EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 12: Reaching the World

I have faced two great challenges in my career. One was fashioning Plan B. The other is the ongoing campaign to convince the world to adopt it.

As I’ve noted in previous chapters, moving civilization off the decline-and-collapse path requires a mobilization at the global level comparable to that of the United States during World War II. In 1942, the United States totally restructured its industrial economy, shifting production from cars to planes and tanks. This restructuring did not take decades or even years. It was done in a matter of months. Today, we need to restructure the world energy economy with a similar sense of urgency if we are to stabilize climate.

Our effort to get the world to adopt Plan B, or something very similar to it, begins with book publishing since, as noted earlier, this is the only segment of the information economy with a well-developed translations capacity. Our publishing network is anchored by W. W. Norton & Company in New York. My publishing relationship with Norton began in 1974 when they published In the Human Interest, the background book for the World Population Conference held in Bucharest. Since then, they have published the English edition of each of the forty-nine books, including seventeen State of the World reports, that I have authored or coauthored. Norton, which has a strong U.S. marketing presence both in bookstores and on college campuses, is an ideal publisher for me—a marriage made in heaven.

The understanding with W. W. Norton is that they will publish everything we send them and that we will send them everything we do. Our contact person, Amy Cherry, who is vice president and senior editor, is a sheer delight to work with.

Our worldwide book publishing network, so essential to our success, has been built one publisher at a time. It took years to put it together, but it all began in 1963 with Man, Land and Food, which appeared in French and Spanish. I continued building from there, eventually publishing in some forty-three languages.

One of our long-standing publishing arrangements is with Earthscan, the first environmental book publisher in the United Kingdom. Here, Jonathan Sinclair Wilson was our contact, taking responsibility for marketing our books in the Commonwealth countries as well. My relationship with Jonathan covers thirty books.

Our Italian publishing arrangement goes back nearly thirty-five years. In 1978, a young Italian environmentalist, Gianfranco Bologna, offered to translate The Twenty Ninth Day. He then arranged for its publication. When we finish a book, we send an early copy to Gianfranco. He then assumes responsibility for finding a publisher, which for many years has been Edizioni Ambiente. Thanks to Gianfranco, who is now scientific director of WWF Italy, thirty-one of my books are available in Italian.

Another of our long-standing publishing relationships is with China. When I first met Lin Zixin in 1981, he was the head of the Institute for Scientific and Technical Information of China, a government organization whose purpose was to scour the world’s scientific literature looking for articles that should be translated into Chinese and distributed to scientists, academics, and party leaders.

It was in this context that Lin discovered Worldwatch and published State of the World 1984, the first in the annual series, in Chinese. His son, Wei Lin, a professor of civil engineering at North Dakota State University, often serves as our go-between. Despite our contrasting political and cultural backgrounds, Mr. Lin (which is what I call him) and I are bound by a shared view of what is happening to the earth and what needs to be done to remedy it. I refer to him as my Chinese brother. Some twenty-nine of my books have appeared in Chinese, including, after some delay, Who Will Feed China?

In Japan, State of the World 1984 was initially released by an agricultural publishing house. Soki Oda, the editor, was convinced that the book had to be published in Japanese. It was a hit. Eventually he assumed responsibility for getting our books published in Japan and also for organizing highly successful book launchings. Frequent appearances on Japanese television led to an invitation to moderate Voyage to the Future, an environmental documentary that aired on NHK, the national broadcasting service. Thanks largely to Soki, forty-five of my books have appeared in Japanese, making it second only to English.

Junko Edahiro, who initially both interpreted and translated for me, is another extraordinarily helpful contact in Japan. A force of nature, Junko started her own NGO, Japan for Sustainability, and another consulting firm on the benefits of using systemic thinking in policymaking and planning. She has also written several books, including Anything is Possible if You Wake Up at 2 A.M. In 2004 she was chosen as Japan’s most successful career woman by Nikkei Career Women magazine.

Meanwhile, from another corner of the world, Magnar Norderhaug, who worked for the Norwegian aid agency, visited me in Washington in 1989, indicating an interest in publishing State of the World in the Nordic languages. Working with Øystein Dahle, former vice president of Exxon for Norway and the North Sea, and Ketil Gravir, a Norwegian journalist, he formed Worldwatch Norden to facilitate publication of the State of the World reports in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Danish. From 1990 onward, each year in late January, I would devote an intense week to launching the Nordic editions, accompanied by Magnar. It was a remarkable tribute to Magnar that he could not only get these books published in these countries, but he would have them all translated and ready for release within a month of the U.S. edition.

In 1987, I was contacted by Ion Iliescu, who was associated with a Romanian publishing house, Editura Tehnica, and was interested in doing State of the World. Iliescu wrote a twenty-three-page introduction to the first Romanian edition, relating the global issues to those of Romania.

