Planet Earth: Our Loving Home
 
Lester Brown on Global Ecological Destruction and Imminent Civilization Collapse      
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Intelligent viewers, welcome to this week’s episode of Planet Earth: Our Loving Home, the first in a two-part series where we feature the thoughts of famed American environmental advocate Lester Brown on global ecological destruction and the serious consequences to communities worldwide.

When I think about national security today, I think we need a new definition, a definition for the 21st century. When I sit with a pad of paper and ask myself, "What are the threats today?" Number one: climate change. Number two: population growth. Number three: spreading water shortages. Number four: rising food prices. Number five: a growing number of failing states. These are the threats to our security today.

Mr. Brown holds a masters degree in agricultural economics from the University of Maryland, USA, and in public administration from Harvard University, USA. For over 40 years he has dedicated himself to work in environmental conservation and economic sustainability. Mr. Brown has authored and co-authored more than 50 books, including the best-selling “Plan B” series and his 2011 release, “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.” His books have been translated into approximately 40 languages.

Regarded as the father of modern grassroots environmentalism, the Washington Post says he is “one of the most influential thinkers in the world” and the Telegraph of Calcutta calls him “the guru of the environmental movement.” He has also received numerous honorary degrees and prizes such as the MacArthur Fellowship, the United Nations Environment Prize, and the World Wide Fund for Nature Gold Medal.

I’ve been working with environmental NGOs for more than 40 years. When I left the US Department of Agriculture in 1972, I worked for a group called the Overseas Development Council. And it worked on development issues including environmental issues, though they were not yet well defined. And then in 1974, I began to see a need for a research institute that would focus on global environmental issues. There was none at the time.

With the help of the Rockefeller Brothers fund, and a half-million-dollar start up grant, I started The World Watch Institute. And then a decade ago, I started the Earth Policy Institute, an organization that focuses on the “what to do” part of the problem. We know pretty much what the problems are now. The question is what to do. And we developed the Plan B series in response to that.

The book “World on the Edge” was written to convey a sense of urgency, not only talking about what we need to do, but the urgency of doing it. I don’t think we have a lot of time left. The question is how much time do we have before the destruction of the economy’s environmental support systems begins to translate into negative global economic trends. The answer to that question is we don’t know. But I think we have perhaps less time than most people realize.

Climate change is putting our civilization in tremendous peril. Archeologists assert that, based on historical records, environmental decline always occurs before economic and societal collapse. Thus the current rate of worldwide ecological devastation is an alarm for humanity to take action now.

Our forests are shrinking. Our soils are eroding. Our aquifers are being depleted. Grasslands are turning into desert. . These are very clear trends now. What we know from studying earlier civilizations, who were destroying their environmental support systems, is that no civilization can do that indefinitely without eventually declining and collapsing. That’s what happened to the Sumerians. That’s what happened to the Mayans.

The Mayans, it was deforestation and soil erosion and shrinking food supply, and eventually the civilization disappeared. The Sumerians, it was salt levels building in the soil. As the salt levels went up, yields went down, and then the civilization itself went down. So, we’re doing all the wrong things environmentally. Whether it’s climate change or falling water tables, deforestation, soil erosion, all these things are going to undermine civilization unless we can reverse them.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague states that crop production depends heavily on a steady-state climate: “You cannot have food, water, or energy security without climate security. They are interconnected and inseparable. They form four resource pillars on which global security, prosperity and equity stand.” Russia’s heat wave of 2010, which was induced by global warming, is one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory and had a very large impact on the international food market, since Russia, the world’s third largest grain exporter, prohibited exports during the crisis to ensure sufficient food for its citizens.

If at the beginning of last year, someone had said to me that the average temperature in Moscow in July will be 14 degrees Fahrenheit, eight degrees Celsius, above the norm, I would have said, "I'm not a climate denier, but that's beyond reason." But it happened, and now that we've seen such a dramatic rise in temperature in one place in the world for a sustained period for a month, we now know it can happen somewhere else.

We saw night after night, week after week, smoke-filled streets in Moscow, because things were burning throughout Western Russia. Russia was literally burning out of control in a heat wave that started in late June, lasted through July, and went into August. In the end, it did an estimated US$300-billion worth of damage.

