Monday, September 12, 2011
The announcement on Tuesday, August 30, that a coal-fired power plant on the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia, would soon be closed was another victory in the ongoing campaign by many environmentalists to move the world into the renewable energy era. This campaign includes making sure no new coal-fired power plants are built, existing plants are closed, and renewable energy is promoted.
Coal is the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, destabilizing our climate and contributing to environmental pollution. In the United States alone 13,200 lives are lost each year due to air pollution from burning coal. If deaths from black lung disease among coal miners are included, the number climbs even higher. In addition, the health care costs to society of burning coal are currently estimated at more than $100 billion per year, roughly $300 for every person in the United States or $1,200 for a family of four. These costs are real, but it is the American people, not the coal companies, who shoulder the burden.
The efforts to stabilize climate will be won or lost with coal. Fortunately, several environmental groups are leading the charge against coal: the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, and Earthjustice.
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has successfully stopped over 150 coal plants in the United States from being built. They are now working to keep new coal plants from being built and to shut down existing coal-fired power plants. Already 71 plants are scheduled for total or partial closure, most of them by 2016.
Friends of the Earth has a number of campaigns around the world. They are working to protect communities from toxic coal ash, end mountain top removal, get the World Bank to stop funding coal projects, put existing mining protections into action, eliminate dirty coal subsidies, halt the development of liquid coal, and expose false solutions like carbon capture and sequestration.
Greenpeace USA has now taken a step further with its Quit Coal campaign. Organizing its vast community of activists into an online network, it has focused community efforts to shut down coal plants in the United States. In doing so, Greenpeace has made it easier for people to reach out and organize in their own communities to make the change that is necessary to cut carbon emissions in the world’s leading industrial economy.
Rainforest Action Network (RAN) is going after the banking sector to get them to cut financing of new and existing coal plants and to fund clean energy projects such as wind and solar. In August 2010, RAN announced that several leading U.S. investment banks, including Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, had ceased lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal coal mining.
Earthjustice provides vital legal representation, often free, to environmental groups to “even the odds against powerful special interests and to hold accountable those who jeopardize the health of the planet.” It works to preserve our natural heritage, to promote clean energy, and to safeguard our health.
The fossil fuel industry, however, is not going down easily. They are pumping billions of dollars into their own campaigns to discredit the science of climate change and to lobby Congress to eliminate pollution laws and controls.
Pushing back against this tide is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on July 21, announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. This action by Bloomberg, one of the most successful business entrepreneurs of his generation, demonstrates a strong commitment to providing a healthy future for everyone.
Here are some links if you would like more information on what we’ve written on closing coal plants.
- U.S. Moving Toward Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants
- The Beginning of the End for Coal: A Long Year in the Life of the U.S. Coal Industry
- A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point?
- Chapter 8: Building an Energy Efficient Economy, from World on the Edge
Coal is not the only energy source being protested in the United States. The newly US State Department-endorsed Keystone XL pipeline created a strong wave of protests in Washington, DC in August spearheaded by 350.org and the Tar Sand Action Group. Over 1,200 people were arrested during this protest, notably James Hansen, Bill McKibben, and Phil Radford from the environmental community, as well as Daryl Hannah, an actress who is known to speak out on environmental issues. The Dalai Lama and other notables have also joined in opposition to this project.
It is up to each of us to become involved in these efforts to close coal-fired power plants and to help the United States become a world leader in stabilizing climate.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
There are few things more exciting than to receive an email or letter from an individual who is so energized by our books that they want to translate one into their language. Over the past several weeks, we’ve been approached by people who want to translate and publish World on the Edge in Croatian, Czech, Greek, Malayalam, and Marathi.
One can never tell what that kind of enthusiasm will generate, but looking at one of our longtime publishing arrangements might provide a clue.
In 1990, Hamid Taravati, a medical doctor in Iran came across a copy of State of the World 1989 in a bookshop in Tehran, in which Lester Brown had a chapter. Hamid had found practicing medicine alone to be unsatisfying, especially when compared with the problems his country was facing. He wanted to do something to help solve them. Thus he decided to start translating books that might provide help. He had translated two before he came across State of the World. He found the analysis and issues so impressive that he started translating it the same day. From that day on he and his wife Farzaneh Bahar, also a doctor, have devoted their lives to increasing environmental literacy in Iran, mostly through translating Lester’s books.
