World on the Edge

If you worry that renewable energy can’t expand fast enough to forestall a crisis, Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Institute offer a compelling case for optimism.
An editorial from MOTHER EARTH NEWS
October/November 2012
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Written by influential environmentalist Lester Brown, "World on the Edge" is a must-read for people trying to comprehend both the urgency and the complexity of our present situation.
Cover Courtesy W.W. Norton & Company

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We are very pleased to feature Exciting News About Renewable Energy, written by Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. Brown has devoted his life to studying and writing about the twin global challenges of climate change and declining fossil fuel supplies, and how they affect the most fundamental challenge of all — building a world in which nations don’t have to fight each other in order for everyone to have enough to eat.

If you worry that renewable energy can’t expand fast enough to slow global warming and forestall an economic crisis caused by rising energy costs, Brown offers a compelling case for optimism. He details how renewables could largely replace fossil fuel energy by 2020, with the right commitments from us all. It won’t be easy, but it’s a shift we must embrace.

As he explains in his book, World on the Edge, “We are facing issues of near-overwhelming complexity and unprecedented urgency. Our challenge is to think globally and develop policies to counteract environmental decline and economic collapse. The question is: Can we change direction before we go over the edge?”

The Earth Policy Institute has made all of Brown’s books available free on its website; we highly recommend them. His writing gives us the details we need to understand both the urgency and the complexity of our situation.

For example, Brown points out that the true cost of providing once-cheap gasoline is now about $15 per gallon! The hidden costs, much of which we pay via our taxes, include military protection, treatment of respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution, and estimated costs associated with climate change.

Brown explains that food is becoming the issue that will convince the world of the need to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020: “Every major environmental trend from climate change to deforestation and water scarcity affects food supplies. With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center stage in the global struggle for food security. In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage.” (For more on this topic, see the new book The Landgrabbers by Fred Pearce.)

MOTHER EARTH NEWS will bring you more reports in the future from Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Institute, but to follow their outstanding work more closely, sign up for their email list at the Earth Policy Institute website. Also, they have posted an excellent What You Can Do page in their online Action Center.

P.S. If you are among the minority who are still skeptical that climate change is happening as the result of humans burning fossil fuels, you might want to read the recent New York Times editorial by University of California physicist Richard A. Muller, The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic. Muller was a long-standing skeptic about global warming, but his team’s new analysis has convinced him to do a “total turnaround.” He writes, “I concluded that global warming is real and … humans are almost entirely the cause.”

Post a comment below.


10/6/2012 5:52:10 PM
There is a fatal flaw in Mr. Brown's analysis on renewable energy. Building out massive, remote industrial solar and wind power plants will destroy millions of acres of ecologically valuable desert ecosystems and displace productive agricultural lands, further hastening ecological collapse and species extinction. It requires costly new transmission (~$ 20 million/mile) and 7-15% line losses. Distributed generation in the VAST urban environment already devoted to human needs is the fastest, cheapest, more equitable and green path to a renewable energy future that won't further compromise our environment. See more at

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