lester Brown and the other by Jonathan Dorn.
Because of initiatives such as these, which are a tiny fraction of what is happening, we remain optimistic that eventually we can turn things around. Yes, the environmental movement has taken some big hits recently on climate change, but progress is being made. We all need to do our part. For examples of what you can do to promote a Plan B world go to our What You Can Do page.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Monday, August 23, 2010
Just a few days ago we passed a sad marker for Earth. According to Global Footprint Network calculations, humanity reached Earth Overshoot Day: the day of the year when human demand on the biosphere exceeded what it can regenerate.
As of August 21, Global Footprint Network said that “humanity has demanded all the ecological services – from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food – that nature can regenerate this year. For the rest of the year, we will meet our ecological demand by depleting resource stocks and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network, said, “If you spent your entire annual income in nine months, you would probably be extremely concerned. The situation is no less dire when it comes to our ecological budget. Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages are all clear signs: We can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing.”
Watch a video on overshoot. Calculate your own Ecological Footprint and learn what you can do to reduce it.
Lester Brown says, "Saving civilization is not a spectator sport."
Reah Janise Kauffman
Monday, August 16, 2010
American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) takes place each August in Aspen, Colorado. The organizers, Chip Cumins and Sally Ranney, gather leading thinkers and doers for this three-day summit. This year’s theme is “Creating a Clean Energy Economy at Speed and Scale.”
Lester Brown will be Thursday’s keynote luncheon speaker on August 19. Some of the other 80 presenters include Dr. Sylvia Earle, Amory Lovins, Ted Turner, Cathy Zoi, Tom Friedman, T. Boone Pickens, and James Cameron.
Some of the summit themes: creating climate wealth, renewable energy technology, food security, ocean systems, renewable energy finance, the lungs of the earth (forests), politics of climate change, and youth and climate.
AREDAY always has an environmental film festival to reinforce the conference theme. This year’s films are The Cove, Into the Cold, Climate Refugees, and Avatar.
There will also be an expo—free to the public—featuring energy displays and demonstrations. Registration is required for all other events.
To keep up with future appearances of Lester’s, check our Events page.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
In 1968 when Lester Brown was 34 years old and Administrator of the International Agricultural Development Service under Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman, he was asked to speak at the University of South Dakota on the world food prospect. The presentation was filmed.
We recently unearthed the 16-mm film and digitized it, dividing the 60-minute presentation into four sections.
If you didn’t catch it the first time around in 1968, here’s your chance!
Reah Janise Kauffman
Thursday, July 22, 2010
The last week in May, after receiving the Hero Award from the Colorado Sustainable Alliance in Denver and a few days of R&R with his family, Lester Brown began the final two legs of his five-week trip launching various editions of Plan B 4.0 in other countries.
Waiting in Tokyo and ready with a jam-packed itinerary was Soki Oda, EPI’s publisher. (For more information on Soki, see our earlier blog.) Also waiting in Tokyo was Janet Larsen, our Director of Research. Lester had invited her to accompany him during the last two weeks so that she could meet with some of the people she’s been communicating with for a number of years.
Arriving a day before Lester allowed Janet time to get into the Tsukiji Market, the world's largest fish market. She "only" had to get up early enough to be in line before 4:30 AM (opening time) to be one of the first 140 people the market allowed in to watch the day's tuna auction. (Jet lag can be useful!)
One of Lester’s first meetings was with Toshishige and Masatsugu Kurosawa, brothers who own the Ikari Corporation. Lester calls them the Ted Turner of Japan in that they are strong supporters of the Institute in Japan and regularly distribute copies of the Japanese editions of the Institute’s books. In fact, they are distributing 1,500 copies of Plan B 4.0.
On Thursday, Janet and Lester traveled to Narashino, where Lester participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for an epidemiological institute being opened by the Ikari Corporation.
Lester presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Tokyo generated a number of news stories, mostly centered around how much geothermal energy potential Japan has.
Another interesting highlight was Lester’s presentation at Nagoya University, which has close ties with Toyota, being headquartered in Nagoya. The University plans to develop Plan N (for Nagoya) as an offshoot of Plan B.
One of the other speakers at the conference was Takeshi Uchiyamada from Toyota who was responsible for developing the Prius. Although he does not own a car, Lester has long been fascinated by the Prius and other hybrid and all-electric cars. Uchiyamada and his colleagues had been assigned to create a car for the 21st century. The idea of a hybrid car surfaced quickly, along with 80 designs, which were narrowed down to 20, then 4, and finally the car we see today. The person heading the project was particularly knowledgeable on power systems, resulting in the Prius’ unique integrated control system, which is what makes it so efficient. Interestingly, the sales people weren’t sure the car would sell very well.
