Video Review: ‘Lester Brown – The Planet’s Scarcest Resource is Time’

FEATURING CONTRIBUTIONS FROM SOPHIE BUCKLE, ANGELA CUNNINGHAM, JESSICA LOVE, ANAH MCKEE, JASON MOORE, SANDY PHOMMACHANH, CHURA SAPKOTA, ALLAN SURRIDGE, LISA TUCK & JOHANNAH WHITE.

In a recent class activity, members of the second/third year undergraduate subject International Politics of Climate Change: Triumph or Tragedy at La Trobe University’s Albury-Wodonga campus engaged with a video presentation delivered by emminent American environmentalist Lester Brown.

 

 

In appraising this video clip, students were asked to consider the following questions:

  • What is the argument of the video?
  • What are the broader implications of this message for Australian society?
  • On what evidence is it based?
  • How credible is Lester Brown and what is his background?
  • What is your reaction to the video?

The following excerpts are a summary of the class discussion on what Lester Brown has to say in the video clip…

On Lester Brown

Brown himself is a credible source with significant peer-reviewed reports and numerous books on the subject. He’s widely used as a source of credibility by some media circles as a climate-change expert. He is a driving force in ecological footprint education.

Allan Surridge

Lester Brown is a founding member of the Earth Policy Institute to provide a vision and road map achieving an environmentally sustainable economy. He has authored or co-authored fifty books and some of them were translated into forty different languages. Due to his good work he has received many prizes and awards; recently he was awarded the Borgstrom Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry, and was selected as one of the Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers of 2010.

Chura Sapkota

Lester Brown is an environmentalist in America, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, a non-profit research organisation based in Washington. Brown is also the author of many books on global environmental issues and his latest book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, highlights the same issues and topics as his documentary video ‘The Planets Scarcest Resource is Time’.

Joh White

Lester Brown’s Argument: A Question of Food Security

Brown’s ideas in ways to change and sustain the Earth’s resources are going green. These may include structuring the world economy by using renewable resources like solar panels, dual thermal and wind energy. Farming and growing your own vegetables and rise water productivity. As for the individuals pick a topic and commit to those changes. Other ways of to implicate the idea is to observed the trends having a more accurate temperature to detect the trends of a certain area (Garnaut, 2011, p16), and reducing black carbon pollution and tropospheric low level ozone which are the short lived gases in the atmosphere (Copenhagen Diagnosis, p51).

Sandy Phommachanh

Brown addresses four prominent issues which include climate, water, soil erosion and agricultural advancements. All of these issues are undeniably interrelated and the effects that these have on food production, which is a weak point in our civilisation, could result in an economic, social and natural collapse within society.   There are 18 countries that are over pumping thus creating a situation of artificial food production and what Brown refers to as ‘the food bubble’. Soil erosion remains a challenging and complex issue to rectify as it only becomes an identifiable problem when the top soil becomes scarce, which is often too late. Finally Brown uses Japan and China to illustrate the problems associated with agricultural technological advancements. Currently both these countries have no new technologies to increase their production; this means that they have hit a plateau.

Sophie Buckle

This is an alarming video which asks lots of questions and points out many problems facing humanity. We are in an unprecedented time it could be describe as the perfect storm, peak oil and water, declining resources and food supplies, unsustainable population’s growth, economical collapse, political systems falling across the world, wars and rumors of wars. The question is can the world come together to achieve one goal to save itself? The video ends with a question “as an individual we have to get involved what are you going to do? The worlds citizens face the perfect storm we need to put our fear aside and look forward with hope that man has always found a way to adapt in the past, our finite little blue dot will go on. Lester Brown presents some very real problems, my hope is that man does not think it is a bird and plant our head in the sand, but that we takes hold of our god given ability to think and communicate to solve these problems, for the whole earth not just our own species.

Jason Moore

In his video, Brown predicts that if we do not rally to rectify the damages caused by climate change, civilisation may reach a point past which it cannot fully recover. This proclamation is reiterated by Allison (2009, p. 40) who states that ‘There are several elements in the climate system that could pass a tipping point this century due to human activities, leading to abrupt and or irreversible change’. These “tipping points” could potentially be reached by an “overshoot” caused by rapid ‘…growth in the globes population and the material economy’ (Meadows, et al, 2004, P.2). If this were to happen, as Brown contends, it would be too late to revert back to old patterns and ways of life and therefore, a new world system would need to be implemented in order for humanity as we know it to survive.

Lisa Tuck

Brown’s video resonates a side to climate change that many people may not have considered, clearly stating that if the human population continues to overshoot the earth’s resources we will run out of time to change behaviour and practices in order to survive as a race. Brown states that the human populations vulnerability is far greater than many believe, and that we are close to edge of not being able to recover from the effects of climate change.  Brown firmly believes that food will and should be the focal point of climate change action. Agriculture has evolved and the system that is now being used is designed to maximise production in a climate that no longer exists. People of the earth have been for over twenty years, using more of the planets resources each year than could be regenerated. Medows et al (2004, p3) provides further evidence stating that global society’s ecological footprint has over shot the earth’s capacity to provide and agrees with Brown’s theory that directions need to change. The earth is now in a unique situation on a global scale where humans lack the perspectives, the cultural norms, habits and institutions required to cope (Medows et al, 2004 p 3).