After the ouster of the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu during Christmas week of 1989, Iliescu became the leader in setting up a democracy. Two years later he became the first elected president of Romania, serving two four-year terms.

President Iliescu still writes the foreword for each of my books in Romanian. Now in political retirement, he personally organizes the launchings himself. When I cannot make it to Romania, he launches the books as though they were his own. With our many shared concerns and twenty-five years of working together, we have developed a lasting friendship.

Shortly after the contact from Iliescu, we received a letter from Hamid Taravati, an Iranian doctor who had picked up the English edition of State of the World 1989 in a bookshop near Tehran University. He found the analysis so engaging that he began translating it that same day. He had found practicing medicine alone to be unsatisfying, given the overarching environmental challenges his country and the world were facing. He wanted to do something more.

He asked for the rights in Farsi, which we readily granted. Hamid and his wife, Farzaneh Bahar, also a doctor, have worked hard to translate and publish our books in Iran. It is not unusual for an individual Iranian government ministry to bulk purchase 500, 700, or even 1,000 of the Farsi editions. In a country where independent research is rare, my books are highly valued, particularly in government ministries and universities.

Two books, Full House and Eco-Economy, won literary awards in Iran. The first was from the Ministry of Culture, the other from the Peka Institute, an Iranian publishers association. Both awards attest to the translation skills of Hamid and Farzaneh. Ironically, although the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, the publications of a small research institute on Think Tank Row in Washington, DC, appear to be the leading source of global environmental information for Iranians.

Meanwhile, in South Korea in the 1980s, the young man who was to become our publishing contact person languished in jail for six years. A leader of the democratization movement in South Korea at that time, Yul Choi’s goal was to unseat President Park and replace him with a democratically elected president.

While in prison, Choi read many books, including one of mine. He vowed that if the democratization movement succeeded, he would then divert the movement’s energies to saving the environment. This led to the creation of the Korean Federation Environment Movement. The most effective environmental organization in Asia, with 85,000 members and forty-seven local branches, it now arranges for the Korean editions of our books. For his incredible work, Yul Choi was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1995.

In Turkey, EPI’s partner is an NGO with the acronym TEMA, an organization dedicated to reforestation and soil conservation. The organization has two founders: Nihat Gökyiğit, a highly successful businessman, and Hayrettin Karaca, a prominent academic. In addition to launching a massive tree-planting effort in Turkey, they also saw the value of publishing our books. When I was on a book tour visiting Istanbul and Ankara in 2008, I visited TEMA’s office in Istanbul. They asked me to autograph their library copy of each of the sixteen books of mine that they had published in Turkish.

While many of our publishing relationships go back two or three decades, there are also promising new ones. For example, Lars and Doris Almström, two university professors in Sweden, asked permission to translate Plan B 2.0 and make it available online. We granted them the rights to do so. When they were translating the next book, Plan B 3.0, they found a publisher and organized a first-rate launch in Stockholm. Both then took early retirement so they could focus on promoting the adoption of Plan B in Sweden. They have now published four of our books in Swedish and are actively working to implement Plan B. Doris’s effort recently earned her two environmental awards.

In 2006, we received an e-mail from Pierre-Yves Longaretti, one of France’s leading astrophysicists and the co-director of Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de l’Observatoire de Grenoble. Pierre-Yves realized that his work, however cutting-edge in astrophysics it might be, was not responding to the imminent threats to our earthly future. After picking up Plan B 2.0, while attending an astrophysics meeting in California, he sought our permission to translate and publish it in France. Pierre-Yves worked nights, weekends, and during vacation to translate the book into French himself. His close friend, Philippe Vieille, who shared his concerns, edited it. The French edition of Plan B 2.0 was launched in Paris by Calmann-Lévy, one of France’s premier publishing houses, in coproduction with Vieille’s publishing house Souffle Court Éditions, in November 2007.

Pierre-Yves and Philippe have started a nonprofit organization, Alternative Planetaire, to implement Plan B in France. They released World on the Edge in French in conjunction with publisher Rue de l'Echiquier, and they are publishing Full Planet, Empty Plates.

Sometimes, where book markets are small, we grant the rights to individuals to translate and then either upload the electronic edition to their website or upload it on ours. Such is the case in Hungary, where David Biro, a schoolteacher, has been doggedly translating our books, beginning with Plan B 3.0. He’s now working full-steam on Full Planet, Empty Plates. In Greece, Makis Fountoulis published World on the Edge by getting sponsors. He is looking to do the same with Full Planet, Empty Plates.

In Latin America, we work closely with Gilberto Rincon of the Centre of Studies for Sustainable Development in Colombia. He has arranged for the Spanish editions of my last five books, including Full Planet, Empty Plates. Gilberto also organizes large international conferences built around the book launchings.

