We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Can we think systemically and fashion policies accordingly? Can we change direction before we go over the edge? Here are a few of the many facts from the book to consider:
- There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night—many of them with empty plates.
- If the 2010 heat wave centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago, it could easily have reduced the U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons by 40 percent and food prices would have soared.
- Winter temperatures in the Arctic, including Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia, have climbed by 4–7 degrees Fahrenheit over the last half-century. This record rise in temperature in the Arctic region could lead to changes in climate patterns that will affect the entire planet.
- Half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as aquifers are being depleted. Since 70 percent of world water use is for irrigation, water shortages translate into food shortages.
- In Sana’a, the capital of Yemen—home to 2 million people—water tables are falling fast. Tap water is available only once every 4 days; in Taiz, a smaller city to the south, it is once every 20 days.
- Virtually all of the top 20 countries considered to be “failing states” are depleting their natural assets—forests, grasslands, soils, and aquifers—to sustain their rapidly growing populations.
- The indirect costs of gasoline, including climate change, treatment of respiratory illnesses, and military protection, add up to $12 per gallon. Adding this to the U.S. average of $3 per gallon brings the true market price closer to $15 per gallon.
- Between 2007 and 2010, U.S. coal use dropped 8 percent. During the same period, 300 new wind farms came online, adding 21,000 megawatts of U.S. wind-generating capacity.
- Algeria has enough harnessable solar energy in its vast desert to power the entire world economy.
- One of the quickest ways to cut carbon emissions is to change light bulbs. Switching to more-efficient lighting around the globe could save enough energy to close more than 700 of the world’s 2,800 coal-fired power plants.
“We can get rid of hunger, illiteracy, disease, and poverty, and we can restore the earth’s soils, forests, and fisheries. We can build a global community where the basic needs of all people are satisfied—-a world that will allow us to think of ourselves as civilized.” –Lester R. Brown
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse is available online for free downloading at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote.
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Excellent thesis in every regard but one: Like most environmental calls to arms, “World on the Edge” treats the root cause of the problem — overpopulation — as a sacred cow. Given that the world’s census has quadrupled in the last 100 years, it is axiomatic that our environmental problems are at least four times as bad as they would be, if we had thought to lower our birth rates when we increased our lifespans. (In reality, they are many times worse, since the policies and technologies driving us to the brink today were virtually nonexistent in 1911.) Without radically reducing our numbers, all other environmental actions are just rearranging deck chairs on the proverbial sinking ship.
Though population control is often denounced as a smokescreen for racism, birth rates are the result of education, economics, and ideology, and have nothing whatever to do with race. Wherever women have three simple rights — access to education, roughly equal pay, and the ability to say “no” to impregnation — they choose to have 1 or 2 children on average, and populations decline automatically. Until we address these issues — and treat patriarchal cultures as a menace to our survival — the global catastrophe Lester Brown outlines is not a matter of “if,” but of “when.”
I think Lester Brown is an amazing and invaluable global resource. I have been following him from the original agricultural green revolution. With his knowledge, experience, worldwide contacts and energy and skill in persuasion he is an indispensable teacher and world leader.
Thanks God for Lester Brown
Today I played with my 8 and 11 year old daughters with such joy and love. But to realize with such clarity the simply enormous changes that humanity and nature face in this era and eras to come, is to concede that only the longest view of time holds hope for a planet in harmony and balance. In the meantime, while so many people fail to understand the implications of so many simultaneous cuts to that which sustains us, I guess we will blunder into a staggeringly wounded time, just ahead. In the end, I believe we’ll come out of it with mankinds greatest lessons by far, but the tunnel will be long indeed.
If “sugar is the new oil”, then Agave will save the world. ~17% of the Earth’s surface is ideal for growing agave (agricultural land is 30%), but agave can be grown on up to 41% of the Earth’s surface.
On an annual basis, one hectare of agave will tield ten thousand gallons of ethanol and/or 65 tonnes of prime-quality dry biomass, ideal for liquid biofuels production.
25M hectares of agave in the USA would yield the same amount of biomass the whole country currently produces. Double dry biomass availability! Tripple it!!!
They say Buddha once said: “Pain is unavoidable, but the suffering is optional”