Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth

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"One of the world's most influential thinkers."—Washington Post
In 1543, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus challenged the view that the Sun revolved around the Earth, arguing instead that the Earth revolved around the Sun. His paper led to a revolution in thinking—to a new worldview. Eco-Economy discusses the need today for a similar shift in our worldview. The issue now is whether the environment is part of the economy or the economy is part of the environment. Lester R. Brown argues the latter, pointing out...

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Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth

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"One of the world's most influential thinkers."—Washington Post
In 1543, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus challenged the view that the Sun revolved around the Earth, arguing instead that the Earth revolved around the Sun. His paper led to a revolution in thinking—to a new worldview. Eco-Economy discusses the need today for a similar shift in our worldview. The issue now is whether the environment is part of the economy or the economy is part of the environment. Lester R. Brown argues the latter, pointing out that treating the environment as part of the economy has produced an economy that is destroying its natural support systems. Brown notes that if China were to have a car in every garage, American style, it would need 80 million barrels of oil a day—more than the world currently produces. If paper consumption per person in China were to reach the U.S. level, China would need more paper than the world produces. There go the world's forests. If the fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economic model will not work for China, it will not work for the other 3 billion people in the developing world—and it will not work for the rest of the world. But Brown is optimistic as he describes how to restructure the global economy to make it compatible with the Earth's ecosystem so that economic progress can continue. In the new economy, wind farms replace coal mines, hydrogen-powered fuel cells replace internal combustion engines, and cities are designed for people, not cars. Glimpses of the new economy can be seen in the wind farms of Denmark, the solar rooftops of Japan, and the bicycle network of the Netherlands. Eco-Economy is a road map of how to get from here to there.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
One of the world's most influential thinkers.
Publishers Weekly
Eco-economic theory calls for harmony between our economy and natural resources. Our current, untenable, profit-focused economic model, says Brown (Building a Sustainable Society), depletes forests, oil, farmland, topsoil, water, atmosphere and species beyond a sustainable level. Brown, founding director of the Earth Policy Institute, uses the Sumerians as an antimodel: as the land was overworked, water sources eventually disappeared. And he uses forestry as a counterexample: forests secure land and store water, acting as natural dams. Logging delivers paychecks, but doesn't consider flood damage from tree loss. Eco-economists would say that the logger and the town, while temporarily profiting, pay more in the end in rising insurance costs, flood damage to homes and infrastructure, increased taxes and disaster relief funds. The goal, presented here in convincing detail, is to design a profitable economy that accurately reflects the social cost of abuse of resources. Brown suggests shifting "taxes from income to environmentally destructive activities, such as carbon emissions." Individuals and towns should receive tax breaks for deploying solar and wind-generated power. However receptive to Brown's excellent, sophisticated proposals, many readers will wonder how they can become reality; for eco-economics to work, all world leaders would need to agree on what makes practices environmentally unsound. (Nov. 5) Forecast: In light of the current administration's poor reputation for eco-concern and its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, Brown's book will do well among students, activists and the growing environmental movement. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
We are losing the war to save the planet, we need a vision of what an environmentally sustainable economy would look like, and we need a new kind of research organization, says Brown, who is president of Earth Policy Institute. He synthesizes the current issues and data, and invites readers to interact with the Institute for ongoing research and activities. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393321937
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 354
  • Sales rank: 544,265
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Lester R. Brownis the founder of the Earth Policy and Worldwatch Institutes. He has been honored with numerous prizes, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the United Nations Environment Prize, and twenty-five honorary degrees. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

1 The Economy and the Earth 3
Economy Self-Destructing 7
Lessons from the Past 14
Learning from China 17
The Acceleration of History 19
The Option: Restructure or Decline 21
2 Signs of Stress: Climate and Water 27
Temperature Rising 28
The Ice Is Melting 30
Sea Level Rising 34
More Destructive Storms 37
Rivers Drained Dry 39
Falling Water Tables 43
Facing Water Scarcity 46
3 Signs of Stress: The Biological Base 49
Fisheries Collapsing 51
Forests Shrinking 55
Rangelands Deteriorating 58
Soils Eroding 62
Species Disappearing 68
Synergies and Surprises 72
4 The Shape of the Eco-Economy 77
Ecology Over Economics 78
A Monumental Undertaking 81
Restructuring the Economy 83
New Industries, New Jobs 85
History's Greatest Investment Opportunity 92
5 Building the Solar/Hydrogen Economy 97
The Energy of Efficiency Base 99
Harnessing the Wind 102
Turning Sunlight into Electricity 107
Tapping the Earth's Heat 110
Natural Gas: The Transition Fuel 112
Getting to the Hydrogen Economy 114
6 Designing a New Materials Economy 121
Throwaway Products 123
Materials and the Environment 126
The Earth's Toxic Burden 131
The Role of Recycling 135
Redesigning the Materials Economy 138
7 Feeding Everyone Well 145
A Status Report 147
Raising Cropland Productivity 150
Raising Water Productivity 154
Restructuring the Protein Economy 158
Eradicating Hunger: A Broad Strategy 163
8 Protecting Forest Products and Services 169
Fuel, Lumber, and Paper 170
Forest Services 172
Sustainable Forestry 176
Lightening the Load 178
The Role of Plantations 181
Reclaiming the Earth 183
9 Redesigning Cities for People 187
An Urbanizing Species 188
Car-Centered Urban Sprawl 191
Urbanization and Obesity 195
Urban Rail and Bicycle Systems 199
Planning Cities for People 202
10 Stabilizing Population by Reducing Fertility 211
Breaking Out or Breaking Down 213
Africa Breaking Down 217
Filling the Family Planning Gap 220
The Role of Female Education 225
Using Soap Operas and Sitcoms 227
Stopping at Two 228
11 Tools for Restructuring the Economy 233
The Fiscal Steering Wheel 234
Tax Shifting 236
Subsidy Shifting 240
Ecolabeling: Voting with Our Wallets 244
Tradable Permits 248
Support for Fiscal Restructuring 249
12 Accelerating the Transition 253
United Nations Leadership 255
New Responsibility of Governments 257
New Role for the Media 259
The Corporate Interest 261
NGOs and Individuals 265
Crossing the Threshold 269
Is There Enough Time? 274
Notes 277
Index 323
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