We had a new publisher for the Chinese edition of Plan B 4.0, Shanghai Scientific & Technological Education. Working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) they set up a press event and lecture at the Expo in Shanghai on May 31. The conference was set up to also showcase WWF’s Low Carbon City initiative. Through this initiative WWF is catalyzing various stakeholders to improve energy efficiency (industry, construction, and transportation) as well as develop renewable energy features that work within a city.
Lester and Janet also met Zhu Dajian, who had written a Foreword for the Chinese edition of Plan B 4.0 where he called for the need to have a Plan C for China’s development. Professor Zhu and other scholars had initially developed Plan C in the wake of Lester’s original Plan B. It is a design to bring China into the 21st century, enhancing social and economic development, but not at the expense of the environment.
From Shanghai, Lester and Janet flew to Beijing where Lester gave presentations (see our Events page), including one at Bookworm Bookstore, a well-known bookshop for ex-pats in the Chao Yang district. They also met Professor Wang Tao, Director General of the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental & Engineering Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, with whom they talked about dust storms and China’s water situation.
Janet stayed on for a few days after Lester returned home, meeting with environmental NGOs in Beijing and giving a presentation on Plan B 4.0 at Beijing Normal University. She also took a little time to be a tourist, including a notable hike on the Great Wall.
Reah Janise Kauffman
P.S. A thankful but tired traveler.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
A news report coming out of the 2010 G20 Summit reported that “Every day governments give away an estimated two billion dollars of taxpayer money to the fossil-fuel industry.” (Stephen Leahy, Free Ride for Oil and Coal Industry May Be Over, IPS News)
This massive subsidy to the fossil-fuel industry not only is adding to climate change by rewarding the very energy sources that are helping to create it, but it is making it incredibly difficult for alternative energy sources to compete. It also deprives countries, especially those verging on bankruptcy, to feed and educate their population, attend to infrastructure needs, and more.
As Lester Brown says in Plan B 4.0:
A world facing economically disruptive climate change can no longer justify subsidies to expand the burning of coal and oil. Shifting these subsidies to the development of climate-benign energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal power will help stabilize the earth’s climate. Shifting subsidies from road construction to rail construction could increase mobility in many situations while reducing carbon emissions. And shifting the $22 billion in annual fishing industry subsidies, which encourage destructive overfishing, to the creation of marine parks to regenerate fisheries would be a giant step in restoring oceanic fisheries.
In a troubled world economy, where many governments are facing fiscal deficits, these proposed tax and subsidy shifts can help balance the books, create additional jobs, and save the economy’s eco-supports. Tax and subsidy shifting promises greater energy efficiency, cuts in carbon emissions, and reductions in environmental destruction—a win-win-win situation. A carbon tax on coal, for example, that fully incorporated the climate and health costs of burning it would lead to a quick phaseout. (From Chapter 10, “Can We Mobilize Fast Enough?”)
Our votes and our voices make a difference. Write to your political leaders about shifting subsidies away from environmentally destructive activities to climate-benign energy sources.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Earth Policy Institute has long been concerned about the increased melting of the earth’s mountain glaciers. While they would raise sea level only a matter of inches, the summer ice melt from these glaciers is what sustains many of the world’s rivers during the dry season. As glaciers recede and disappear entirely, large populations of people who rely on the melt water will be adversely affected. As temperature rises there will be a shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies. In early 2009 the University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service reported that 2007 marked the eighteenth consecutive year of glacier retreat. And glaciers are melting at double the rate of a decade ago.
Today’s New York Times environmental blog, Green, has a particularly compelling video on this melting: Then and Now: The Retreating Glaciers.
As Lester Brown writes in Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, mountain glaciers are melting in the Andes, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, and elsewhere, but nowhere does this melting threaten world food security more than in the Himalayas and on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, where the melting of glaciers could soon deprive the major rivers of India and China of the ice melt needed to sustain them during the dry season. In the Indus, Ganges, Yellow, and Yangtze River basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, this loss of dry-season flow will shrink harvests and could create unmanageable food shortages.
For more on this subject, see Chapter 3 in Plan B 4.0, available for free downloading.
The snow and ice masses in the world’s leading mountain ranges and the water they store are taken for granted simply because they have been there since agriculture began. As the earth gets hotter, we risk losing these “reservoirs in the sky” on which both farmers and cities depend.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Lester Brown stopped in Denver en route from Romania to Japan to receive the Hero of Sustainability Award from the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado. The event took place over a wonderful dinner at the Oxford Hotel. The Alliance called Brown "America's pioneering environmentalist." Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. kicked off the event with David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguised Professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, introducing Lester who spoke about Plan B.
