EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
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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 MomentA 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

DirtDirt: 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

PesticidesPesticides: 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 SystemsThinking 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
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.

Posted by kristina on 08/17 at 08:37 AM

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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.
Roger Bannister crossing the finish line, 1952
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

Posted by Reah Janise on 07/26 at 08:05 AM

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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 at the USDA in a bowtie
Lester's bowtie now at the National Museum of American History
Lester's bowtie now at the
National Museum of American
Lester's current bowtie
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

Posted by Reah Janise on 07/12 at 08:49 AM

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Eco-EconomyThis 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, Envision New Zealand

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

Posted by Reah Janise on 06/27 at 08:59 AM

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Over the past few months, we’ve hosted or met with a number of interesting people. Carl Safina, author and head of Blue Ocean Institute

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).

The Land InstituteMeanwhile, 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 his harvest of tomatoes

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

Posted by Reah Janise on 06/13 at 02:50 PM

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Monday, June 06, 2011

While we recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Institute, we like to celebrate more personal victories as well. Mandolyn Rose Larsen Brown - 1 day old

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
Vice President

P.S. And, remember, you can view snipets from our last ten years in a PowerPoint presentation or as PDF: PPT or PDF.

Posted by Reah Janise on 06/06 at 09:00 AM

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lester Brown at 10-year dinner celebrationLast 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
Vice President

Posted by Reah Janise on 05/26 at 01:00 PM

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Ten years ago on May 7, 2001, we launched the Earth Policy Institute dedicated to providing a global roadmap for saving civilization. Until that time, no organization had been working on such a plan, let alone one that encompassed the entire earth. Ten years later, we remain the only organization that has put together such a roadmap, which we call Plan B.  Initial staff of Earth Policy Institute - Day 1 !

You just might be able to see from the photo of our initial staff that we moved in without the carpeting (Interface, recycled) yet installed. And … yes we were so eager to get started that we worked off fold-up conference tables because most of our furniture hadn't arrived either.

Undaunted, we held a press conference on May 9 just two days after “moving in” to launch the Institute. (The reporters kindly did not mention our not-quite-ready-for-prime-time condition.) The well-attended event resulted in a number of articles, including the Washington Post, Xinhua, The Futurist, and ENS.

Even more heartening were the hundreds of congratulatory messages with comments such as “this is what we need most right now”, “right on target” and many echoing the words in an email: “I am sure this organization will make a mark globally as an innovator and facilitator of change towards an environmentally sustainable world.”
Eco-Economy, published 2001
We held our next press event on May 23, with the piece “Dust Bowl Threatening China’s Future.” A week later, May 31, we released a second on “Wind Power: The Missing Link in the Bush Energy Plan.” 

The press lunches and reports launched the Institute for the media as well as the public, helping to disseminate our message. Electronic coverage included the BBC, CNN, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe. C-Span filmed the entire wind energy press conference and ran it several times over the next few days, in addition to airing it on their radio network. Wire service coverage included the Associated Press, Kyodo, Agence France Presse, Reuters, Deutsche Press Agency, Press Trust of India, and Bloomberg. 

We issued five other reports that year on water shortages in China, sea level rise, the world grain harvest shortfall, a record year for temperature and Iran’s birth rate  

We also published Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth, which generated great interest. E.O. Wilson called it “an instant classic.” Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister of Israel said it was "a timely examination of an issue that needs to move to the forefront of the global agenda." And Børge Brende, the former Minister of Environment for Norway said it was a "marvelous and inspiring book!" 

There's a lot more to cover about our beginnings, so stay tuned as we reminisce over the next few weeks!


Reah Janise Kauffman
Vice President

P.S. Four of the original staff are still here ... working from real desks ... and carpeting.

Posted by Reah Janise on 05/09 at 01:00 PM

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Monday morning brought a surprise to all of us at the Institute. Lester Brown’s article in Foreign Policy magazine, entitled “The New Geopolitics of Food,” had made not just one but three “top news” of the week lists.
Cover of Foreign Policy magazine - May-June 2011
The Daily Beast listed it as one of its top five articles of the week.

Same with Mother Jones.

And the Business Insider listed it in its number 2 spot.

In addition to such kudos, our book, World on the Edge made the number one spot in books being read in New Brunswick.

Coincidentally, the article in Foreign Policy was released just behind another article by Lester that appeared in The Guardian, entitled “This will be the Arab world’s next battle” (April 22).

We’ve been following the food situation all year.

  * “Food Situation Highlights Presentation for World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse,” Slideshow Presentation, 12 January 2011.

  * “Why World Food Prices May Keep Climbing,” Plan B Update, 9 March 2011.

  * “World One Poor Harvest Away From Chaos,” Plan B Update, 15 February 2011.

  * “The Great Food Crisis of 2011,” Plan B Update, 14 January 2011.

If you aren’t already subscribed, keep up with our ongoing research on this and other issues through our listserv. You can also keep up with us through our RSS feeds, become a Facebook fan, and follow us on Twitter.


Reah Janise Kauffman
Vice President

Posted by Reah Janise on 05/03 at 03:30 PM

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day NetworkThis Friday, April 22, is Earth Day, which will be celebrated all over the world.  It was started in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in. Since then Earth Day has grown under the guidance of Denis Hayes, who was selected by then-Senator Nelson’s staff to organize the first Earth Day, which has now become the world’s most widely observed secular holiday.

Lester Brown & his giant zucchini circa 1979
Lester Brown & his giant
zucchini circa 1979

This year, Earth Day's theme is A Billion Acts of Green: their people-powered campaign to generate a billion acts of environmental service and advocacy before Rio +20.

The Earth Day Network now circles the earth with its tens of thousands of NGO partners in some 200 countries. Check out their website for events and activities near your location.

For us at the Earth Policy Institute, every day is Earth Day. Stewardship of our Earth and all of its inhabitants is our focus, along with the plan we have developed—Plan B—for saving civilization. Responsible management of this Earth and its many resources is not a luxury; it is a necessity if we want to thrive. 


Reah Janise Kauffman
Vice President

P.S. Don't forget ... through the end of April you can watch a streaming edition of the film Plan B on the PBS website.


Posted by Reah Janise on 04/20 at 12:01 PM


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