Lester Russell Brown is one of the leading experts on environmental science and is the founder and former president the famous Worldwatch Institute, a non-profit research institute devoted to global environmental concerns.
His Early Life
Lester Brown was born on March 28, 1934 and was raised on a farm in Bridgeton in New Jersey where they had no electricity and running water. He was an avid reader from an early. As a child he followed the progress of World War II, borrowing day old newspapers from the neighboring farm just to catch up with developments. He also had a passion for reading biographies, especially about the lives of the founding fathers and figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Carver.
During his youth, Brown worked on the farm by pulling weeds, cleaning stables and milking cows. He was also a rather enterprising child and he and his younger brother, Carl, became involved in various businesses like growing chickens and pheasants to sell.
In 1951 their tomato business was one of the largest in New Jersey with sales of over 690,000 kg per year. Later on, Brown would say that
“farming is all I ever wanted to do with all my life. You have to know soils, weather, plant pathology, entomology, management, even politics. It’s the ideal interdisciplinary profession”
His Education and Career
Brown earned his degree in agricultural science in 1955 at Rutgers University. He was part of the International Farm Youth Exchange Program, spending 6 months living in rural India. There, he became interested in population issues and its effects on food.
He earned a masters’ degree from the University of Maryland in agricultural economics and in 1959 Brown joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) as an international analyst in the Asia branch.
A year after he took the position, he went on leave to take an MA from the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration.
In 1963, he published “Man, Land, and Food” for the U.S. News & World Report. This was the first complete projection of world food, land resources, and population to the end of the century.
On the back of this publication Brown was offered a position as resident specialist on global issues by the US Secretary of Agriculture in 1964.
In 1966, the Secretary appointed him Administrator of the department’s International Agricultural Development Service with the aim to help increase food production in developing countries.
In early 1969, he left his government position to help establish the Overseas Development Council.
Brown founded the Worldwatch Institute in 1974 with the aid of a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The institute was concerned with global environmental issues such as food scarcity, renewable energy and sustainable development. Brown served as its president until 2000.
In 2001, he left the Worldwatch Institute to establish the Earth Policy Institute which functioned as an environmental think tank until 2015, when Brown stepped down as president.
During his career Brown has authored and co-authored over 50 books focused on global environmental issues and problems, his works have been translated into more than 40 languages.
In 1978 he began warning of the dangers of abusing nature in his book “The 29th Day”. He stated that the doubling of resources means that on the 28th day the ‘global lily pond’ is only half full and it just takes one more day for all the resources to be used up. By overfishing the oceans, turning agricultural lands into deserts, and stripping forests, people are hastening their own demise.
His 1995 book “Who Will Feed China?” questioned the official view of China’s food prospect and raised concerns that China may soon have to import so much grain that this action could trigger unprecedented rises in world food prices.
In 2012 he published “Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity.” He wrote
“In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage. Food is the new oil.”
Brown published his autobiography “In Breaking New Ground” in 2013.
He has been honored with over 20 honorary degrees and a MacArthur Fellowship. Additionally, he has been described as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” by the Washington Post.
He has received many awards and prizes including the United Nations Environment Prize in 1987 the World Wide Fund for Nature gold medal in 1989.