On his return from Japan and China (more about this trip later), Lester was inducted into the University of Maryland's Alumni Hall of Fame, the most prestigious recognition the association bestows on its alumni. Every five years, 11 alumni “whose lifetime achievements reflect the excellence of the university" are selected for this honor. In April, Lester also received an alumni award from the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for his achievements.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Having authored or co-authored over 50 books and having been published in over 40 languages, Lester Brown often has a long history of being published in a number of countries. Italy and Romania are among this prestigious list, and in mid May Lester traveled to both countries to launch Plan B 4.0.
In Italy, the cornerstone contact has been Gianfranco Bologna, Cultural and Scientific Director of WWF Italy and Secretary General of the Fondazione Aurelio Peccei, the Italian section of the Club of Rome. The relationship between Lester and Gianfranco goes back over 30 years. Shortly after they met, Gianfranco began his role in finding publishers for Lester’s books, particularly the State of the World reports, of which he is the curator of the Italian edition. An author in his own right of several books on nature and sustainable development, he also heads the various translation teams, ensuring a high quality translation. When Lester has been in Italy to launch the editions, Gianfranco has coordinated with the publishing house to set up excellent presentations and media coverage. Because of his standing in Italy, Gianfranco and Lester often speak at the same major conferences.
For Plan B 3.0, Gianfranco was joined in the translation effort by a volunteer team headed by Dario Tamburrano of the Amici de Beppe Grillo di Roma. Beppe Grillo is an Italian activist, blogger, comedian, actor and politician, who also works in theatres and television. Beppe himself has been a fan of Lester for some years and has a huge fan base. His blog is one of the top ten blogs worldwide. An excerpt from Plan B 2.0 on his blog generated an unprecedented amount of traffic to our website. Due to their combined outreach efforts, Plan B 3.0 became a hit in Italy, going through several printings and often being featured by Beppe in his television program. It was also put online for free downloading.
Beppe has posted interviews of Lester on his blog. You can read and hear the most recent interview, done when Lester was in Milan, here. He previously had interviewed Lester for a documentary he produced entitled Terra Reloaded, which includes the opinions of renowned global experts regarding the future of this planet.
Plan B 4.0 was translated by this same team with Gianfranco at the helm. Meanwhile, Marco Moro, the editor at Edizioni Ambiente, set up a masterful outreach program. The first event was at the Museum of Natural Science in Trento, a gorgeous city in the mountains, the next in Torino at the headquarters of the Cultural Foundation Compagnia di San Paolo, and last in Turin at the International Book Fair, which was the official launch event for the Italian edition of Plan B 4.0. In between major events were media interviews. To see some of the Italian press coverage, click here.
From Italy, Lester flew to Bucharest. In 1987, he received a letter from the head of Editura Tehnica asking for the rights to publish State of the World 1987. The head of Editura Tehnica had a long-standing interest in global environmental issues, and he wrote a 23-page introduction to this first Romanian edition, relating the global issues to what Romania was experiencing. Thus began a relationship between author and publisher that continues until this day.
The publisher was Ion Iliescu, who became the interim leader and then President of Romania after the death of Nicolae Ceausescu. During Iliescu’s terms of office, Romanian politics were stabilized and the country became part of NATO. He also continued to oversee the publication of books by Lester.
President Iliescu’s interest in the environment extended into writing his own books on the subject and generating appropriate government responses. One initiative was a two-day conference that he organized in 1994 for cabinet members, academics, and others from the countries of Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region. The conference was entitled “Workshop Worldwatch: Sustainable Development and International Cooperation.” President Iliescu himself chaired the meeting and invited Lester to give the keynote presentation. At the workshop, President Iliescu and Lester did a joint book signing of their various books.
Editura Tehnica has published all of Lester’s books since he started Earth Policy Institute in 2001. This is all made possible by Roman Chirila, the editor, who ensures a near-simultaneous release with the English editions.
When Lester was in Bucharest this May, his visit was personally overseen by President Iliescu. Iliescu, with his own blog, even promoted Lester’s travel to the region in an entry. Lester had the opportunity to talk with the former president himself on a major television program. The program with Iliescu sparked considerable media coverage within the region, notably on the tax issues discussed.
During the visit, Lester was honored by being inducted into the Romanian Academy of Science as an honorary member and granted a Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine at a ceremony attended by a number of prestigious leaders, including two past presidents of Romania. A special highlight was a visit to the Parliamentary Palace, also called the People's House. Initially designed by Ceausescu, President Iliescu oversaw its completion once he was in office.
Thus ended the European leg of Lester’s five-week trip. ... Next time Denver and Asia.
Reah Janise Kauffman
P.S. Stay up to date with Lester's presentations on our Events page. To read or listen to some of the major media coverage, go to EPI in the News.