EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 8. Restoring the Earth: Introduction

We are dependent on the earth’s natural systems for goods, ranging from building materials to seafood, as well as services, ranging from flood control to crop pollination. If croplands are eroding and harvests are shrinking, if water tables are falling and wells are going dry, if grasslands are turning to desert and livestock are dying, we are in trouble. If civilization’s environmental support systems continue to decline, eventually civilization itself will follow.

In Chapter 5 we discussed the deforestation, soil erosion, and devastation of Haiti’s countryside. After looking at the desperate situation in Haiti, Craig Cox, Executive 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 what lies ahead for more and more countries if we do not restore the earth’s health. 1

Restoring the earth will take an enormous international effort, one far 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 and state failure, just as it did for earlier civilizations that violated nature’s thresholds and ignored its deadlines.

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


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