Angela Cunningham

Brown (2011) also uses the example scenario of a virus to exhibit how vulnerable our food “bubble” we created really is. If there was a virus that quickly spread which threatened the population then the food supply would quickly come under threat. The truck drivers who deliver the food into cities wouldn’t risk driving the trucks and risk getting sick which in effect would cut off the food supply. If the food sources aren’t renewed daily the food supply would only last 3 days in big cities (Brown, 2011). This scenario is highly plausible in our current society due to the food production system we have created in which individuals depend on a system which is not in their control and disruption of one element of the system can easily stop the food supply. Furthermore, we all rely on this unreliable system. It’s rare in our modern society that any individual, family or small community is completely self-sufficient, self-sustaining and able to maintain living. We no longer provide for ourselves in small societies and are able to be self-sufficient. Instead we depend on the supermarket and the town water supply. Few of the population have water tanks or vegetable gardens. Society has developed a system that keeps being refined to maximise production. In our lifetime we have become accustom to having an abundance of food and the food production just keeps going up. But resources such as grain and rice production are beginning to hit a plateau (Brown, 2011). As the world’s food production becomes more and more refined, we become more reliant and vulnerable. The effects of climate change such as the heat wave in Moscow or health hazards such as a virus could lead to the collapse of our society as we know it, as in the past price rises and a growing amount of hungry people signified the decline of the civilisations (Brown, 2011).

Jessica Love

Thoughts on Lester Brown’s Call to Action

Without knowledge there is no understanding and without understanding there can be no action.  I never realised that during my lifetime we would have to suffer the wroth for living such an opulent lifestyle.  Although the outlook is dire I believe that humans have an innate ability to adapt, it will be amazing to look back in years to come and see how much life has changed.

Sophie Buckle

I think that Brown raises some good points in his video and strongly agree that it is up to everyone to ensure we fight to save our planet. It is no good in saying that there is nothing you can do because chances are the small things we do can make the biggest difference. One of the biggest problems with climate change is that people are not properly informed and begin to listen to a media fed society and believe such things as doomsday and the world will end in 2012 but in the end that’s not the case and it is up to us.

Anah McKee

We all need to admit our lack of knowledge on the subject. Australians general world-view is one in which prosperity and affluence dominate our life and thought with little or no regard to what is actually real, the Earth!

Allan Surridge

Agriculture is failing and there needs to be new ways looked at instead of the traditional way food has been produced. I also think the world needs to have a better look at where it is produced and the transport and nutritional values of the food. Also we need to start using land in cities to produce food.  In  Australian society we live in our own little bubble and don’t realized that the rest of the world is out there or what life is really like. We can’t image what it would be like to live on only $2 a day and yet still have to pay the same price for food that we do on the international markets. I have always seen that as wrong, yet these people are so thankful. I wish we could be as thankful. Our society shelters us and when we feel a bit down were drug ourselves to feel or not feel. I hope our children are stronger then we are and think about others rights more than their own, unlike we do.

Jason Moore

Brown reiterates throughout the video that we all have an obligation to get involved in trying to save the biosphere. Brown asserts that it is not enough just to “fine tune” the situation. ‘We need a war time mobilisation at war time speed on a war time scale’ he states. To do this, we must restructure the global economy and focus our attention on harnessing the power of renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar and hydroelectricity. As Allison (2009, p. 52) states, climate change ‘…cannot easily be reversed due to the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere’. Therefore, the decisions that we make now (and those that have been made in the past) ‘…will have profound and practically irreversible consequences for many generations to come’ (Allison, 2009, p. 52).  Although there are many small things that we as individual members of society can do to help mitigate the effects of climate change (such as turning off lights and driving less), it is hard to feel involved in saving the planet when our own government cannot gain consensus regarding how best to tackle the issue of climate change and carbon pollution within Australia. Further, it is easy to feel disillusioned with Australia’s current political system when bipartisan politics is a long way off their agenda.

Lisa Tuck

We can’t sit around and wait for someone else to fix it. We all have to get involved to change the system. As Brown (2011) suggests this involves replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. Brown (2011) argues: “If we can not stabilise population, if we can not stabilise climate, if we can not stabilise aquifers…we’re toast. That’s not a debatable point. I don’t think we’ve yet quite realised how serious the situation is, partly because we’re looking at an experience we’ve not had before”. As Meadows et al (2004, p.7) notes this change will not be easy and in some ways it will be a “revolution” similar to those in the past where significant social change has occurred and changed the way we live.  Brown’s argument exemplifies the unconditional necessity to adapt to climate change before the inevitable consequences lead to a disruption in food production and furthermore a breakdown of society. As exhibited, the Earth, the resources in it and the society we created, is finite, fragile and vulnerable. We need to act now because as Brown said “civilisation itself is at risk”.

