Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute: Food Scarcity and Political Strategy

Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute: Food Scarcity and Political Strategy

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Green Builder Media CEO, Sara Gutterman

Lester Brown, Founder of Earth Policy Institute

Friday, August 8, 2014 - 9:00am

CAMPAIGN: Ethical and Sustainable Living


Green Builder Media recently hosted author, environmental expert, and Founder of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, on our Impact Series webinar program. During the session, Brown relayed a thoroughly researched and powerful message: the world is in a time of transition from an age of food surplus to one of scarcity.

Brown cites three main reasons for the impending food shortages. First and foremost is our out of control population growth. At current birth rates, there are 219,000 additional people expecting dinner every evening that weren’t at the table the night before, resulting in a relentless growth in demand for food. “Until we figure out how to control population growth,” Brown says, “we will continue to remain in a danger zone relative to food demand.”

Increasing use of grain to fuel vehicles is also straining our food supply. 400 million tons of grain are harvested in the U.S. each year. Of that amount, 130 million tons are allocated to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars (the US has the highest level of grain use for transportation in the world). Brown advocates that we need to find new sources of fuel for our vehicles (or, better yet, convert completely to electric vehicles), as using our precious food resource for transportation isn’t an efficient application for an already strained supply.

The increase in global affluence is also dramatically increasing food demand. According to Brown’s research, there is a fourfold difference between the amount of grain that individuals in affluent countries consume on an annual basis versus those in poor countries. The average person in India, for example, consumes approximately 400 pounds of grain annually, and the bulk of grain consumed is in the form of caloric intake (eating of corn, wheat, and rice). In contrast, the average American consumes 1,600 pounds of grain annually, the majority of which is actually consumed “indirectly” to feed livestock that produce items higher up in the food chain—namely meat, milk, and eggs—that are so pivotal to our western diets. As 3 billion people across the globe quickly move up the food chain, the demand for more resource-intensive food items is placing nearly as much pressure our food supply as population growth.


CATEGORY: Environment