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

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With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center 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. W With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center 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. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism? Brown 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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With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center 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. W With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center 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. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism? Brown 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.

30 review for Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell

    This book oversimplifies the complex interactions between nations, and leaves out historical references that would clarify the problems countries are currently facing. For example, when talking of East African countries, Brown notes the instability of their governments and uses it as a reason for why they cannot provide for their citizens. What he fails to mention though, are the reasons behind the instability, which in reality has to do with European powers taking resources and dividing the lan This book oversimplifies the complex interactions between nations, and leaves out historical references that would clarify the problems countries are currently facing. For example, when talking of East African countries, Brown notes the instability of their governments and uses it as a reason for why they cannot provide for their citizens. What he fails to mention though, are the reasons behind the instability, which in reality has to do with European powers taking resources and dividing the land with little regard to existing ethnic groups. He also cites large families in India and China as causes of stress on the food system and a drain of resources, when these people are using less resources per person that the US is. This book had the potential to be interesting and informing, but I found it to just push his agenda of oversimplification and decision making without taking the whole picture into consideration.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Judy Lindow

    I want to reread this book immediately. The book's analysis of the new geopolitics of food scarcity is superbly summarized. Many interconnections are made and he gives a clear outline of key demand side and supply side issues. He does a fairly good job of stating how dire the problems are - itemizes a to-do list - however I wish he'd put more emphasis on food choice and not eating meat as central to reversing the current environmental, climate change, resource depletion mess. I wished he'd someh I want to reread this book immediately. The book's analysis of the new geopolitics of food scarcity is superbly summarized. Many interconnections are made and he gives a clear outline of key demand side and supply side issues. He does a fairly good job of stating how dire the problems are - itemizes a to-do list - however I wish he'd put more emphasis on food choice and not eating meat as central to reversing the current environmental, climate change, resource depletion mess. I wished he'd somehow screamed a little louder. Sometimes the most concise, well stated, and cogent arguments are missed because there are so many simple minds that by-pass 'just information'. It's crazy - but human - to wait for the blood, starvation, war, and drama, before paying attention.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Wim

    I was a bit disappointed by the book, that is on an important and very interesting topic, but poorly written. Brown bombards the reader with statistics that are not always presented in a way that facilitates interpretation. I strongly disagree with his ideas on human population and think he misses the points that have been repeatedly made by demographers. The book is very mechanic, as seems the view of the author on where the world goes. Chapters are unrelated and the whole book is full of dramat I was a bit disappointed by the book, that is on an important and very interesting topic, but poorly written. Brown bombards the reader with statistics that are not always presented in a way that facilitates interpretation. I strongly disagree with his ideas on human population and think he misses the points that have been repeatedly made by demographers. The book is very mechanic, as seems the view of the author on where the world goes. Chapters are unrelated and the whole book is full of dramatically bad news. The author waits until the last chapter to hastily make some proposals about how to solve world food problems and give some positive examples, but it is too little and too late. In spite of all this, I must say I learned a lot on grain markets (and the link between food, energy, water and land), and also on wind erosion and dust storms (very common here in the Sahel).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Yngve Skogstad

    This book contains loads of very useful statistics regarding resource use/depletion and food production, but in terms of an analysis of power/politics it leaves much in the way. I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the author beforehand, so I sort of expected this to be more of an IR study of the quest for food security in a time of ecological collapse. It certainly wasn’t. I appreciate how Brown doesn’t merely talk about the problem of climate change, like so many “environmentalists” tend to do This book contains loads of very useful statistics regarding resource use/depletion and food production, but in terms of an analysis of power/politics it leaves much in the way. I must admit I wasn’t familiar with the author beforehand, so I sort of expected this to be more of an IR study of the quest for food security in a time of ecological collapse. It certainly wasn’t. I appreciate how Brown doesn’t merely talk about the problem of climate change, like so many “environmentalists” tend to do today, instead addressing a series of ecological crises (still leaving some undealt with). I do however think he displays a major historical illiteracy throughout, presenting the global south almost as innately backward, corrupt and unable to fend for itself, while avoiding the historical context of its “underdevelopment”.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mark Whittemore

