42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2002
Lester Brown occupies an unique position, as former president and founder of the Worldwatch Institute and current president of the Earth Policy Institute (check out both sites online). Not only does he want to make a change, but he has access to information that is truly global in scope. There may perhaps be no other author with such an intimate understanding of the trends that now face humanity at the dawn of this new century.
The first quarter of the book provides a bird's-eye view of our planet, a planet in decline. Whatever undefined notions you might have had about what writer Thomas Berry has termed 'ecocide' will suddenly be very clear. Afer a litany of statistics that are absolutely mind-boggling, Brown's statement, "we are losing the war to save the planet," no longer smacks of hyperbole. However, this is no pessimist's rant.
The next third of the book outlines a stunning vision of Brown's eco-economy. Don't mistake, this is not eco-utopia - but damn close! Cars that produce water as waste. Sustainable fisheries and forest that don't collapse. An economy based on wind and solar-power. His vision of a sustainable tomorrow is nothing less than the measure of today. I hesitate to think of what will happen if we continue with business as usual, that is, if we continue with our fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy.
The last third of the book outlines the practical steps we must make in order to bring about this eco-era. These include: a tax shift that hits messy industries, the end of government subsidized deforestation, quality ecolabeling (voting with our wallets), and tradable permits that set well-defined limits on, say, units of fish caught per year. Brown, like so many oher eco-economists, also emphasizes the need to work within the limits of our natural capital (nature's productive and absorbtion capacity).
Every section of this book is cogently argued, factual and compelling, and his ideas for change are stunning. From the role of NGOs and the United Nations to individual initiatives, like green power options, this book is very down to earth and pragmatic about change. Unlike most studies in ecology, economics, or politics, Brown doesn't limit himself to one aspect of the discussion. You get the facts, a comprehensive vision, and the concrete steps required to bring that vision into reality.
This is a must read for anybody interested in environmentalism, economics, futurism, or governmental policy in general. The Washington Post nailed it on the head when they described Brown as "One of the world's most influential thinkers." Read this book, and see the world through this remarkable man's eyes.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Veteran environmentalist Lester Brown has divided his book into three sections.
In the first, he describes the current degraded state of the planet. The author reveals many alarming facts about climate change, falling water tables, and the stressed biological base. The author builds a solid case that the earth will not be able to support the current throw-away lifestyle indefinitely, and that attempts to extend this short-term mentality to the third world are pointless.
The second section discusses the "new economy". Here, Brown contrasts green technologies with the status quo, including: wind, solar and hydrogen power vs. fossil fuels; recycling vs. mining; sustainable forestry vs. clear cutting; raising water productivity vs. depleting aquifers; mass transit vs. automobiles; and more. In each instance, the author makes a compelling case why it makes economic as well as environmental sense for society to switch to environmental-friendly solutions.
In the last section, Brown shows us how to get "from here to there". While he acknowledges that entrenched economic interests will fight to avoid change, the author writes confidently because he knows that change MUST occur. Brown points out that if humanity does not have the foresight to choose the sustainable path today, the environmental catastrophes we are creating for ourselves will eventually force us to change tomorrow.
He goes on to write about common-sense public and private sector policies that could be used to help effect the transition to an "eco-economy" in a fair and reasonable manner. The author is optimistic in that he believes environmental collapse is not inevitable. He cites evidence that new practices are in fact being implemented in many places, albeit in a piecemeal and inadequate fashion. What's missing is the large-scale, coordinated effort needed to reverse the current situation, which will require consensus among leaders in industry and government.
Brown's message is sane, articulate and persuasive. Let's hope that the message in this excellent book is heeded sooner rather than later.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2004
Lester Brown, Chairman of the Worldwatch Institute, which is known for the high quality of its reports, presents his vision of an environmentally sustainable economy - an eco-economy. The purpose of his book is to show that we have no alternative to restructuring the economy if we want economic progress, to describe with some degree of confidence what the eco-economy will look like and to outline a strategy of how to get there in the time available.
After cataloguing the grim decline in the planet's ability to carry on with business as usual, and pointing out that mismanagement is destroying forests, rangelands, fisheries and croplands, - the four eco-systems that supply our food and, except for minerals, all our raw materials - Eco-Economy provides hope that the solutions are within our reach, affordable and can lead to new employment opportunities and a higher standard of living.
An economy is sustainable only if it respects the principles of ecology; if it does not, it will decline and eventually collapse; there is no middle ground. Relying on distorted market signals to guide investment decisions is a recipe for disaster. We need a change in mind set similar to that when our ancestors accepted that the earth revolves around the sun.
