Running Roughshod—a sad story about land and water

Like ours, Mr. Brown's book features a single apple on the cover. And like our apple, his tells a story.

Like ours, Mr. Brown’s book features a single apple on the cover. And like our apple, his tells a story.

In October of 2012, I purchased a Kindle copy of Lester Brown’s new book, Full Planet, Empty Plates. After reading it, I believe it is the greatest summary of our grossly unsustainable way of life that I have seen. In my opinion, he knows more about this topic than any other person—and if you care about our planet and her ability to sustain human life, you should buy a copy.

What’s the difference between his book and our book? They both have an “apple” image of planet Earth on the cover and they both devote a lot of attention to the way we humans feed ourselves—and the resulting environmental disasters that are occurring. But the big difference is that he focuses primarily on the PROBLEM, whereas we focus primarily on the blinding flash of the obvious SOLUTION.

In particular, I want to address our two most precious natural resources—fertile land and fresh water. As Mr. Brown points out, humans lived for 200,000 years without oil, but we wouldn’t survive more than a few days without food and water. And, at the rate we’re going, we are leaving a gigantic mess to future generations.

Land. Brown’s Chapter 5, which focuses on the fertile land, is entitled: Eroding Soils Darkening Our Future. In our book, Chapter 4 is entitled Running Roughshod and covers all forms of environmental disasters that we’re causing. For example, on a global basis, we’re losing arable land at an alarming rate—an area about the size of South Carolina every year. Meanwhile, our population is increasing at the rate of 200,000 people—every single DAY.

Lester Brown has been trying to warn all of us for most of his career. We had better start listening soon.

Lester Brown has been trying to warn all of us for most of his career. We had better start listening soon.

In the movie HOME, scientists reported that the human race has inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature in just the past fifty years than all previous generations of humans combined for 200,000 years. And Mr. Brown goes into great detail in ALL the categories of that destruction. From Chapter 5, one of many examples:

When it comes to sheep and goats, the United States has a combined population of only 9 million, whereas China has 285 million. Concentrated in China’s western and northern provinces, these animals are stripping the land of its protective vegetation. The wind then does the rest, removing the soil and converting rangeland into desert.

Wang Tao, one of the world’s leading desert scholars, reports that from 1950 to 1975 (in China) an average of 600 square miles of land turned to desert each year. Between 1975 and 1987, this climbed to 810 square miles a year. From then until the century’s end, it jumped to 1,390 square miles of land going to desert annually.

The accelerating loss of topsoil is slowly but surely reducing the earth’s inherent biological productivity. The shrinking area of productive land and the earth’s steadily expanding human population are on a collision course. Soil erosion and land degradation issues are local, but their effect on food security is global.

Water. Just as with land, water is a finite resource—and there is no way we can make more of it. As the movie HOME reported, we’ve had the exact same amount of water on this planet for billions of years—ALL generations have used the same water. From Brown’s book in Chapter 6: Peak Water and Food Scarcity:

Although many analysts are concerned about the depletion of oil resources, the depletion of underground water resources poses a far greater threat to our future. While there are substitutes for oil, there are none for water. Indeed, modern humans lived a long time without oil, but we would live for only a matter of days without water.

Not only are there no substitutes for water, but the world needs vast amounts of it to produce food. As adults, each of us drinks nearly 4 liters of water a day in one form or another. But it takes 2,000 liters of water— 500 times as much— to produce the food we consume each day.

The Solution. Two simple facts. The variation in both depends on the specific products being eaten—some require more land and water than others.

  • It takes between 10 to 20 times more land to feed a meat/dairy-eater than it does to feed a plant-eater.
  • Compared to plant based calories, it takes between 10 to 20 times more water to produce the same number of meat/dairy-based calories.

With most of our planet’s land and our water being devoted to feeding humans, the implications of a global shift to a plant-based diet are staggering. How difficult will that be? Well, over half of our 7 billion humans are already eating plant-based. But more of them are adopting our grossly harmful, wasteful and unsustainable western diet-style every day.

Consecutive daily blogs

Consecutive daily blogs

The world needs credible leaders to step forward and start publicizing these simple facts—and what they mean to the longterm sustainability of the human race. It’s that simple. Click here to purchase Mr. Brown’s new book on Amazon For your convenience, another half-dozen of my blogs devoted to this most-crucial topic.

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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7 Responses to Running Roughshod—a sad story about land and water

  1. I think this change to a plant based diet will come from below. One think we all can do is to start commenting in the comment section of newspapers, blogs etc. about all the great benefits of a plant based diet. Whenever the topic is ‘right’ start commenting. I do…

    • COMING FROM BELOW? Getting more people AT ALL LEVELS to develop and sustain a passionate practical interest in issues so well developed in Jim Hick’s work remains a challenge. Submitting comments to newspapers and blogs needs to become habit for 2013.

      Practical interest? I am in the process of seeing which politicians walk the talk. Making great speeches on “the side of the angels” is all to the good. But effective action requires strategies wherein we focus on specific public figures that are likely to take EFFECTIVE action.

