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Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity [Paperback]

Lester R. Brown
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Dec 2012
With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to centre stage in the global struggle for food security. "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.", Lester R. Brown writes. Here, Brown, "One of the world's most influential thinkers" (Washington Post), discusses what the geopolitics of food will look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism. He outlines the political implications of land acquisitions by grain-importing countries in Africa and elsewhere as well as the world's shrinking buffers against poor harvests. With wisdom accumulated over decades of tracking agricultural issues, Brown exposes the increasingly volatile food situation the world is facing.

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Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity + Feeding Frenzy: The New Politics of Food + Stuffed and Starved: From Farm to Fork the Hidden Battle for the World Food System
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (10 Dec 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393344150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393344158
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"One of the world's most influential thinkers" --(Washington Post)

About the Author

Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, DC, has been honoured with numerous prizes, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the United Nations Environment Prize and Japan's Blue Planet Prize.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing 21 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very very good account of what the world faces in the very near future. A must read for EVERYONE. superb
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Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. I am very happy with my purchase, it arrived on time and in perfect conditions.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is impossible for me to comment on the book personally as I bought it as a present for someone who had requested it. The recipent of the book thought it was a good book and well worth reading.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking Thesis, But Solutions Seem Unrealistic 19 Oct 2012
By Frederick S. Goethel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
From the start. I think it is important to realize that this book is essentially a position paper for the Earth Policy Institute. It is a slim book, with only about 120 pages of information. The author is the president of the organization, and what he presents are the situations, scenarios and solutions posited by the group. That does not make the work good or bad, but the buyer should know what they are buying and who it represents.

Many of the problems outlined in the book are solid problems that are occurring in the world at this very moment: over grazing leading to diminished carrying capacity of the land, over use of water from aquifers, people moving up the food chain and demanding more meat, abject poverty, unsustainable population growth as well as a dwindling food supply. My biggest problem with the discussions is that they were taken to the extreme, and while I believe the problems exist, I doubt the solutions provided are workable.

The solutions proposed by the author are admirable, but I doubt they have a chance of working. We are in an extremely toxic political climate in this country, where politicians cannot even agree on what color the sky is. Add to that the educational requirements and family planning that the author advocates and I think you have a political train wreck...at least in this country. And the author states we need to do this at a speed rivaling the buildup of war material preceding WW II. I sincerely doubt there is a chance in Hades of this occurring unless some very strong leadership presents itself in Washington very quickly (which does not seem at all likely).

The writing is well done, with the issues and solutions presented in a way that a non-scientist can understand. I agree we are in trouble....I just think the solutions proposed are unworkable at the current time and, will accomplish little.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lester Brown at it again! 10 Nov 2012
By Ashley Crowther - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A very thought provoking and informative book. Every chapter outlines important and quite depressing issues. However, Browns conclusions on what can and should be done are very uplifting, positive and optimistic.

This is an extremely important piece of work for all those that live in today's globalised world and it is a stark reminder that many people who are living comfortable lives may no longer be living those comfortable lives if nothing is done to alleviate or eliminate the current and future issues that surround the global food system. Brown presents all this in a logical and structured manner, which is very easy to read and it keeps you turning the page.

Food is important to all of us and I believe that anyone with the slightest bit of concern about the world as a whole needs to read this book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars reality check of globalization 25 Oct 2012
By Diane Stewart - Published on Amazon.com
This is a great little book that sums up the global situation, and ties it all together. Best explanation of how everything is inter-connected. I'm a longtime environmental activist so most of the content wasn't new to me. However, even I didn't realize how serious things were, and how much damage has been done to our ecosystems. There's no dispute that Lester Brown knows his stuff, or that the prognosis is grim. But, that doesn't mean that we should just blow it off, because these problems aren't going to go away. They must be dealt with, the sooner the better. I wish every American would read this book!!! We have things better than most of the world, but we're not insulated from the problems he outlines. It's chilling how he lays out our "debt" to China because they buy our debt. As he states, "Now holding close to $1 trillion of U.S. debt, China has become the banker for the United States".
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of "Full Planet, Empty Plates" 4 Feb 2013
By Mark J. Palmer - Published on Amazon.com
Book Review: "Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity" by Lester R. Brown, W.B. Norton & Co.