Twenty five years ago the concept of environmentally sustainable development - restoring carbon balances, stabilizing population and water tables, conserving forests, soils and plant/animal diversity - was introduced but not one country is progressing satisfactorily on all fronts. Nonetheless glimpses of the eco-economy are visible. Many countries have stabilized their population - the first requirement for a sustainable future, - banned construction of coal-fired power plants or nonrefillable beverage containers, reforested, and encouraged use of bicycles. These are all facets of building a sustainable economy in marked contrast to the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy of today.
Perhaps the most profound change will occur in the energy field where wind-generated energy at a cost as low as four cents per watt is likely to be a major source of energy for the foreseeable future. By electrolyzing water to produce hydrogen during slack times we have the means of storing wind energy and, in due course, of transporting it through defunct oil and gas pipe lines. Use of natural gas will keep expanding for the present as it is an ideal fuel for the transition from a carbon-based economy to one based on hydrogen. Together, electricity and hydrogen can meet all the needs of a modern society. Other renewable sources of energy will play a lesser role. During the 1990s photovoltaic sales increased by an average of 20% per year, climbing by 43% in 2000, while the capacity of geothermal increased by 4% and hydro by 2%. Energy conservation and efficiency is still the best investment we can make with such items as compact fluorescent lamps having a very rapid pay back. The United States could meet the Kyoto protocol by 2010 simply by moving to Europe's energy efficiency levels, which in turn are not yet taking full advantage of the state of the art technologies.
The second major change will occur in materials handling. Failure to adopt a comprehensive recycling program has resulted in removing New York City's 12,000 ton daily output of garbage in a fleet of vehicles 15 km long, on the 900 km round trip. A simple measure like recycling paper would shorten the convoy by 4.5kms. Metals are a major problem as their mining and processing are environmentally destructive and energy intensive. Redesigning the materials economy to be compatible with the eco-system includes such measures as easy disassembly for recycling, reducing waste generation, banning throw away beverage containers, improved methods of manufacturing, clustering factories so that waste from one acts as an input to another, legislation requiring a minimum percentage of recycled material and setting a zero emissions goal. Most worrying of all is China's rapid rise in standard of living and the world's inability to support a western standard of living with a western way of doing business. As an example if annual paper use in China were to rise to US levels, it would need more paper than the world currently produces. Mr. Brown describes ways to do the same job using far less raw material.
In similar fashion the book deals with agriculture and food, forest products, cities, population stabilization, and leadership.
This book has helped me in two ways. First, I lacked a grand and convincing vision of what a sustainable society might look like and the second was that in a period of such rapid change I feared that an investment today might turn out to be a white elephant tomorrow. I believe that the future painted by Lester Brown is not only possible but is almost bound to happen if each of us do our part, as much is already being put in place. I can adopt his vision as my vision feeling much more confident in my actions and that I can leave a better world to my children and grandchildren.
In Bangkok one evening at 9pm all television stations focused on a huge electricity meter while the announcer asked everyone to switch off unnecessary lights and electrical appliances. Everyone was amazed to see the meter wind down enough to switch out two power stations. We have to remember that building a sustainable economy requires both major structural changes in addition to billions of small actions world wide.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2005
I bought this as a required book for a college course. In the forward of this book it states that the book is available for free online. Just google "Eco-Economy" and you will find it in its entirety.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2004
If money were no object, I would mail copies of Lester Brown's "Eco-Economy" and Paul Hawken's "Natural Capitalism" to every CEO, country leader, and business school dean on the planet. Eco-Economy is a well-researched, balanced, detailed portrayal of where the world is today ecologically, and where the world could be in the future, depending on the choices we make (or fail to make) when it comes to managing our fragile and taxed natural environmnent.
Brown makes his case clear: it is now time for ecologists to team up with economists to ensure that the prices we pay for all goods and services "tell the ecological truth". One of the most critical examples is the price we pay in North America for gasoline: the pump price has never reflected the total true costs that are borne by members of society and by the natutal environment. Until governments impose gasoline taxes that reflect those total true costs, the fossil fuel resource will continue to be undervalued and wasted.
To read Eco-Economy is to go on an emotional roller coaster ride. The earlier chapters accurately describe the perilous state of many ecological systems, such as life-sustaining aquifers being depleted or contaminated, and irreversible soil erosion due to the removal of trees. I found these chapters well worth reading, but very disturbing. What is good news for the reader and, more important, good news for the planet, is that Brown offers numerous examples of how we can (technically, at least; if we could now just muster the required political will) stop or even reverse our erstwhile environmentally damaging behaviour -- in other words, "how to get there from here".