Reinforcing the translation and distribution of the books themselves are documentaries based on them. For example, as noted in Chapter 8, the early editions of State of the World inspired a ten-part series, Race to Save the Planet, that ran nationally on PBS in fall 1990 and soon thereafter in other countries. In 1999, a coalition that included NHK of Japan, CNN, and a consortium of European television networks produced a six-part series entitled State of the World, which aired in 2000. And in 2003, NHK aired a two-hour, two-part program entitled Voyage to the Future, mentioned earlier. I moderated the second hour, which was subtitled Eco-Lessons with Lester Brown. And in December 2008, NHK did Save the Future, a ninety-minute program based entirely on an interview with me that ran as a New Year’s Day feature in 2009.

The most recent film, Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, narrated by Matt Damon, appeared in the PBS Journey to Planet Earth series. Brilliantly produced by Marilyn and Hal Weiner, it first aired nationally on PBS in March 2011. At the suggestion of Joan Murray of the Wallace Genetic Foundation, Marilyn and Hal accompanied me on a 2008 book tour to launch the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Hindi, Turkish, and Italian editions of Plan B 2.0. They captured some of my interactions with the media and political leaders, which gave the film a strong global ambience. In addition to running several times on PBS, the film is now running on networks in other countries.

There is also a network of individuals who personally distribute copies of our books. When we started publishing the Plan B series, we noticed from our sales database that people were ordering multiple copies from us for distribution to friends, colleagues, or opinion leaders. We decided to recognize the people who bought five or more copies of Plan B, calling them the Plan B Team. We have now expanded this to include the more recent books, World on the Edge and Full Planet, Empty Plates.

As of 2013, the team has over 4,000 members and counting. We designated Ted Turner captain of the Plan B Team because he typically distributes some 4,500 copies of each book to world leaders, including members of the U.S. Congress, the European Parliament, state governors, university presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, heads of state, cabinet leaders, heads of leading environmental NGOs, and most of the world’s 500 or so other billionaires. Ted not only distributes these books, but he also sends a letter to each book recipient saying, essentially, I’ve read this book, it’s important, and you should read it too.

I do not know anyone who is more committed to saving the environment than Ted. He not only preaches it, he practices it. It permeates everything he does. When he acquired 2 million acres of land in the United States, mostly rangeland, he became the country’s largest landowner. On his fifteen ranches in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota, he has helped return the land to its natural state. All told, he now has more than 55,000 bison grazing on his ranches—without fences or buildings. Ted notes with pride that the amount of organic matter in the soil has increased markedly, sequestering huge amounts of carbon. Spending time with Ted on one of his ranches, as my partner Maureen Kuwano Hinkle and I have done, is an uplifting experience.

The Turner book distribution model has been adopted in Japan, where the Kurosawa brothers, Toshishige and Masatsugu, distribute thousands of copies of each book to Japanese opinion leaders, including members of the Diet and corporate leaders. In Turkey, TEMA arranged a complimentary distribution of an astonishing 4,250 copies of the Turkish edition of Plan B 3.0 to political and opinion leaders.

Building this global network of book publishers has been a deeply rewarding experience. This is no other network quite like it. In addition to publishing in all the major languages, we also occasionally appear in minor ones such as Basque, Georgian, and Estonian. Having so many people pushing so hard to change the world boosts the morale of all of us at EPI. We cannot afford to slow down.

As a result of the efforts of literally hundreds of translators, editors, and publishers, some 658 editions of my books have appeared in various languages. But while reaching large numbers of people depends heavily on the written word, reaching concentrated groups of key decision makers depends on public speaking—addressing conferences of political leaders, corporate leaders, investment bankers, professional societies, and many others. In trying to convince people that we need to restructure the world economy, and thus move the world back onto a sustainable path, I have given 1,863 talks in forty-seven countries over the last half century. Sometimes on an international tour there is just a single stop in the capital, such as London, where the U.K. newspapers and other media are concentrated. In France, Paris is the key. In Italy, however, a book tour may involve Rome, Turin, and Milan. In China, which like the United States has both a political and a financial capital, the key cities are Beijing and Shanghai. In Japan, Tokyo will usually suffice.

Press conferences help to develop media contacts; meetings with individual reporters help build and reinforce media relationships. Over the years I have had literally thousands of lunches, breakfasts, and dinners with reporters.

Few accomplishments are more satisfying than fully engaging an audience. This is why actors act and singers sing. It is why I speak. Linton Weeks, who profiled me for the Washington Post a few years ago, accompanied me to a talk to some 700 defense contractors meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC. In the profile, he wrote that the audience became so quiet “you could hear the ice melt.”

Each year Frank Schwalba-Hoth, a former German Green Party member of the European Parliament, organizes a talk for me at the Parliament in Brussels, one that is open to the public. Frank does such a great job that this gathering now requires advanced registration to avoid overcrowding the lecture hall. The range of groups I have recently addressed include the annual conference of the European Green Party in Helsinki, the International Parliamentarians’ Conference on Population and Development in Bangkok, and the Chinese People’s Congress 21st Century Forum in Beijing.

