Lester R. Brown

In a world where there is an increasing awareness over the condition of the Earth and the environment, there is one man that stands out as one of the most prominent and leading thinkers of the time. This man is Lester Russell Brown and he has made quite a number of contributions to understanding and analyzing environmental issues. He is indeed one of the leading experts on the subject of environmental science and this is where you will learn more about the man and his work.

Who is Lester R. Brown?

Lester R. Brown is an environmental analyst born on March 28, 1934 in the USA. He is the founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute and he is also the founder of the Worldwatch Institute. Earth Policy Institute is a non-profit organization focused on research and is based in Washington D.C. Radio commentator for BBC Peter Day calls Lester Brown one of the great pioneer environmentalists.


He has authored and co-authored more than 5 books focused on global environmental issues and problems. His works are so profound that they have been translated to more than 40 languages. His most recent book is entitled Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. This was published 2 years ago in September 2012.

Lester Brown places an emphasis on the geopolitical effects brought about by the astronomical speeds in which the prices of grain are shooting up. He has said that one of the biggest threats to global stability would have to be the shortage of food in poor countries. He has even warned that this very issue of lack of food in poor countries could very well bring down civilization. When interviewed by Foreign Policy magazine, he explained how the “new geopolitics of food” has already begun to bring about revolutions and upheavals in 2011 in various countries where there is a decided lack of food.

He has been honored with other 26 honorary degrees and a MacArthur Fellowship. On top of that, he has also been described as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” by the Washington Post. Back in 1978, he already began to give warnings of the dangers of abusing nature. He stated this in his book The 29th Day. He says that by overfishing oceans, turning agricultural lands into deserts, and stripping forests, people are hastening their own demise. Back in 1986, his personal papers were requested by the Library of Congress; they noted that his writings have affected their thinking of views on world population and resources. Former US president Bill Clinton also suggested that it would do everyone good to listen to what Brown has to say and follow his advice. In 2003, the Humanist Manifesto was put out and he was one of the signatories.

During the mid-70s, he helped start the concept of sustainable development and this happened during a career in farming. Since that time, he has received many awards and prices that include the United Nations Environment Prize in 1978, the World Wide Fund for Nature gold medal in 1989 and many more awards and prizes. You might surmise that his is one of the most important works to date and it does seem like a given that he be a recipient of all those rewards.

His Early Life

Lester Brown was raised in a farm where they had no electricity and running water. This far was located in New Jersey in Bridgeton near the Delaware River. He was a voracious reader and started to read at a very young age; he was fascinated by World War II and would resort to borrowing day old newspapers from the neighboring farm just to catch up on some news. Aside from reading old newspapers, he also had a penchant for reading biographies. He loved to read about the lives of the founding fathers like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver etc. Since he was a kid, he worked at the farm by pulling weeds, cleaning stables and milking cows. He was also a rather enterprising child and he and his younger brother, Carl, got involved in various businesses like growing chickens and pheasants to sell.

In 1951 they got involved in the tomato business and this tiny venture eventually grew to be one of the largest in New Jersey. They had sales of over 690,000kg per year. Later on, Brown would say that farming is really all he wanted to do and that one had to know soil, weather, entomology, plant pathology, management, and a bit of politics to be good at it.

His Education and Career

He earned his degree in agricultural science back in 1955 in Rutgers University. He was part of the International Farm Youth Exchange Program where he spent 6 months living in Rural India. This was where he learned all about population issues and its effects on food. David De Leon, a biographer, noted that it was Brown’s experience in India that changed his life. He went back to the US and continued to grow tomatoes but it no longer appealed to him as much.

Lester Brown decided instead to work on global food issues so he went to try and find a job at the USDA and the FAS. These two agencies told him that he would need a degree in agricultural economics before they could hire him so he took a 9-month MA course at the University of Maryland and joined FAS in 1959. He was hired as an international agriculturalist in their Asia branch. A year after he took the job, he went on leave to take an MA in Public Administration.

In 1963, he published his book Man, Land, and Food which was the first complete projection of world food, land resources, and population until the end of the century. He has a lot of works and a lot of talks but there is a prevailing theme in everything he does. He warns that unless mankind changes how it treats the environment then it could very well be working towards its own end.