Brown identifies sustainability-related opportunities and responsibilities for all key sectors of the human race: government leaders, business CEOs, NGOs, academics. Further, Brown reminds us that lone individuals can make a difference, too: the publishing of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring represented a much-needed "threshold" that prompted the world to re-think its use of DDT. Thus, for those of us who do not run a government or a company, we have the power of the pen on our side, and we can choose to exercise that power.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2003
The dominant worldview today is one where the environment is merely a subset of the economy. In Eco-Economy Lester Brown forcefully argues the case for a new worldview; the need for an eco-economy. The opening chapters of Eco-Economy make sombre reading. Lester Brown draws on his vast knowledge and experience to explain that nearly every area of human activity is at or above ecologically sustainable limits. If China were to consume as much fish per capita as Japan it would consume the world's entire catch. If every Chinese home had one or two cars in the garage like the US China would need more oil than the world currently produces.
In order to meet the expanding demand for food China has ploughed and overgrazed areas in its northwest creating some of the largest dust storms ever recorded. The water table under the North China Plain which produces 25 percent of China's grain is falling at a rate of 1.5 metres per year. However, the problem of overpumping aquifiers is not confined to China. This problem is also impacting on agricultural production in India, the US and elsewhere.
The bad news continues: the world's forests are shrinking by 9 million hectares per year (an area the size of Portugal); two thirds of oceanic fisheries are being fished at or above their sustainable yield; and increasing atmospheric CO2 levels are driving an increase in global temperatures.
If the opening chapters of this book cannot convince the reader of the need for an eco-economy nothing will. Lester Brown uses the rest of the book to identify the characteristics of an eco-economy and detail a path for getting there.
Some countries have already adopted elements of an eco-economy. Many European countries and Japan have stabilised their populations and China is moving toward population stability. Denmark generates 15 percent of its electricity from wind power.
The eco-economy that Lester Brown envisages runs on hydrogen instead of oil and its cities are designed for people (and bicycles) not cars. Wind turbine engineers, bicycle mechanics and and family planning midwives will be the growth areas of employment in the new economy.
The main elements of the path to an eco-economy are stabilising population, restructuring the economy--mainly via subsidies and tax shifting, and greater leadership and responsibility from all sectors of society. The final question Lester Brown asks is "Is there enough time?" It is already too late to save the Aral Sea, but there is still time if we move quickly. What is needed is a "war effort" where understanding the magnitude of the threat faced leads to rapid action being taken. What is needed is a a world that reacts as swiftly to rising CO2 emmissions as it does to rising interest rates.
Lester Brown's vision for an eco-economy is not so much a radical one as a necessary one. Anything less than the action he proposes will result in future disaster on a global scale. It is something that can be achieved within the existing political frameworks creating a potentially wide audience for this book. As such it makes important reading.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Lester Brown, the visionary behind the Worldwatch Institute, has decided to focus his energy on greening economic policy. If you have ever read anything by Brown, you know exactly what to expect -- the inimitable blend of vision, statistics, practical details and policy proposals. I find it amazing, given his topic, that there are near zero citations to even the most influential of the ecological economists (one reference each to Herman Daly and Robert Costanza). But Brown is a pragmatist, not a theorist, and I hope he can both popularize the approach and impact policy in a way that academics typically don't. The proposals, such as tax shifting, are not new, but face an uphill battle to implement in the U.S. -- some of these ideas are already in the policy mix in Europe. "Eco-economy" is the latest installment of the Book that Brown has been writing and re-writing since the late 1970s, and it is as timely as ever -- REQUIRED READING! (and check out the website of his new Earth Policy Institute...)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2003
This is a very thorough and readable analysis of why we need to move decisively toward sustainability and how to do so at a societal level. It is written for the general reader, contains a wealth of sometimes quite startling facts (the ore processed to produce a pair of gold wedding rings would fill a hole 10 feet long, 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep!) and gives more attention to what needs to be done and how to do it than to describing what is wrong.
It is a book for the citizen, the student and for use in political dialogue rather than for business people seeking to improve the sustainability of their operations, (for which see Hawken, Robèrt, Nattrass and others).
The book has three purposes. The first is to make the case that we have no alternative to restructuring the economy if we want economic progress to continue in the decades ahead. The second is to describe not only the broad structure of the eco-economy, but some of its details. And the third is to outline a strategy for getting from here to there in the time available.
It sketches the need to move to an eco-economy based on renewable energy and an approach to materials use that mirrors the natural cyclical processes. It also reinforces the systemic nature of change, involving deep changes in societal attitudes, linked to cooperation between government, community and business.
