EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Twenty years ago, Lester Brown published an article in World Watch magazine titled “Who Will Feed China?” A year later, he followed with a book of the same name.

The article and book generated an enormous outcry from China and dozens of conferences, seminars, and studies, as he writes in his autobiography, Breaking New Ground.

"In 1994 I wrote an article for the September/October issue of World Watch magazine titled “Who Will Feed China?” The late August press conference releasing it generated only moderate coverage. But when the article was reprinted that weekend on the front of the Washington Post’s Outlook section with the title “How China Could Starve the World,” it unleashed a political firestorm in Beijing. …

The World Watch article attracted more attention than anything I have ever written. In addition to appearing in our magazine’s five language editions—English, Japanese, Chinese (Taiwan), German, and Italian—it also appeared in abridged form in many of the world’s leading newspapers, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the International Herald Tribune. It was syndicated internationally by both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. Among the other major news organizations covering the analysis were the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, including the Asian edition. …

One of the most interesting responses was in Washington, DC, where the National Intelligence Council, the umbrella over all the U.S. intelligence agencies, analyzed the effect of China’s growing demand for grain on world agriculture and any security threats that it might pose. A panel of prominent researchers, led by Michael McElroy, then head of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard, produced a first-rate study of several hundred pages. …

Meanwhile, within China, every few weeks another study was released attempting to demonstrate why my analysis was wrong. These critiques came from such disparate sources as a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, and an independent academic scholar. Not long after, an enterprising Chinese publisher took a copy of the original World Watch magazine article and a collection of the critiques of it and published them in a book titled The Great Debate Between Lester Brown and China. …

Over time, China’s leaders came to both appreciate and acknowledge how Who Will Feed China? had helped change their thinking. A late 1998 issue of Feedstuffs, a weekly agribusiness newspaper, quotes Lu Mai, an agricultural economist and senior fellow at a government think tank in Beijing, as saying, “Brown seems to have been accorded guru status in high places. ‘He’s like the monk from outside who knows how to read the Bible.’” …

Lester proved prescient in his analysis. China is a leading importer of grain and it imports a staggering 60 percent of all soybeans entering world trade—and it looks like it will continue. The problem is not so much population growth, but China’s rising affluence, which is allowing its population to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock, poultry, and farmed fish.

Janet Larsen, EPI’s director of research, wrote last year on the Chinese purchase of Smithfield, the world’s leading pork producer.  She has also written on how China’s meat consumption has grown to double that of the United States where meat consumption is falling.

Essentially, twenty years later, we are still wondering who will feed China?

Lester has written a number of articles over the last dozen years about China, which are available on Earth Policy Institute’s website. Below are some highlights.



Reah Janise Kauffman

P.S. For those of you in the DC area, on Tuesday, September 30, he will be speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, on “China’s Quest for Safe + Secure Food: Boon for U.S. Business?” RSVP here.


Can the World Feed China?

China’s Rising Soybean Consumption Reshaping Western Agriculture

Peak Water: What Happens When the Wells Go Dry?

Learning from China: Why the Existing Economic Model Will Fail

Iowa Eclipses Canada in Grain Production, Challenges China in Soybean Production

Can the United States Feed China?*

Learning from China: Why the Western Economic Model Will Not Work for the World

China's Shrinking Grain Harvest: How its Growing Grain Imports Will Affect World Food Prices

China Losing War with Advancing Deserts



Posted by julianne on 09/24 at 11:15 AM


The 80th birthday celebration for Lester Brown continues!

There were a number of terrific people who talked about working with Lester. In this post, we are including videos from people who knew Lester as a farmer and who worked through the academic and non-profit sectors.

Angela Kendall was a member of the International Farm Youth Exchange group that sailed from New York to India in the fall of 1956.

Larry Suydam was an agricultural student with Lester at Rutgers. Sometimes he would spend his weekends helping Lester work his tomato farm.

Mohan K. Wali is Professor Emeritus in the school of environment and natural resources (SENR) at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. At OSU since 1990, he served as director both of SENR, and of the OSU’s multi-college environmental science graduate program.

Felix Kramer is a writer and serial entrepreneur working on cleantech. He founded the nonprofit California Cars Initiative (CalCars.org) in 2002 to bring plug-in hybrid cars like the Chevy Volt to market.

Bill Ryerson is president of the Population Media Center and travels around the world. Since 2008, he has also served as Chair and CEO of Population Institute in Washington, DC, which works in partnership with Population Media Center. 

Tom Weis founded and heads Climate Crisis Solutions. In 2010, he completed a 2,500-mile "rocket trike" ride from Boulder, CO to Washington, DC, calling for a goal of 100% renewable electricity for the U.S. by 2020.

Always more to share, so stay tuned!

Reah Janise Kauffman


P.S. Our thanks to Moser Media for the great video work!



Posted by julianne on 09/24 at 09:59 AM

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Summer months are usually a time to recharge and relax, but the EPI staff has not taken a break from spreading the message of Plan B and sustainability. Over the summer, Lester Brown and our researchers spoke to a variety of groups on topics including food, climate security, and renewable energy.

On June 22, Emily Adams kicked off the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment with a discussion on food and our global environment. This group of 250 high school students from across the United States and asWashington Youth Summit on the Environment Logoked lots of informed questions, ranging from what they can do to help the food situation to global policies on population growth. A Summit intern live-tweeted the event. (By the way, the intern had attended Emily’s 2013 Summit presentation and plans to pursue environmental policy when she starts her college career.)

Later that week, Emily spoke to the Global Young Leaders Conference in Arlington, Virginia where she was peppered with more thoughtful questions from high school students, this time from across the globe. The international audience provided the bonus of hearing a diverse set of perspectives on global environmental issues. The next generation of environmental leaders is ready to make Plan B a reality!

On June 27, Janet Larsen spoke at the Climate Security Roundtable at the American Legion in Washington D.C. Rod Clifton, the American Legion member who organized the event had been influenced by EPI’s research, particularly Plan B, in his post’s efforts to mobilize to “support local renewable energy alternatives and green jobs in support of our U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Veterans, and our Nation.” He is developing “Carbon War Bonds” and sent the fourth issued draft bond to Lester Brown.

A goal that emerged from the meeting is to further engage with other posts of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars on the issue of climate change as a major threat to national security. The number of statements from high ranking military and intelligence leaders taking the climate change threat seriously provides ammunition for a rapid mobilization like EPI calls for in Plan B.Our Task Logo

In late July, Matt Roney spoke at the third annual Earth 2100 Conference at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. His talk on transitioning the global economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy highlighted in particular the fast-growing contributions of wind and solar power worldwide. Organized by Our Task—a non-profit group dedicated to helping young adults become leaders in creating a more  sustainable world—the two-day event featured speakers and representatives from many other organizations as well, including: Climate Progress, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Center for a New American Dream, Population Institute, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Worldwatch Institute. More information, including video of the talks and panel discussions, is available here.

ARE Day LogoAnd topping off this busy summer, Lester spoke at the annual ARE Day Summit in Aspen, Colorado in early August. This year’s Summit was titled “Accelerating Solutions for the Great Transition.” The mission was to promote the rapid deployment of renewable energy and energy efficient strategies. Speakers and attendees included Ted Turner, T. Boone Pickens, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, actress Daryl Hannah, and Dr. Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue. Lester spoke on transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the focus of his forthcoming book, The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Power.

For upcoming speaking engagements, check out our Events page. See Lester Brown at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on September 20 when he takes part in A Global Climate Treaty: Why the United States Must Lead.



Julianne Simpson



Posted by julianne on 09/03 at 08:00 AM


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