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World on the edge: How to prevent environmental and economic collapse

World on the edge

By Lester Brown
Published by Earthscan
Website: www.earthscan.co.uk
2011, 240pp, ISBN 978 1 84971 274 3(Pb), £12.99

World on the edge may appear a melodramatic title but Lester Brown does not use hyperbole to make his point: figures for population increase, declining food production, soil degradation, depletion of water sources, and the rising tide of environmental refugees and failing states cannot be overlooked or denied. In company with other leading authorities, Brown urges the acceptance that our seemingly invulnerable, technologically driven civilization is only one major crop failure from disaster.

Some may question whether Brown overstates the case by suggesting that such a failure could precipitate collapse, and he admits that "given the advances of modern agriculture, I had long rejected the idea that food could be the weak link in our twenty-first century civilization. Today I think not only that it could be the weak link but that it is the weak link." If last year's heat wave, centred on Moscow, had been centred on Chicago the resulting 40 per cent reduction in wheat yield - 40 million tons in Russia - would have been 400 million tons in the US. The consequences for global food availability would have been catastrophic, leading to widespread social unrest.

The first half of the book provides the detail of the trends that present the challenge to feeding another 2 billion people in immediate decades. The well-informed will be familiar with many of the statistics but the author is to be complimented on his lucid writing that graphically illustrates the complex web of causes and effects that connect climate change, demography, changing food demands, peak water and peak oil. Brown is very easy - though disturbing - to read.

Explaining the second part of the title, how to prevent environmental and economic collapse, Brown believes that: "We need an economy for the twenty-first century that is in sync with the earth and its natural support system, not one that's destroying them." This is his Plan B - "a wartime mobilization, an all-out effort to restructure the world energy economy." The potential of sustainable energy options is discussed, as is how to restore natural support systems. Convinced that environmental failure is the key problem facing many of the world's failing states, Brown examines the rescue options.

Crucially, Brown focuses on feeding 8 billion people, examining how we can achieve more sustainable food production: recycling water and improving irrigation efficiency, intercropping for nitrogen fixation, feeding dairy cattle in India and beef cattle in China largely on crop by-products rather than grain based diets, consuming more locally produced food, and encouraging a global renaissance in urban gardening . "US residences collectively cover some 18 million acres. Converting even a small share of this to fresh vegetables and fruit trees could make a meaningful difference," Brown believes. "Market gardens in Kinshasa (DCR) produce an estimated 80,000 tons of vegetables a year, meeting 65 per cent of the city's needs."

Everyone should read this book, for its concise and clear-sighted view of the challenges we face and the options for meeting them, nationally and internationally.

Date published: May 2011

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This book looks very interesting though many won't understan... (posted by: Andrianjafy R.)

 

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