Hamid and Farzaneh have translated and published all of EPI’s books, all of which generate great interest. For example, Eco-Economy was selected for an award by the Peka Institute (formed by several leading Iranian publishers) as the best nonfiction book published in Iran in 2003. The four reasons given for selecting Eco-Economy were its clear and concise presentation of the global environmental problems facing humanity and solutions for them, the credibility and global influence of the author, the excellence of the translation, and the noteworthy efforts of Hamid in increasing environmental literacy in Iran.
In addition, the Iranian Ministry of Environment distributed copies of Eco-Economy to the 1,000 representatives of Iran’s environmental NGOs. The Minister called it a “monumental work.”
The Deputy Minister of Natural Resources distributed 500 copies of Outgrowing the Earth throughout the Ministry and to NGOs. An engineering company purchased 600 copies and distributed it to its clients, and a well-respected physician purchased 100 copies for dissemination.
Hamid and Farzaneh eventually created an environmental NGO which works more on the local level offering workshops to promote various Plan B goals and environmental literacy in general. They also have a website devoted to the work of the NGO and the books. It also has a special section that contains translations of our Plan B Updates. Hamid also regularly publishes excerpts from the books and Updates in Iran’s leading newspapers and magazines.
Hamid regularly tells us about professors, policymakers, and others who have purchased dozens of copies of the books and how excited they are about the information. The irony in this situation is clear: the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, but the relationship between us at EPI and Hamid and Farzaneh could not be closer. As a result of their work, we are now one of the principal sources of information on global environmental issues in Iran.
Reah Janise Kauffman
P.S. Click here for our list of translations.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
To someone like Lester Brown, who is invigorated by a 10-hour workday seven days a week, vacations are a misnomer. Nevertheless, once a decade or so, he is enticed to go somewhere without a fax or phone. In the mid-1990s, it was a hiking trip with his son Brian across the tops of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
Last month Brian scored again, this time taking his father to the Denali National Park in Alaska. See also.
Thus, the day after his participation in the Asahi Glass Foundation’s symposium, "Conditions for Survival,” in celebration of its twentieth year in presenting the Blue Planet Prize, Lester boarded a plane for Fairbanks and spent the next nine days hiking, biking, and exploring the Denali Wilderness. Situated near Wonder Lake, their lodging gazed across at Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, which they circumnavigated in a small plane.
Shortly after his return, Lester was invited by Ted Turner to spend a few days at his ranch in Montana. Coinciding with an already scheduled trip to give a keynote at the ARE Day Summit in Aspen, Colorado, he accepted.
And what about the rest of the EPI team? Perhaps a bit less cool, but still delightful: we have had or are having staycations and camping and hiking trips, celebrating a wedding and graduation on the West Coast, visiting family, and getting away with friends in sunny southern California.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
From time to time, the Institute receives some interesting books. Check out these that we excavated from Lester’s office if you are in search of any late summer reads.
A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & the Environmental Challenge
Edited by Laurie Mazur
A collection of essays from experts on population, climate change, and other linked environmental issues, this book addresses the effect of population growth on the natural support systems that the economy needs to sustain our modern civilization. Editor Laurie Mazur advocates the adoption and use of family planning as an effective way to deter rapid population growth, which will then strengthen the push for environmental conservation.
Some organizations represented in the book: UN Population Fund, Center for Global Development, Center for Environment and Population, Earth Policy Institute, International Women’s Health Coalition, Sierra Club, Worldwatch Institute, and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
“As members of the largest generation in history move into their childbearing years, the need for reproductive health services will grow exponentially…ensuring that they make real choice about childbearing could help stabilize world population at 8 than rather nearly 11 billion—which will, in turn, make climate change and poverty easier to address.” -- Laurie Mazur
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations
By David R. Montgomery
Montgomery is a geomorphologist who studies the topographical decay of the land as a living, but wrote this book to discuss soil erosion’s impact on past civilizations and how it could drastically affect our own if not remedied. One of his arguments is that in the past farmers were able to move on to more fertile land if their cropland was degrading. With today’s issue of land scarcity, this is not an option.
“… the human cost of soil exhaustion is readily apparent in the history of regions that long ago committed ecological suicide.” –David R. Montgomery
Pesticides: The Chemical Weapon that Kills Life
By Lev A. Fedorov and Alexey V. Yablokov
A short read on how chemical warfare plants were converted into pesticide production facilities. Fedorov and Yablokov utilize lost masters theses and dissertations from the 1970-80s made available in the 1990s to analyze the long-term impact of pesticides used in agriculture on humans and the environment in the USSR.