      The jury is out on what the President and his wife will do on our paramount issues.

      By coincidence, I was 100 meters from Candidate Obama on Thursday 24 July 2008 during his Berlin speech. He was treated like a rock star with a 90% approval rating by the Germans. They say “Germans are better democrats than their teachers.” They expect good things from him.

      From whom can we expect good things from in 2013? Hope springs eternal . . .
      We need to get acquainted with as many politicians as possible and TEST them on issues starting with our city, county, state and federal officials. Who will further effective actions?


  2. WHOOPS,

    Kindle edition of Jim’s book is only $1.99 – a terrific bargain. Sorry about earlier typo
    Healthy Eating, Healthy World: Unleashing the Power of Plant-Based Nutrition
    With buying it electronically friends, delivery uncertainties are not an issue.

  3. Jim discussing Lester Brown should help raise our consciousnesses on paramount issues. I look forward to reading Brown’s latest book. One good book leads to another. Thank god for reviews.

    I suggest that everyone encourage friends to see Amazon reader reviews applicable to Jim’s “Healthy Eating, Healthy World.” This well-organized work merits its FIVE STAR rating for very good reasons.
    After completing my third reading of his book, I will post my own review of this excellent publication.
    For the time being, I did take the liberty to comment on remarks submitted by NakedApe13. (sic)

    Not to forget: JIM’S BOOK on KINDLE is ONLY 99 CENTS ! Why not order several ASAP?
    thy Eating, Healthy World. found on Amazon

    KUDOS to the French on producing “HOME” – IN FRENCH,. GERMAN AND ENGLISH.
    Just saw HOME again. Great that it’s on line viewable FREE. Parts of the video were breathtaking beautiful. Parts (as Sal suggests) were rather depressing. The effects of overpopulation do indeed present a bleak scenario. Only when women are highly educated and in control of their own bodies and lives will this problem be taken care of. HOME had so many points that resonated with me. I liked the mention of Freiburg, Germany (Sister City to Madison, Wisconsin). At one of our Freiburg-Madison Society meetings I remember former Madison Mayor Dave being very enthusiastic about what he saw in Freiburg. When in Freiburg (a good share of every year) I share his passion for “Green” politics. Baden-Wüttemburg in general and Freiburg in particular have the Greens in positions of authority. Although Germans love their cars, cities such as Freiburg are loaded with bicyclists. Everybody rides or walks or uses the wonderful public transportation. Taking your bike on the train is no problem. This contrasts with USA where taking your bike often becomes “a Federal case” requiring one to box the bike (impracticable for normal no-nonsense cycling). Contrary to Mitt Romney, “becoming more like Europe” may be OK.

    We in the USA, have much to learn from the rest of the world about preserving what is left of it.

    Once again, for those wanting HOME in an MP4 video file, download and use keepvid .FREE.
    The “Get Video to DVD” program will enable you to make an “ordinary” DVD from MP4 file.This procedure is legal for most videos on the internet. Or buy the DVD from a merchant. Also most good public libraries have HOME available for checking out. Free is often better than cheap. Agreed?


  4. Susan Sasek says:

    The company I work for rolled out a new aeroponic vertical garden last year. It can grow up to 30 plants in 3 square feet and uses 10% of the water of conventional gardening. If plugged in, it costs about $60 a year to run but they have solar adapters in the works. At the time, I had no idea how well this fit in the philosophy of health we have in our company. I have come to learn so much about why it is crucial to not only eat plants, but to grow them sustainably in small places with less water and no fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. I have three and my family of five could not eat all the produce these garden grew. So glad to have this solution for our planet now.

  5. Sal Liggieri says:


    You paint a bleak scenario and yet where is the change going to come from.? And who shall lead us . . . Obama . . .Clinton . . . McDougall . . . Hicks . . . Fuhrman? All of them or none of them!

    • Joanne Irwin says:

      Sal, I believe that each of us who lives out our passion for whole, plant based foods, and understands what that lifestyle does to preserve both our health and our beautiful Mother Earth, will exercise leadership. We must be the change we want to actualize. Spread the message throughout our individual circles…….live it, radiate it, write the letters, articles, post on social media, etc. and then trust that our communal action will bear fruit. Plant based novices in my world tell me that they see the lifestyle taking hold. Documentaries like ‘Home’, ‘A Delicate Balance’, and the masterful “Forks Over Knives” and ‘Food Inc” paint the sustainability reality. Sadly, the US lags behind many of our European counterparts in implementing green action and food labeling. We all know the saying, “Pride comes before the fall”, well, the US better wake up, eat a healthy dose of humble pie, and learn from others. We’re standing at a precipice, for sure. Let each of us resolve in 2013 to express our concerns to our Senators and Representatives. Never believe that your voice won’t make a difference. Fellow sojourners out there, a blessed, healthy and joyous holiday season to one and all!

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