It is essential to reach business and financial leaders, such as those who gather early each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos and at the triennial World Energy Congress. Investment groups I have addressed range from J.P. Morgan in New York to HSBC in London. Other public lectures are sponsored by leading corporations with their own impressive outreach capacity, such as the Coca-Cola lecture in Tokyo or Google’s lecture series at its headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Beyond the business community, professional associations loom large in my speaking schedule. These include keynote addresses at such conferences as the International Congress on Environmental Law in Bogota, the World Conference on Disaster Management in Toronto, and the International Forum on Food and Nutrition in Milan. Religious groups range from the annual conference of U.S. Quakers to the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

The 262 lectures I have given at 153 colleges and universities in sixteen countries also help to reach potentially large audiences. The three universities that I have lectured at most frequently are Harvard (13), Columbia University (10), and the University of Tokyo (9). More and more universities are launching annual environmental lectures in their efforts to give the issue the attention it deserves. Among the schools where I had the honor of inaugurating these series are the University of California–Berkeley, Oxford University, and most recently the University of Maryland.

In addition to the actual appearances on campuses, many schools, such as the University of Colorado, post lectures on YouTube. Occasionally a lecture shows up on C-SPAN, such as one I gave at the University of Chicago.

YouTube provides a welcome audience for talks. At this writing there are excerpts on YouTube from some sixty talks and interviews I’ve given in countries from Brazil to Sweden. Interestingly, while the actual attendance at the talks is typically numbered in the hundreds, YouTube viewings number in the thousands. For example, the talk I gave at the University of California–Berkeley’s Distinguished Lecture Series has been viewed 14,146 times. A talk to an audience of nearly a thousand in Mexico City has been viewed 39,313 times on YouTube. These Internet multipliers are hugely helpful in disseminating our research findings.

Aside from press conferences, the most efficient way of getting the word out is through interviews with individual reporters. How many interviews have I done? I’ve never counted. But if I have given over 1,800 talks, the number of interviews goes into the thousands. When on an international book tour, my daily schedule often includes eight or ten interviews in a day. These consume time, but they enable reporters to focus on issues that are of particular interest to their readers, listeners, or viewers.

Many interviews are spawned by press conferences when individual reporters want to follow up with more specific, more detailed questions. Occasionally my host publisher will organize a press conference in the airport when I arrive, as was the case not long ago in Istanbul. And sometimes a reporter will ride with me to the airport to squeeze an interview into my already full schedule, as recently happened in Tokyo.

The traditional press conference of gathering people together in a room, which worked so well at Worldwatch with press lunches, is being replaced in some countries by press teleconferences, which for me usually involve a presentation of fifteen to thirty minutes and then questions and answers from reporters for up to half an hour.

The topics covered in my talks and interviews vary widely, but one issue that comes up again and again is population growth. During the early 1950s and 1960s, an early generation of demographers analyzed the relationship between population growth and the earth’s resources, but with time demographic research shifted to the nitty-gritty of demographics. As demographers turned inward, the media turned to natural scientists for commentary on population growth and its effect on the demand for resources, the environment, or food security. Biologist Paul Ehrlich and I have been center stage in trying to keep focus on the broader implications of growing human numbers. Paul published The Population Bomb in 1968, a book that was explosive in its own right. He is exceptionally articulate, an excellent interviewee. My visibility on the issue dates back to the publication of Man, Land and Food in 1963. For me it is impossible to write about food, water, or climate change without incorporating the effect of population growth.

When world population reached 7 billion in October 2011, the media turned to both Paul and me for commentary. This was not surprising, given that both of us have been tracking this issue for half a century and have seen world population triple during our lifetimes.

It is rare for me today to give a talk at an international conference without at least a few people coming up afterward to say something like, “Thank you for your work. I’ve been reading you for years.” Or “I’ve been reading you since the first State of the World.”

For instance, in May 2008, I was scheduled to meet Justin Fox, a reporter with Time, for lunch at the Oyster Bar in New York’s Grand Central Station, but as I was walking east on Forty-Second Street, I couldn’t decide which entrance to take to reach the restaurant. When I asked a passerby for guidance, he said he thought it was the next one. When we reached it, he said, “Let me just show you where the Oyster Bar is.” When we got within sight of the restaurant, he started to peel off. As he did, I thanked him and handed him my business card. He stopped, stared at it intently, and then looked up and said, “I’ve been reading you for a hundred years!” It turns out that Alexander Peters is a prominent player in the New York real estate market. But that is his day job. He is also on the Board of the Long Island League of Conservation Voters, which was why he had been reading me for “a hundred years.”