Jessica Love

By watching this video, I felt very frightened, depressed and worried for our children and grand children because of the scale of the change that is needed. As an individual I feel powerless as I am relying on political leader in our country and others countries to affect these changes and work together, when traditionally they have not always been allies. Many countries governments do not always act in the best interest of the people. They want to retain power and as a result make pragmatic political decisions. This is one of the main obstacles in combating the dangerous situation which is going to face our future generations. It would be better if we could use our natural resources in much more sustainable ways and pass on the information about environment and climate change to coming generations.

Chura Sapkota

Personal Reactions to Lester Brown’s Message

Using my own personal experiences and background of having grown up in a rural agricultural area where my whole life is based around grain production Brown’s argument factors into my thinking. Changes in climate re: lack of water or too much water, soil erosion and changing temperatures have always affected my life style, so personally Browns arguments have a massive impact on me. As a nation and realistically the whole world are not doing enough to reduce the problems we have causes. Fixing the symptoms is not a good enough answer we need to stop the problems occurring before we really do run out of time to change anything.  All industries in agricultural production need to change the way they are doing things. We cannot make a different if not everyone is willing to do something to help. Brown says “Unless we act quickly civilisation itself is at risk. It’s not a spectator’s sport, for something to actually happen we all have to get involved”.

Joh White

Lester Brown’s video evokes a reaction from viewers. Climate change in the media is represented by carbon tax, by industry’s being the focal point of change, by the over use of finite resources, by the problem being too big for an individual to comprehend. Brown’s video transports the climate change issue to a level that can be understood by all because his focus is on time and food. People from different countries and cultures can relate to these two factors. Brown believes that climate denial has become such a common thing, yet his video portrays climate change on such a fundamental level that it cannot be denied. Brown argues the wrongs of the past need to be rectified no matter who is to blame. We need to ask how can Australia lead the way? How can we become leaders in climate change action and how can my individual household help to save the planet for future generations?

Angela Cunningham

I also realise, coming from such an affluent nation, how ignorant I am regarding the effects of climate change. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced the horrors of population displacement, conflict or food scarcity. However, I fear that this is what is to come for my children and future generations if we do not act now to mitigate the effects of human induced climate change.  The focus also needs to be on the whole Earth rather than just the human species. This is because climate change will affect many other species of animals (perhaps worse than it will affect the human race due to our fairly high adaptive capacities). The biosphere is in danger and we need to start considering the human race to be a part of that rather than a system independent of the Earth.  The mass media is a huge influence regarding people’s perceptions of current issues such as climate change. Also, it is hard for many Australians to form an educated view regarding climate change when the media presents such a distorted representation of the issue. We must all turn our ‘bullshit’ detectors on in order to work out what’s really going on!

Lisa Tuck

This is an alarming video which asks lots of questions and points out many problems facing humanity. We are in an unprecedented time it could be describe as the perfect storm, peak oil and water, declining resources and food supplies, unsustainable population’s growth, economical collapse, political systems falling across the world, wars and rumours of wars. The question is can the world come together to achieve one goal to save itself? The video ends with a question “as an individual we have to get involved what are you going to do? The worlds citizens face the perfect storm we need to put our fear aside and look forward with hope that man has always found a way to adapt in the past, our finite little blue dot will go on. Lester Brown presents some very real problems, my hope is that man does not think it is a bird and plant our head in the sand, but that we takes hold of our god given ability to think and communicate to solve these problems, for the whole earth not just our own species.

Jason Moore

Considering my own worldview which is my internal set of beliefs, attitudes and values (Meadows, Randers & Meadows 2004, 3) I realise how ignorant I truly am to the climatic problems that exist worldwide. Living within Australia I feel that society is sheltered by the prosperity and affluence that absorbs our daily lives. It is very easy to ignore the problems that exist without seeing that we, like other societies, are main contributors to the problem. It is scary to think of the ramifications of a break in the link that seems to hold everything together and it is easy to see how a ripple effect will rapidly affect the world that we know today. Thankfully my worldview is changing, growing and expanding. I believe that Brown’s final comments highlight this; we need to all be actively involved in re righting the wrong no matter who is to blame.

Sophie Buckle

Overall I found that the interview has become slightly more disturbing and shocking knowing that we are producing more waste than before and resources are being depleted. Sustainable levels are above the human burden on the natural environment and on top of that there are many negative impacts on human health and the economy.  I am unhappy about is the cost of the materials which are increasing every day.

Sandy Phommachanh

Our biggest problem when it comes to climate change is that a lot of people just have no idea or are not informed with the right information Brown also described it as climate denial which is where groups or individuals don’t want to face complex demanding situations.

Anah McKee

Further Information

In producing their responses to “The Planet’s Scarcest Resource is Time“, student were required read and obtain citations from the following authoritative publications:

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Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga chief editor Dr Ben Habib is subject coordinator for International Politics of Climate Change: Triumph or Tragedy at La Trobe University.

Class members welcome constructive feedback and ongoing dialogue on this topic.  Please leave comments in the dialogue box below.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.

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One response to “Video Review: ‘Lester Brown – The Planet’s Scarcest Resource is Time’

  1. Pingback: Video Review: ‘Lester Brown – The Planet’s Scarcest Resource is Time’ « Wodonga & Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH)·

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