EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 8. Restoring the Earth: Introduction

The health of an economy cannot be separated from that of its natural support systems. More than half the world’s people depend directly on croplands, rangelands, forests, and fisheries for their livelihoods. Many more depend on forest product industries, leather goods industries, cotton and woolen textile industries, and food processing industries for their jobs. 1

A strategy for eradicating poverty will not succeed if an economy’s environmental support systems are collapsing. If croplands are eroding and harvests are shrinking, if water tables are falling and wells are going dry, if rangelands are turning to desert and livestock are dying, if fisheries are collapsing, if forests are shrinking, and if rising temperatures are scorching crops, a poverty-eradication program—no matter how carefully crafted and well implemented—will not succeed.

In Chapter 5, we discussed the deforestation, soil erosion, and the utter devastation of Haiti’s countryside. After looking at the desperate situation in Haiti, Craig Cox, Director of the U.S.-based Soil and Water Conservation Society, wrote, “I was reminded recently that the benefits of resource conservation—at the most basic level—are still out of reach for many. Ecological and social collapses have reinforced each other in a downward spiral into poverty, environmental degradation, social injustice, disease, and violence.” Unfortunately, the situation Cox describes is no longer a rarity. It describes what lies ahead for more and more countries if we do not launch an earth restoration initiative. 2

Restoring the earth will take an enormous international effort, one even larger and more demanding than the often-cited Marshall Plan that helped rebuild war-torn Europe and Japan. And such an initiative must be undertaken at wartime speed lest environmental deterioration translate into economic decline, just as it did for earlier civilizations that violated nature’s thresholds and ignored its deadlines.

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1. Jonathan Lash, “Dealing with the Tinder As Well As the Flint,” Science, vol. 294, no. 5548 (30 November 2001), p. 1,789.

2. Craig A. Cox, “Conservation Can Mean Life or Death,” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, November/December 2004.


Copyright © 2006 Earth Policy Institute