From the Foreword: “The growing concerns about the public health and environmental impacts of pesticides have led many in the general public and the government to question whether all benefits of pesticides, such as the perfect red apple, are worth the associated costs of environmental pollution, human illness and loss of life, bird kills, and the destruction of other beneficial natural organisms.” – David Pimentel, Cornell University
Thinking in Systems: A Primer
By Donella H. Meadows, Edited By Diana Wright, Sustainability Institute
Meadows applies systems theory into different aspects of society in this introductory book. Using nontechnical language and scattered with quotes and graphs to alleviate any confusion on the reader’s side, the book challenges the reader to think about how the theory can be applied to help create sustainable systems. Meadows wrote the preliminary draft of the book in 1993, but died in 2001. It was then published by the Sustainability Institute so that Meadow’s work would be available to all.
Global Climate Change: A Primer
By Orrin H. Pilkey & Keith C. Pilkey; Art by Mary Edna Fraser
Father and son team Orrin Pilkey and Keith Pilkey decided to bring global warming out of the lab and into the forefront with their book Global Climate Change: A Primer. By explaining scientific research and terms for the public mainstream on global warming, they then address the general rebuttals of climate deniers. The book is also accompanied by silk batik art from Mary Edna Fraser, which is based on maps, satellite images, and photographs that she takes while flying in a propeller plane.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The release of World on the Edge and our 10 year anniversary kept us busy this year. But it did not prevent Lester Brown from participating in a number of conferences. After World on the Edge was released in January, he left little time before heading to another continent. In London he released the Earthscan (which is now part of the Taylor & Francis group) edition of World on the Edge before stopping over in Oxford, where he launched a new environmental lecture series at Oxford's Environmental Change Institute.
On the way to the University, his driver pointed out the house where Roger Bannister lived. Bannister was a medical student when he broke the 4-minute mile barrier in 1952, running it at 3:59.2. To Lester, a long-time runner, Roger was as close to a hero as one can get. His faculty host suggested that he inscribe a copy of World on the Edge for Sir Roger, and he would get it to him. Some weeks later he received an autographed photograph of Bannister crossing the finish line at the end of that historic mile. The inscription said simply, “Thank you for your kind comment. Roger Bannister.” Wow.
Not long after returning, Lester set off again in early February, this time to Boston and Cambridge where he gave a presentation at Harvard’s Center for the Environment, did a number of radio interviews, including one for NPR's Living on Earth, and gave an evening presentation for the Cambridge Forum.
March saw Lester in Brussels, giving a keynote presentation at the Forum for the Future of Agriculture, and a presentation at the European Parliament, put together by long-time friend Frank Schwalba-Hoth.
March was also a special month in that it was when Plan B, the film, was screened at the DC Environmental Film Festival and released nationwide in the United States on PBS. The day before the PBS release, found Lester giving an evening keynote presentation on World on the Edge for the Annual Convention of Reform Rabbis in New Orleans.
Other notable keynotes that he gave were at the Earth Institute of Columbia University’s 17th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference in New York City, the Consumer Good’s Global Summit in Barcelona, the 21st World Conference on Disaster Management in Toronto, and a presentation in Tokyo for the Asahi Glass Foundation which was celebrating its twentieth anniversary for the Blue Planet Prize, which Lester had received in 1994.
Want to keep up with what’s coming up? See our Events page.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Earlier this year, in a quiet setting, Lester Brown donated some of his personal items to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. The Museum had asked for memorabilia because of the significant role he has played in the environmental movement. The donations were to say something about him and his work. It took us a while to determine just what would be the best items to give. Since they are now in the hands of the Museum’s curators, we thought you might like to know what we chose. (Read the Museum's blog post.)
Norelco NT II Dictaphone recorder
Lester never learned to type (which is why he also does not use a computer), but he did learn public speaking. Since he didn’t like to write longhand, early in his career, he learned the art of dictation and dictated all of his correspondence and manuscripts. His assistants sometimes took his dictation in shorthand. Lengthy documents such as books, chapters, press releases, articles, and monographs, were first worked out on paper using short phrases or trigger words (see Talk Notes). This process allowed Lester to mentally compose the shape of each paragraph. From this, he would then dictate the piece.
Norelco System 500 transcriber
This transcriber set was used by all of Lester’s assistants since sometime around 1980 through 2008 when the staff succumbed to the digital age and switched to digital transcription equipment. In the interim, everything dictated by Lester went through this machine. The only parts replaced were headsets and ear pads. The first book to be transcribed through this system was Building a Sustainable Society (1981) and the last was Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (2008).