By Mark J. Palmer
Associate Director
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute paints a scary future of the coming food crunch in his new book, "Full Planet, Empty Plates."

The coming perfect storm (to coin a phrase) of a growing human population coupled with hitting limits of available fresh water, limited arable land (which in too many places is eroding away), and global warming will mean less food grains that we all depend on, although, as usual, it is the poorest people with fewer options who will suffer the most.

Within my lifetime, human population has gone from 2.5 billion people in 1950 to 7 billion today. While changing lifestyles, birth control, government polices and an aging population are slowing population growth in the US, China and Europe, growth continues in sub-Sahara Africa and the Indian subcontinent, already areas where food availability causes severe hunger. Projections suggest 9.3 billion people will be on Earth in 2050.

Yet, the world supply of grain - corn, wheat, and rice - is severely limited today. Already, nations like China and Saudi Arabia are taking steps to lease or buy large tracts of land in third-world countries, chiefly Africa, to feed their own people, displacing small farmers.
Fresh water for irrigation, in Brown's view, is a key limited resource that we seldom think about. 40% of the world's grain crops need irrigation, but all over the world (including in the US) farmers are desperately depleting underground water supplies that in many cases cannot be replaced. As a result, wells are dug deeper and deeper to keep up with the dropping water tables.

Our continued burning of fossil fuels, Brown notes, is contributing to global warming that threatens to further wither grain crops, as has happened in several years in several places over the past few years. These crop failures will increase as the temperature increases, along with other effects of global warming, such as sea level rise and stronger storms. Ironically, the switch to growing corn and other grains for ethanol and biodiesel to avoid burning fossil fuels helps to further limit food crops, raise the price of corn and other grains and usurps land that used to grow food. The trend towards improved living levels in some countries such as China mean more people are eating meat, which itself is dependent on grains to feed livestock. At the same time, fish populations are suffering from over-fishing, with four-fifths of the world's major fisheries being exploited at maximum levels or being over-exploited with pending declines in catch and eventual crash, as has happened with the Atlantic cod.

We have already seen what the future looks like, although it got little notice in the US media. In 2007/2008, world grain prices doubled due to poor harvests and the limits to grain availability. There were riots in Egypt and Haiti. The prices went down with the global financial crunch, but have bounced back up in recent years. Brown notes that in 2012, as he was writing the book, the US corn crop started out in excellent shape, but withered under days of 100-degree heat in July in the Midwest.

As with Brown's other books and reports, "Full Planet, Empty Plates" is well written and meticulously documented (in order to save room in the printing, sources and notes are available online). He writes with passion and at the same time explains these huge trends in language easy to digest (if you will excuse the pun).

Brown provides a final chapter of suggested solutions, noting that the trends are intertwined and therefore cannot be attacked piece-meal by society. Energy use, pollution, poverty, and water management are all needed, but solving one problem is unlikely to fix things without addressing the other issues. But he also notes that individuals can tackle the issues individually and within existing Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), while always keeping in mind the connections that help fuel the whole.

However, the solutions chapter is the weakest part of the book. This is a call to arms, not a handbook to end food scarcity. Brown does point to some encouraging trends - we know how to limit population growth because many nations have done so, and there are steps being taken to move away from fossil fuel use that are still tentative, but significant. Some of Brown's other publications provide a better menu of solutions, if you are interested.

Like all of Lester Brown's books, a great of deal of information is packed into a small package here, allowing a quick read and understanding of global trends that we need to change.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full Planet, Empty Plateau Yurt 12 Jan 2013
By Floyd Dibble - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
If you want the environmental dots connected this is the book for you. Difficult to put down, I loved it.
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