    I had not reviewed this immediately after finishing it as I had moved onto "Life on the Brink", however, I went back and found the passage that struck me the most. "For Americans, the melting of the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau would appear to be China's problem... In the 1970s when tight world food supplies were generating unacceptable food price inflation in the United States, the government restricted grain exports. This is probably not an option today where China is concerned. Each month w I had not reviewed this immediately after finishing it as I had moved onto "Life on the Brink", however, I went back and found the passage that struck me the most. "For Americans, the melting of the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau would appear to be China's problem... In the 1970s when tight world food supplies were generating unacceptable food price inflation in the United States, the government restricted grain exports. This is probably not an option today where China is concerned. Each month when the U.S. Treasury Department auctions off securities to cover the U.S. fiscal deficit, China is one of the big buyers. Now holding close to $1 trillion of U.S. debt, China has become the banker for the United States. Like it not, Americans will be sharing their grain harvest with Chinese consumers."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amos Tai

    Fact-wise there isn’t much that I don’t know, but it’s good (for teaching and writing) to see how a master puts things in perspectives and makes it convincing. In short, food shortage and rising food prices (as a result of the rising population, shifts toward meat-heavy diets, soil and water degradation, plateauing yields, and climate change) be the weakest link facing our civilization in the decades to come, leading to more inequality, international land grabs, and a new geopolitics that destab Fact-wise there isn’t much that I don’t know, but it’s good (for teaching and writing) to see how a master puts things in perspectives and makes it convincing. In short, food shortage and rising food prices (as a result of the rising population, shifts toward meat-heavy diets, soil and water degradation, plateauing yields, and climate change) be the weakest link facing our civilization in the decades to come, leading to more inequality, international land grabs, and a new geopolitics that destabilizes the world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    “In short, avoiding a breakdown in the food system requires the mobilisation of our entire society...Saving civilisation is not a spectator sport.” Really enjoyed reading Lester R. Brown’s “Full Planet, Empty Plates” and feeling inspired by his solutions... • stabilise world population • eradicate poverty • reduce meat consumption 🌱 • reverse biofuel policies • stabilise climate • raise water productivity • conserve soil • redefine security to include this century’s biggest threats: climate change, “In short, avoiding a breakdown in the food system requires the mobilisation of our entire society...Saving civilisation is not a spectator sport.” Really enjoyed reading Lester R. Brown’s “Full Planet, Empty Plates” and feeling inspired by his solutions... • stabilise world population • eradicate poverty • reduce meat consumption 🌱 • reverse biofuel policies • stabilise climate • raise water productivity • conserve soil • redefine security to include this century’s biggest threats: climate change, food security, population growth etc

  8. 5 out of 5

    Beto Avila Nuñez

    A marvelous point of view from the numbers of the impact of food and the whole industry behind it, we are moving up too quick for the planet boundaries and with the data of the book you can't be the same mind as before the reading of it. Lester Brown put a lot of concrete information to argue that we are running out of time, and the things we need to do for survive are based on sustainable-way of life A marvelous point of view from the numbers of the impact of food and the whole industry behind it, we are moving up too quick for the planet boundaries and with the data of the book you can't be the same mind as before the reading of it. Lester Brown put a lot of concrete information to argue that we are running out of time, and the things we need to do for survive are based on sustainable-way of life