Chapter 4 The Shape of the Eco-Economy offers some interesting predictions about the industries and professions that are likely to expand, and to act as drivers in the move towards sustainability. This is in support of his point that, far from the move being a threat to our economic health, it offers vast opportunities for investment and for true economic development.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2001
Eco-Economy is one of the most significant environmental books of the past several years. Brown clearly describes the damage we are doing to the environment, paints a picture of what a more sustainable economy would look like, then explains how we can get there. Most useful is the discussion of tax shifting. I bought a case to give away as Christmas presents! Buy one for yourself, and one for each of your legislators.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 14, 2004
In Eco-Economy, Lester R. Brown first details the current state of the Earth and the economy that operates on it and utilizes its resources. Brown explains the current economic processes and trends, and presents an initial justification for integrating the world's economy into the ecological processes of natural systems, while providing economic security through the protection of these natural systems. Brown asserts, "...[T]he only formulation of economic policy that will succeed is one that respects the principles of ecology" (6). Next, Brown cites the threats and burdens humans have imposed on the environment, including effects on land, climate, water, natural ecosystems, and plant and animal species utilized for human needs, all in justification for his "eco-economy." A transition to an "eco-economy" will allow for a more efficient and sustainable use of resources, and will result in a great reduction in environmental threats posed by humans and an investment into the future perpetuity of the world's ecological systems and resources that provide for economic goods and services.
Finally, Brown details the structure and intricacies of his proposed "eco-economy," one in which solar and wind power would be at the base of an economy that operates with the hydrogen fuel cell, and in which economic processes are cyclical, instead of linear. The eco-economy's cyclical process would channel production and consumer waste outputs back into the system as inputs to be reused. In the eco-economy, cities will be redesigned to become more conducive for people with less congestion and traffic, more mass rail transport systems, and intricate and usable bike transport systems. New industries will be created in the eco-economy to build hydrogen fuel cells and to build and maintain wind energy systems, among others, and a new approach to material usage, production, and consumption will be incorporated to reduce and reuse waste.
Furthermore, Brown details the eco-economy's restructuring of food and water production and distribution systems to increase efficiency, as well as the need for reduced fertility to control population growth. Finally, Brown explains what must be done to allow for the existence of an eco-economy and cites steps and incentives to facilitate the transition from the current conventional economic situation. He summarizes this approach when he writes, "If we use fiscal policy to encourage environmentally constructive activities and to discourage destructive ones, we can steer the economy in a sustainable direction" (235).
Although Lester R. Brown presents insightful and logical solutions to the world's depreciating economic practices in their use of natural resources, current economic situations and the ease of transition to an "eco-economy" is greatly oversimplified. An economy that uses resources sustainable, in a cyclical manner is a noble proposition, but one must be realistic in portraying the ease and likelihood of a switch. Initially, for example, there is a problem with Brown's touting of the cultivation of wind energy as the energy basis of the new eco-economy. He asserts "Millions of turbines soon will be converting wind into electricity, becoming part of the global landscape" (87). Although wind energy production possesses much potential for reducing the current use of fossil fuels for energy, transition to a wind-based energy economy is not quite as simple as Brown advertises. Wind turbines are very large and very expensive, and much public criticism has recently occurred over the production of turbines in natural areas where residents do not want to be degraded or dominated by these massive structures. Such controversy has occurred in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with residents denouncing a proposal to build a wind farm on a nearby offshore site. For wind energy to become the basis of our economy, as Brown asserts, this public perception and backlash must be overcome. Also, creative manipulation of legislative and economic practices that have an inherent financial interest in maintaining the current fossil fuel economy must occur. The oil and other energy and fossil fuel-based industries have much incentive to remain in business, and possess tremendous economic and political influence.
Appropriately, Brown proposes creating an economy which "tells the ecological truth," (234) one in which companies will be forced to bear the costs of production, instead of merely imposing these costs onto the environment and society as externalities. However, although Brown notes that "some companies will be winner and some will be losers" (95) in the new eco-economy, he fails to solidify the point that in order to facilitate economic change to benefit the environment, new environmentally-friendly industries must be made profitable. Not only must tax disincentives be applied to discourage destructive, as well as subsidies to encourage constructive practices, but a full-scale restructuring of the economy must be had for destructive industries to be replaced by constructive ones. Again, this point is dangerously oversimplified, at the expense of portraying the misconception that the current economy's industries can easily be replaced by new constructive industries like wind energy and hydrogen fuel cell production.
Brown writes, "Investments in the infrastructure for the new energy economy, which would eventually have to be made as fossil fuels are depleted..." (94). The environment cannot afford to wait around until "fossil fuels are depleted" as Brown asserts, and since there is much financial incentive to maintain the current fossil fuel economy, immediate and ongoing government monetary and research support must be made to make these constructive industries viable and profitable, to ease and facilitate the ongoing transition to an eco-economy. This switch will not be made overnight as Brown seems to assert, but will be a gradual undertaking.