By comparison, Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 did about US$100-billion worth of damage. The heat wave in Russia claimed 56,000 lives with a combination of heat, stress and breathing smoke-filled air, which exacerbated respiratory illnesses. The grain harvest dropped from 100-million tons, which is what they were hoping for, to 60- million tons. They lost 40% of their grain harvest. If that heat wave had been centered in Chicago, and if the United States had lost 40% of its grain harvest, that’s 40% of 400-million tons. The United States and the world would have lost 160- million tons of grain.

If that had happened, there would have been chaos in world grain markets by late summer and early fall of last year. Grain prices would have gone to levels we’ve never seen before. Food prices would be rising throughout the world. Exporting countries would be restricting exports to try to keep their food prices under control.

Mr. Brown notes that the overt signs of imminent civilization collapse are large-scale food shortages, growing numbers of environmental refugees and failing states.

The food crisis that occurred between early 2007 and 2008 when the world’s wheat, rice, soybean, and corn prices jumped dramatically, is being repeated in 2011. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank thus cautioned in April 2011 that the world is just “one shock away from a full-blown [food price] crisis.”

If I were asked to identify three indicators that will tell us more about our future and, where civilization is headed, the first would be an economic indicator. It would be grain prices, and world grain prices today are double what they were five years ago, and they're probably going to go higher in the next few years. How much higher, we don’t know. The world food-price index set an all-time high. And it’s still very close to that. It has not subsided.

This was to be a year in which we rebuilt world grain stocks after they were depleted as a result of the heat wave in Russia last year. The price at harvest time, at planting time was very good. It encouraged farmers. They planted more grain. They used more fertilizer, but they were not able to expand production fast enough to keep up with the growth in demand. So this year, once again, we’re going to see a reduction in world grain stocks. The earliest relief we can hope for now, is next year (2012), next fall’s grain harvest.

So we’re literally living on the edge right now. And the difficulties in restoring stable food prices and food security for the world are substantial. It used to be that the only source of additional demand for grain was basically population growth. And then some decades ago, people started moving up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock products.

And the third thing is that we are now converting grain into fuel for cars. We’ve set up a competition between automobile owners and people for the grain supply. In the United States last year we harvested 400- million tons of grain. Of that, 124 million tons went to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars.

Approximately 70% of available global freshwater is being used for agriculture and over-pumping of water for irrigation is significantly draining the world's groundwater reserves. Saudi Arabia announced in 2007 it was giving up wheat production due to total depletion of its fossil aquifer.

Deprived of the three-million tons of wheat it once produced annually, the country now has to import grain from abroad. Animal agriculture consumes huge volumes of water, and it has been demonstrated by numerous studies that producing animal products is enormously inefficient as it puts a large, unsustainable burden on our natural resources like water.

For example, the Twente Water Center in the Netherlands estimates it takes up to six times more water to grow a kilogram of animal protein as plant protein and that producing beef consumes 20 times more water per calorie than grain or potatoes.

We have spreading shortages of irrigation water. Half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling as a result of over-pumping for irrigation. These countries, 18 in total, include China and India. The World Bank estimates that 175-million people in India are being fed with grain produced by over-pumping, by depleting their aquifers, which by definition is a short-term phenomenon.

I estimate that in China 130-million people are being fed with grain produced by over-pumping. So the water issue that was mostly underground and out of sight, is becoming a serious stress on the world food economy and making it more difficult to expand production as fast as we would like.

Global adoption of a plant-based diet can halt 80% of global warming, end world hunger, and free up the Earth’s freshwater as well as many other precious natural resources. It offers a sustainable and secure lifeline for our planet and humanity. In short, it will quickly solve the most serious environmental issues facing the world today. Our heartfelt thanks Lester Brown for your excellent insights on the current global environmental crisis and the resulting dangers posed to the world community. Leaders like you are awakening governments and individuals to the fact that immediate action is required to halt the widespread abuse of our planet’s gifts to humanity.

For more information on Lester Brown, please visit www.Earth-Policy.org
Hard copies and free-to-download PDF versions of Lester Brown’s books including “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse” are available at www.Earth-Policy.org/books

Eco-wise viewers, please join us again next Wednesday on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home for the conclusion of our two-part program featuring Lester Brown’s expert perspectives on the global environment. Thank you for watching today’s program. May all humans receive abundant, everlasting love and grace from Heaven.
Informed viewers, welcome to this week’s episode of Planet Earth: Our Loving Home, the conclusion of a two-part series where we feature the thoughts of famed American environmental advocate Lester Brown on global ecological destruction and the serious consequences to communities worldwide.