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hallie

    This was a really good book on an expansive topic. I didn't realize this issue was so complex, and now realizing it I'm surprised the author was able to distill its core to the extent he has. It's a relatively short book written entirely for the layman, and yet surprisingly it manages to cover so many aspects relating to the emerging food crisis in ways that go beyond just skimming the surface of each. Oh, and it scared the crap out of me. Effective. This was a really good book on an expansive topic. I didn't realize this issue was so complex, and now realizing it I'm surprised the author was able to distill its core to the extent he has. It's a relatively short book written entirely for the layman, and yet surprisingly it manages to cover so many aspects relating to the emerging food crisis in ways that go beyond just skimming the surface of each. Oh, and it scared the crap out of me. Effective.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Although this book is quite brief, there were some intriguing points made regarding food security and water security (which I knew little about). This book gives some great case studies/examples (backed by data) of historical events which highlight food insecurity across the globe. It would have been great to see this book go more in-depth on some of the explored issues. Lester clearly knows his stuff.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This read like a series of background memos that Brown put together for the Earth Policy Institute. He seems to have approached this in the wrong way--he's completely fixated on food scarcity as the end-all, be-all to our problems that he doesn't even acknowledge the complexities of situations facing other countries. Reading this book you'd think that water scarcity was the only problem facing Yemen, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East, not systemic political problems the countries have This read like a series of background memos that Brown put together for the Earth Policy Institute. He seems to have approached this in the wrong way--he's completely fixated on food scarcity as the end-all, be-all to our problems that he doesn't even acknowledge the complexities of situations facing other countries. Reading this book you'd think that water scarcity was the only problem facing Yemen, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East, not systemic political problems the countries have been struggling with for decades or longer. Not to mention his dismissal of "failed countries," and dwelling on the "overpopulation crisis" facing countries only made up of people of color. The veiled racism was really unpleasant to read. Maybe this book was more compelling when it came out in 2012? But at this point, this book offer a one-dimensional view of the world and the problem at hand and isn't worth reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This Malthusian little book succinctly lays out many of the problems facing today's global food supply. It's fairly interesting but nothing you wouldn't find in a report by the FAO. The 'call to action' at the end was pretty weak. I had hoped that the president of the Earth Policy Institute would be able to offer more meaningful policy prescriptions than "raise carbon taxes" and "end poverty." This Malthusian little book succinctly lays out many of the problems facing today's global food supply. It's fairly interesting but nothing you wouldn't find in a report by the FAO. The 'call to action' at the end was pretty weak. I had hoped that the president of the Earth Policy Institute would be able to offer more meaningful policy prescriptions than "raise carbon taxes" and "end poverty."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gabby

    I found the amount of facts to be overwhelming while also leaving out intricacies that I think would have been helpful to understand the situation from a global perspective. http://www.earth-policy.org/mobile/bo... I found the amount of facts to be overwhelming while also leaving out intricacies that I think would have been helpful to understand the situation from a global perspective. http://www.earth-policy.org/mobile/bo...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bill Pye

    I think he neglected parts of the world No mention of Canada anywhere I Suspect his research is designed to only support his premise Lot of facts lots to learn raises a lot of questions not enough answers

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Smart

    I only got a few pages in. I wanted to like this book, as the topic is interesting to me, but apparently I was subconsciously hoping for a not-as-scholarly approach to the topic. I found this too dry to handle.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charissa Palank

    To the point. A quick, helpful read. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a place to begin, and every single citizen of the planet interested in eating.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    Changed my view on food

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ritattoo

    I was expecting much more... first and most, important, easy-to-remember facts. Not many came across...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Spears

    An important book that delves into the core of food politics. Some parts were eye opening, some parts repeated, overall very worth your attention and time spent.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Wasn't for me. Wasn't for me.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ellenkiley

    Wake up call!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Betsey

    Brown puts forth a lot of great points about why food scarcity will be our greatest national threat in the future. I would have appreciated more suggestions on what to do about it, but that could probably be an entirely different book. There was a little hope at the end telling you to fight for what you believe in, but it was a little late after the whole book made me feel like the world is ending.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Annaleise

    A quick read on a really interesting and important topic.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vish Wam

