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Lester R. Brown - Earth Policy Institute
Lester Brown is the author of numerous books and articles on the environment and economic policy. He founded the Worldwatch Institute and then the Earth Policy Institute. He is one of the most respected environmental thinkers in the world.

Towards a Sustainable World Economy

Address by Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown at the Sustainable Energy Forum, Washington, D.C.

By EV World

With self-effacing humor and sporting his signature bowtie and disheveled white hair, Lester Brown acknowledged his reputation as a environmental policy "wonk". He quoted a colleague who once said that "Lester’s written the sort of book that once you put it down, you can’t pick it back up again."

In fact, his latest tome, "Plan B 2.0" is a fast paced read that describes the current malaise besetting the planet, much of it stemming from a flawed economic system that doesn’t properly account for its impact on the environment we all depend on. While he and others -- including, he noted, a number of people in the lecture hall with him on the campus of George Washington, University -- have been calling for a radical overhaul of the current system, few have bothered to listen, especially other economists.

With the ascent of China, Brown argued, that is about to change, because no longer is the United States the world’s largest consuming nation: China is.

"China now consumes more basic resources than does the United States. We look at the agricultural sector: grain and meat; the energy sector: oil and coal; the industrial sector: steel; of those five basic commodities, China now consumes more than the United States, all except oil.

"Now that China has overtaken the United States in many basic resources, we have license to ask the next question, which is, what happens if China catches up with the United States in consumption per person? If we project the growth of the Chinese economy at 8 percent per year -- down from the 9 to 10 percent of the last few years -- at 8 percent per year, in 2031 the average income per person in China would be the same as that in the United States today," Brown explained.

He said that if we assume they will spend their money much as we do in the U.S.A., with similar consumption patterns, the results would be staggering. The 1.45 billion people would consume two-thirds of the world’s grain harvest. They would need twice as much paper as the world currently produces. Apply the same rate of automobile ownership as in the U.S.A and China alone would have 1.1 billion cars, more than all the cars currently on the planet. The total area of roads, streets and parking lots necessary to accommodate this number of machines would be equal to the area currently devoted to its rice production. To fuel these, and other parts of its economy would require 99 million barrels a day; the world currently only produces 84-85 million barrels today.

"And it may never produce more than that," he stated.

"What China is teaching us is that the Western economic model: the fossil-fuel based, automobile-centered, throw-away economy is not going to work for China. If it doesn’t work for China, it will not work for India. Nor will it work for the other three billion people in the developing countries who are also dreaming the American dream. And in some ways, most importantly, in an increasingly integrated global economy, where we all depend on the same oil, grain, steel, it won’t work for us either."

Brown noted that perhaps this is the most powerful finding of his book, Plan B 2.0., that the numbers simply don’t work for what he calls, Plan A, the current economic model.

"The question is, if the old economy won’t work, what will the new economy look like?" he asked. "And the exciting thing is, we can now begin to see what it will look like."

To find out what Brown envisions as the new economy of the 21st century, you will want to listen to this 50-minute address using the MP3 players at the right or by downloading the 11.5MB file to your computer hard drive for later playback on your personal MP3 device.

As a teaser, he talks about renewable energy, hybrids, bicycle-centric communities, Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse and much more. This is a sobering and inspiring message that I encourage you to take the time to listen to and share with family and friends.

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Times Article Viewed: 7816
Published: 01-Jun-2006

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