Daily Schedule Cards
Lester at the USDA in a bowtie
Lester's bowtie now at the
National Museum of American
Lester's current bowtie
Early in his career, Lester began keeping track of his days through daily schedule cards typed on white index cards, which he carried in his shirt pocket. His assistants typed all relevant information on a card for the events of the day. Lester gets a card for every weekday—even if there is nothing scheduled, which he considers a rare treat. (I told him recently that he is the only person who gets excited about nothing—a blank card!) Last-minute schedule changes are added either by Lester or me. When traveling, he records information on the back of the cards about people he meets or things he needs to do, like send a copy of a book, when he returns to the office. He generally carries a dozen or more cards in his pocket at a time.
Lester keeps his life as simple as possible to save time and to conserve his mental energies. His clothing style reflects this choice and the more demanding his life becomes the simpler his clothing choices, which has become part of his image. Like the running shoes he always wears, bowties are part of this image. The bowtie now at the Museum was sewn from a regular tie given to him by Ted Turner when Turner established the U.N. Foundation, a public charity he created in 1998 with his historic $1 billion gift to support United Nations’ causes and activities. The tie is decorated with flags of selected United Nations members. Since Lester does not wear ties, I refashioned it into a clip-on bowtie for him because that’s he only wears clip-in bow ties. Lester wore this particular bowtie from 1998 through 2002.
Talk Notes (years 1995, 1999, and 2008)
In college, Lester took a required year-long speech course where he learned to use index cards and notes for speeches, rather than reading a fully written out talk. He used index cards until sometime in the late 1970s when he began preparing his talk notes on sheets of blank paper. The two-column, and sometimes 3-column, format became the standard for his talks. This format was and is used to outline all of the major pieces of writing he dictates, including book chapters, monographs, articles, press releases, etc. It is likely that this discipline is what has made him such an engaging speaker.
The talk notes from 1995 were selected because they included presentations he gave when he was squaring off with China. In the 1994 September/October issue of World Watch magazine, Lester published an article entitled “Who Will Feed China?” The article became something akin to the “shot heard ‘round the world.” In 1995, Lester expanded the article into a book of the same name, which only increased the furor. At first the Chinese denounced the analysis, but then reoriented its agricultural price, land use, and water policies. Numerous reassessments were triggered worldwide by Lester’s analysis of China’s food prospect.
The talk notes from 1999 were selected partly to show the amount of travel and the variety of speaking venues Lester accepted. Examples include launching books in other countries, specifically State of the World 1999, Beyond Malthus, and Vital Signs, giving a keynote at the World Meat Congress in Dublin, a donor fundraising trip in California, a meeting in Atlanta to talk over details of a six-part television program initiated by NHK TV through Lester’s contacts, and two trips to Japan. This was also his last year as President of Worldwatch Institute. In 2001, Lester founded the Earth Policy Institute.
The talk notes from 2008 reflect Lester’s depth and breadth as a global analyst and a visionary. He has long been known as an expert in food and population issues. At the Earth Policy Institute, he continues to examine these issues, while significantly adding renewable energy and climate change. His goal for EPI has been to offer a plan for saving civilization. The 2008 talk notes reflect this plan, which he has written of in all of his books beginning with Eco-Economy, and specifically outlined in Plan B 3.0. Plan B is a global effort to stabilize climate by cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s natural support systems. Many of the presentations from this year were geared around Plan B. They also indicated a growing interest from a surprising number of financial institutions in what Lester had to say.
Having read this you might now be wondering when you might be able to visit these items at the Museum. We can’t answer that question, but if there is an environmental exhibit at some time—or even one about dictation technologies—you might find some of these pieces of Lester’s life.
And the next time you see Lester, you might take note of his talk notes or daily cards—and don't forget the clip-on bowtie!
Cheers to you all,
Reah Janise Kauffman
Monday, June 27, 2011
This is part two of our series on our past 10 years. EPI’s mission is to raise awareness of global environmental issues and to offer a vision of an eco-economy, which we call Plan B.
In 2003, we started receiving anecdotal evidence that our information was having an effect. For instance, a professor at Ahfed University in the Sudan requested permission to use our publications as course material. He noted how invaluable it was to have free access to environmental research, especially when he had no access to environmental textbooks.
A peace corps volunteer in Mongolia asked permission to excerpt and translate The Earth Policy Reader not only for her environmental education work with students and teachers, but also for a series of 15-30 minute programs she was planning to do for radio, beginning with the stations in the provincial center where she lived and then branching out to all of the country’s radio stations using tapes and transcripts. She found the material in The Reader perfect for these planned radio programs.
