From the start. I think it is important to realize that this book is essentially a position paper for the Earth Policy Institute. It is a slim book, with only about 120 pages of information. The author is the president of the organization, and what he presents are the situations, scenarios and solutions posited by the group. That does not make the work good or bad, but the buyer should know what they are buying and who it represents.
Many of the problems outlined in the book are solid problems that are occurring in the world at this very moment: over grazing leading to diminished carrying capacity of the land, over use of water from aquifers, people moving up the food chain and demanding more meat, abject poverty, unsustainable population growth as well as a dwindling food supply. My biggest problem with the discussions is that they were taken to the extreme, and while I believe the problems exist, I doubt the solutions provided are workable.
The solutions proposed by the author are admirable, but I doubt they have a chance of working. We are in an extremely toxic political climate in this country, where politicians cannot even agree on what color the sky is. Add to that the educational requirements and family planning that the author advocates and I think you have a political train wreck...at least in this country. And the author states we need to do this at a speed rivaling the buildup of war material preceding WW II. I sincerely doubt there is a chance in Hades of this occurring unless some very strong leadership presents itself in Washington very quickly (which does not seem at all likely).
The writing is well done, with the issues and solutions presented in a way that a non-scientist can understand. I agree we are in trouble....I just think the solutions proposed are unworkable at the current time and, will accomplish little.
on October 25, 2012
This is a great little book that sums up the global situation, and ties it all together. Best explanation of how everything is inter-connected. I'm a longtime environmental activist so most of the content wasn't new to me. However, even I didn't realize how serious things were, and how much damage has been done to our ecosystems. There's no dispute that Lester Brown knows his stuff, or that the prognosis is grim. But, that doesn't mean that we should just blow it off, because these problems aren't going to go away. They must be dealt with, the sooner the better. I wish every American would read this book!!! We have things better than most of the world, but we're not insulated from the problems he outlines. It's chilling how he lays out our "debt" to China because they buy our debt. As he states, "Now holding close to $1 trillion of U.S. debt, China has become the banker for the United States".
on February 3, 2013
Book Review: "Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity" by Lester R. Brown, W.B. Norton & Co.
By Mark J. Palmer
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute paints a scary future of the coming food crunch in his new book, "Full Planet, Empty Plates."
The coming perfect storm (to coin a phrase) of a growing human population coupled with hitting limits of available fresh water, limited arable land (which in too many places is eroding away), and global warming will mean less food grains that we all depend on, although, as usual, it is the poorest people with fewer options who will suffer the most.
Within my lifetime, human population has gone from 2.5 billion people in 1950 to 7 billion today. While changing lifestyles, birth control, government polices and an aging population are slowing population growth in the US, China and Europe, growth continues in sub-Sahara Africa and the Indian subcontinent, already areas where food availability causes severe hunger. Projections suggest 9.3 billion people will be on Earth in 2050.
Yet, the world supply of grain - corn, wheat, and rice - is severely limited today. Already, nations like China and Saudi Arabia are taking steps to lease or buy large tracts of land in third-world countries, chiefly Africa, to feed their own people, displacing small farmers.
Fresh water for irrigation, in Brown's view, is a key limited resource that we seldom think about. 40% of the world's grain crops need irrigation, but all over the world (including in the US) farmers are desperately depleting underground water supplies that in many cases cannot be replaced. As a result, wells are dug deeper and deeper to keep up with the dropping water tables.
Our continued burning of fossil fuels, Brown notes, is contributing to global warming that threatens to further wither grain crops, as has happened in several years in several places over the past few years. These crop failures will increase as the temperature increases, along with other effects of global warming, such as sea level rise and stronger storms. Ironically, the switch to growing corn and other grains for ethanol and biodiesel to avoid burning fossil fuels helps to further limit food crops, raise the price of corn and other grains and usurps land that used to grow food. The trend towards improved living levels in some countries such as China mean more people are eating meat, which itself is dependent on grains to feed livestock. At the same time, fish populations are suffering from over-fishing, with four-fifths of the world's major fisheries being exploited at maximum levels or being over-exploited with pending declines in catch and eventual crash, as has happened with the Atlantic cod.
We have already seen what the future looks like, although it got little notice in the US media. In 2007/2008, world grain prices doubled due to poor harvests and the limits to grain availability. There were riots in Egypt and Haiti. The prices went down with the global financial crunch, but have bounced back up in recent years. Brown notes that in 2012, as he was writing the book, the US corn crop started out in excellent shape, but withered under days of 100-degree heat in July in the Midwest.
As with Brown's other books and reports, "Full Planet, Empty Plates" is well written and meticulously documented (in order to save room in the printing, sources and notes are available online). He writes with passion and at the same time explains these huge trends in language easy to digest (if you will excuse the pun).
Brown provides a final chapter of suggested solutions, noting that the trends are intertwined and therefore cannot be attacked piece-meal by society. Energy use, pollution, poverty, and water management are all needed, but solving one problem is unlikely to fix things without addressing the other issues. But he also notes that individuals can tackle the issues individually and within existing Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), while always keeping in mind the connections that help fuel the whole.
However, the solutions chapter is the weakest part of the book. This is a call to arms, not a handbook to end food scarcity. Brown does point to some encouraging trends - we know how to limit population growth because many nations have done so, and there are steps being taken to move away from fossil fuel use that are still tentative, but significant. Some of Brown's other publications provide a better menu of solutions, if you are interested.
Like all of Lester Brown's books, a great of deal of information is packed into a small package here, allowing a quick read and understanding of global trends that we need to change.
on January 14, 2014
As the founder of both Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown has been described by the Washington Post as "one of the world's most influential thinkers." And he's probably done more thinking and research about mankind's wasteful use of land and water than any other person in history. In this little book, he did a great job of summarizing that wealth of information. Although he makes it very clear that our current practices are unsustainable, he offers no clear roadmap for how to change it. That's where we come in...I had the privilege of visiting with Mr. Brown by phone in November of 2013. During our one-hour talk, he expressed optimism that my premise (shared by my colleagues James Cameron, T. Colin Campbell, John Robbins and others) just might work. That premise is this: "Shifting to a whole foods, plant-based diet will do more to ensure the longterm sustainability of our species than all other possible initiatives combined." I urge you to read this book and become part of the urgently needed elimination of our highly wasteful, harmful and grossly unsustainable feeding model of meat, dairy, eggs and/or fish three meals a day. J. Morris Hicks
on March 2, 2015
Has every politician and political advisor read this book? If not, why not? I would say it is the single most important, fundamentally important, book in print today. I cannot believe that anyone, no matter what you may have formerly believed or not believed, would not be influenced to act, and with alacrity, after having read this book--which I did in a single 24-hour period, because, while thoroughly sourced, it is entirely accessible. Totally compelling, although deeply disturbing. Catastrophic change is imminent