We can learn a lot from Lester Brown. By way of introduction, he is an environmentalist with some 50 books to his credit, including Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth and Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. He founded the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, and is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1989 United Nations Environment Prize.
In the video linked to below, he touches briefly on the relationship between the economy and the environment at its broadest level, an issue we’ve examined here before. Incessant growth of an economy out of sync with the environment has imposed severe stresses on the ecosystem. Brown discusses how ongoing environmental degradation might soon affect the economy as falling water tables (and rising temperatures) constrain food production worldwide. This is a nice introduction to this water issue which Brown describes as “the most underestimated resource issue in the world today.”
Though its role is clear enough to the careful listener, Brown only touches in the video on population growth. Elsewhere he spells out the crisis toward which we’re heading if we are unable to hasten stabilizing world population at a time when water tables are dropping in the most populous countries, which also happen to be the largest grain producers.
He speculates, in fact, that world population numbers may not make it to the level of current projections. While he hopes this will be due to our taking wise, proactive steps to stabilize world population, he fears it will instead come in large part from the clash of human numbers and the earth’s carrying capacity. As that clash intensifies, water shortages will mean food shortages, with malnutrition and hunger costing untold numbers of lives. (The other major contributor to this increased death rate is the tragic impact of the HIV epidemic in Africa.) As other aspects of environmental degradation reach certain thresholds as well, our bubble economy, artificially inflated by our consumption of the earth’s natural capital in an effort to provide for 6.5 billion people and counting, will inevitably burst.
Once again, we must confront our unsustainable economic model, excessive consumption, and population growth — the catastrophic triad of our time.