Warren Snow, an environmentalist based in New Zealand promoting sustainability strategies for communities and Zero Waste, received a copy of Plan B and immediately ordered 100 copies so that he could distribute them through his organization Envision New Zealand.
Inspired by Eco-Economy, NHK, Japan’s national television network had Lester Brown host a two-hour, two-part program with students, entitled “Voyage to the Future.” Taped in December 2002, the show began airing in March 2003 in Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Korea. The conclusion of this project was a keynote lecture in Yokohama by Lester that was aired live on NHK television in August 2003.
The government of China began using the Chinese edition of Eco-Economy to train mayors and provincial officials on environmental issues. At the same time, the provincial head of Anhui Province began using the ideas in Eco-Economy in developing projects to protect the environment and economy.
Inspired by these examples, we began an Action Center on our website to showcase supporters of Plan B. For more on who has gotten involved in the classroom, the political arena, the lecture circuit, on the Internet, and more, see People in Action.
Cheers to you all,
Reah Janise Kauffman
Monday, June 13, 2011
Over the past few months, we’ve hosted or met with a number of interesting people.
For instance, Lester Brown had dinner with Carl Safina, prominent ecologist and marine conservationist and president of Blue Ocean Institute. Safina’s most recent book is A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout about the Gulf oil catastrophe. And he now has a television series on PBS, Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina.
Alexey Yablokov, a prominent Russian environmentalist, former member of USSR parliament and environmental advisor to the Russian President Yeltsin and to the Gorbachev administration met with our researchers. Yablokov brought a copy of his newest book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (Kindle edition).
Meanwhile, a few weeks back, Lester attended the 50th anniversary of the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS). A surprise discovery at the meeting was that his first book, Man, Land and Food (see earlier blog post), was prominently placed on a timeline of achievements. It was the only book on the timeline and John Schnittker, one of the lead organizers of the anniversary and formerly Undersecretary of Agriculture at ERS, noted how much that kind of integrated research was needed today.
Wes Jackson, founder and president of The Land Institute met with our staff and talked about Natural Systems Agriculture, which his institute has developed. The Land Institute has worked for over 30 years on the problem of agriculture. Its purpose is to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops.
Paul Ritter and his son JP had lunch with Les. Ritter is the great grandson of the man who established the PJ Ritter cannery in Bridgeton, New Jersey. The company routinely purchased the tomatoes Les grew.
Lester and Janet Larsen had lunch with Professor Wang Tao, head of CAREERI, the Cold and Arid Regions Environment and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and one of the world’s leading desert scholars.
The Population Institute set up a breakfast briefing for Lester and several members of Congress to talk about population and environmental issues.
Lester was also invited to a dinner discussion sponsored by Madeleine Albright of the Albright Stonebridge Group on the topic of food security as a national security issue.
On a personal note, one of the more important close encounters for Lester, happened earlier this year. While he was en route from London to give a presentation at Oxford, Lester was driven past the home of Sir Roger Bannister. Bannister was a bit of a hero to Lester, as he was the first person to run a sub four-minute mile (3:59.2). Lester’s faculty host had him inscribe his book World on the Edge for Sir Roger. Recently Les received an autographed photograph of Roger Bannister crossing the finish line at the end of that historic mile in 1952. The inscription said simply, “Thank you for your kind comment. Roger Bannister.”
Cheers to you all,
Reah Janise Kauffman
Monday, June 06, 2011
While we recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Institute, we like to celebrate more personal victories as well.
Today we welcome the most recent addition to the Earth Policy Institute team: Mandolyn Rose, born May 30 to Janet Larsen and Bill Brown.
Our congratulations to the happy family!
Reah Janise Kauffman
P.S. And, remember, you can view snipets from our last ten years in a PowerPoint presentation or as PDF: PPT or PDF.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Last Wednesday night we celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a dinner to which we’d invited Board members and people who have supported us: donors, NGOs, editors, reviewers, etc. We would have liked to have had a huge event to celebrate with—and thank—the many people around the world we have worked with during this time, but to keep carbon emissions low, we kept it local.
So, 45 of us gathered at Nora’s restaurant, America’s first certified organic restaurant, for a lovely evening of great food and great conversation.
During the reception we showed a PowerPoint to provide a sense of the scope of our work these past ten years, as well as highlighting some of the important people who have contributed so significantly.
Our thanks to you, our readers, and to all who help to get the Plan B message out.
Reah Janise Kauffman