Mr. Brown holds a masters degree in agricultural economics from the University of Maryland, USA, and in public administration from Harvard University, USA. For over 40 years he has dedicated himself to work in environmental conservation and economic sustainability. Mr. Brown has authored and co-authored more than 50 books, including the best-selling “Plan B” series and his 2011 release, “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.” His books have been translated into approximately 40 languages.

Regarded as the father of modern grassroots environmentalism, the Washington Post says he is “one of the most influential thinkers in the world” and the Telegraph of Calcutta calls him “the guru of the environmental movement.” He has also received numerous honorary degrees and prizes such as the MacArthur Fellowship, the United Nations Environment Prize, and the World Wide Fund for Nature Gold Medal.

Lester Brown has formulated what he calls “Plan B” to save our planet and civilization. It is called “Plan B” because “Plan A” is simply as Mr. Brown puts it “business as usual” or no change as to how we treat the Earth. Let’s now hear about some of the components of Plan B.

Business as usual is no longer a viable option over the longer term.. The question is what we do about this. That’s why we’ve developed Plan B. One, reduce carbon emissions 80%, not by 2050, which is what politicians like to talk about, but by 2020. We didn’t ask the question, “What would be politically feasible or politically acceptable ?” We asked instead the question, starting with the science, how fast do we have to cut carbon emissions if we want to save the Greenland ice sheet?

And I used the Greenland ice sheet because it’s sort of a metaphor for the Earth itself. Scientists have told us that if the Greenland ice sheet melts entirely, the sea level rises seven meters. But even a one-meter rise in sea level would put half of the rice land in Bangladesh under water. It would put a large piece of the Mekong Delta under water and Âu Lạc (Vietnam) is the world’s second largest rice exporter. There are 19 other rice-growing river deltas in Asia where rice production would shrink with just a one-meter rise in sea level. Think of it; ice melting on an island in the far north Atlantic can shrink the rice harvest in Asia where half the world’s people live.

We’re living in a very complex world. We have to eradicate poverty. And then restore the economy’s natural support systems. The world now needs to do a great job of reforestation. Each year the world’s forests are shrinking. We have less tree cover than the year before. And we can’t continue that indefinitely. The world’s soils are eroding, including the soils on our crop land. We see today the formation of huge dust storms in Northern and Western China and Western Mongolia early each spring. So we’re losing topsoil big time.

Switching to sustainable energy sources can help reduce toxic greenhouse gases and other forms of air pollution, thus helping to mitigate climate change. In “World on the Edge,” Lester Brown notes that the North African nation of Algeria maintains that just by producing solar power in its deserts, the country could generate sufficient electricity to meet the energy needs of the entire world economy. In 2009, several European firms established the Desertec Foundation to build solar thermal-generation facilities in North Africa and the Middle East to provide power to the countries producing the electricity as well as to supply Europe with energy.

Let me talk for a minute about new sources of energy. As of today there is about 13,000 megawatts of geothermal energy in the world being used for electricity. Solar-generated electricity, the capacity is about 37,000 megawatts; wind, 240,000 megawatts. For the last decade wind has been growing at nearly 30% per year worldwide. And it's beginning to make a huge difference. In some places wind is an important source of energy, it's the major source of electricity now. For example, in the three northernmost states in Germany, from 40 to 60% of the electricity is coming from wind farms.

Mr. Brown says that the costs of global warming and environmental degradation are typically not incorporated into any given product’s market price and thus carbon taxes are needed to achieve an environmentally honest market.

The key to restructuring the world energy economy, shifting from fossil fuels, oil and coal and natural gas to clean sources of energy, wind and solar and geothermal, is to restructure the tax system. The market does many things well. But one thing it does not do well is to incorporate indirect cost in market prices. Market prices include only the direct cost.

For example, in the United States, when we buy a gallon of gasoline, it costs nearly US$4 a gallon. That covers the cost of pumping the oil, getting the oil to a refinery, making the gasoline, and getting the gasoline to local service stations. It does not cover the cost of climate change. It does not cover the cost of treating respiratory illnesses from breathing the polluted air. When you include these indirect costs in the price of gasoline, it goes from US$4 a gallon to US$12 a gallon.

We have deluded ourselves in letting the market set the price into thinking that burning oil or burning coal is cheap. It is not. It is very costly. And we’ve only paid part of the bill so far. The big part of the bill will be coming due in the years ahead. It’s already coming due now in many situations.

In “World on the Edge,” Mr. Brown calculates the budget needed for global implementation of “Plan B” to be about US$200 billion. Compared to the size of the US military budget, this is indeed a relatively small figure.

When we look at the US budget, we see US$700 billion for military purposes. That US$200 billion we need to eradicate poverty and restore the economy's natural support systems, reforestation, etc., that's less than a third of the US military budget. It's only an eighth of the global military budget. We can't say we don't have the resources to do what needs to be done. We do. We know what needs to be done. And we have the resources to do it.

What it's going to take is a lot of NGOs, (non-governmental organizations) like the ones I represent and work with in the (United) States pushing for change. And what we’re talking about now is not just saving some environmental system. We're talking about the future of civilization itself, because no civilization has ever survived the ongoing destruction of its natural support systems, nor will ours.

Compared to a vegan diet, a meat diet uses up to 17-times as much land, 14 -times as much water and 10-times as much energy. And if all the grains currently used to feed livestock globally were instead reserved for humans, the entire hungry and malnourished population of Earth could be fed.

There are two good reasons for us to eat less meat and more plant foods. One is the health reason. In the United States, we have obesity and much of that’s from consuming too much fat and fat-rich livestock products. We have problems with heart disease from that. So, moving down the food chain and consuming less fat-rich livestock products would make us healthier. It also would make the planet healthier, because it reduces the demand on the world’s grain supplies. The amount of grain required to produce a kilogram of meat, whether it’s poultry or pork or beef, is three, four, five, six pounds.

So it takes a lot of grain to produce meat, and milk and eggs as well. It’s a fairly simple matter of just consuming less meat and more plant products. And it’s not a major sacrifice. We clearly need to move down the food chain and consume less, particularly fat-rich livestock products.

Livestock production is the world’s single largest emitter of methane, which is 72-times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of heating the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Also, methane dissipates out of the atmosphere in about 12 years, whereas carbon dioxide stays for thousands of years.

Supreme Master Ching Hai often speaks about the importance of the organic vegan diet in eliminating shorter-lived greenhouse gases such as methane from the air as in this June 2011 videoconference hosted by the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association in Mexico City, Mexico titled “From Crisis To Peace: The Whole Universe is Blessing Us.”

The founder of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, who is a respected US environmental leader, stated that climate change is happening so fast right now that we need to reduce emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, 80% by 2020, to protect global food supplies even – just food supplies even.

Not 80% by 2050, as suggested before, which is the date discussed by many politicians, but 80% now – I mean, soon, by 2020, maximum – because if we lose food security, our civilization could collapse. Moral standards, even, could collapse; people’s health could deteriorate; happiness could also collapse; nations could collapse – every other thing might also collapse.

Lester Brown and others point out that the great Mayan civilization in Mexico may have fallen when it lost control over its food supply. Climatologists say that we are facing the same danger now, today. If it happened before, it could happen again. So how do we reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2020? How do we do that? How do we keep the global temperature at safe levels?

There is a solution. A few months ago, the United Nations proposed that the best way to bring about cooling, rather than focusing on carbon dioxide, would be to reduce the shorter-lived global warming agents. These include methane, black carbon, and ground-level ozone.

And how? Again, the fastest, cheapest way to do this is to stop raising animals for human consumption.

We thank you, Lester Brown and your colleagues at the Earth Policy Institute, for analyzing the root causes of civilization’s current crisis and developing “Plan B,” as an action strategy for humankind to follow to protect our planet. May you successfully continue your invaluable research on preserving our world and safeguarding communities worldwide in the years ahead.

For more information on Lester Brown, please visit www.Earth-Policy.org
Hard copies and free-to-download PDF versions of Lester Brown’s books including “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse” are available at www.Earth-Policy.org/books

Pleasant viewers, thank you for watching this week’s episode of Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. May the everlasting light and love of Heaven touch all beings.

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