    This was an eye opener. Are you ready to believe that China's ultra-high demand for Soya to feed its livestock has been causing excessive deforestation in the Amazon-basin to cultivate Soya bean? Who's the root cause for the loss of Amazonian forest tracks then, Brazil or China? Are dirty land-grabbing acts only done by 'rich foreign MNCs'? Are Indian corporates also lobbying their ways to grab lands in Sub Saharan African countries? Is the growing demand for biofuel promising for the climate or This was an eye opener. Are you ready to believe that China's ultra-high demand for Soya to feed its livestock has been causing excessive deforestation in the Amazon-basin to cultivate Soya bean? Who's the root cause for the loss of Amazonian forest tracks then, Brazil or China? Are dirty land-grabbing acts only done by 'rich foreign MNCs'? Are Indian corporates also lobbying their ways to grab lands in Sub Saharan African countries? Is the growing demand for biofuel promising for the climate or is it only going to take the dwindling area of cultivable land away from food crop agriculture? These were some questions that this book answers. Nicely written with an ample supply of facts, figures and statistics for the reader, this book is a satiating store of knowledge. By extrapolating numbers and stats Lester Brown really does forecast some shocking predictions about the future. It must be mentioned that the usage of stats and numbers has not made this a boring read, at any point. Each chapter in the book spans not more than 15 pages and is packed completely with only the essential content. There are no anecdotes involving characters; very few personal quotes and there's no use of flashy quotes, quips or humor to attract the reader. The reader will still be engaged because of the sheer seriousness imparted through the writing. The book is an alarm without a snooze button for mankind so that we wakeup before it's too late.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melody Schreiber

    "On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts. On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth's rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production." pp. 3-4 "Most of the nearly 1 billion people who are chronically hungry and malnourished live in the Indian subcontinent or sub-Saharan Africa." p. 7 "The most recent U. "On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts. On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth's rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production." pp. 3-4 "Most of the nearly 1 billion people who are chronically hungry and malnourished live in the Indian subcontinent or sub-Saharan Africa." p. 7 "The most recent U.N. demographic projections show world population growing to 9.3 billion by 2050, an addition of 2.3 billion people." "A startling 80 percent of oceanic fisheries are being fished at or beyond their sustainable yield." p. 17 Page 17 - livestock in Africa has nearly tripled since 1961. Overgrazing? Page 18 - 44 countries have reached replacement rate, at 970 million total He keeps it simple to appeal to a general audience, but at times he oversimplifies (the earth's rising temperatures). The difference between a journalist and a policy advocate. Food insecurity sparked Arab spring Family planning and population growth aspects of food security Food security in Peru, Philippines

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Born

    Concise, informative, and to the point, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity gets my earnest recommendation. It is full of facts and mercifully stingy on moralizing and sermons. I do take one star off due to the lack of inline citations for the factual claims. Instead the book has a blanket reference to the author's think tank's web site at the end of each chapter. The website contains a list of excel spreadsheets for each chapter, which themselves include references t Concise, informative, and to the point, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity gets my earnest recommendation. It is full of facts and mercifully stingy on moralizing and sermons. I do take one star off due to the lack of inline citations for the factual claims. Instead the book has a blanket reference to the author's think tank's web site at the end of each chapter. The website contains a list of excel spreadsheets for each chapter, which themselves include references to the original source(s) for the numbers in the spreadsheets. However, this doesn't make it clear which spreadsheets (and hence which primary sources_ were used to arrive at which factual claims. This difficulty in tracing information back to primary sources makes me wary to use the book for citations.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tom Roth

    Unfortunately, this book disappointed me in the end. At first, it looked interesting, but after a few chapters I got really annoyed by the continuous enumerations of numbers and statistics. Also, the different themes are dealt with in a quite superficial way, which was not interesting for me, since I already read some other, more detailed books and articles about the world food problem. In short, it might be an interesting book for someone who needs an introduction into the world food problem, b Unfortunately, this book disappointed me in the end. At first, it looked interesting, but after a few chapters I got really annoyed by the continuous enumerations of numbers and statistics. Also, the different themes are dealt with in a quite superficial way, which was not interesting for me, since I already read some other, more detailed books and articles about the world food problem. In short, it might be an interesting book for someone who needs an introduction into the world food problem, but I did not like it as much as I had expected beforehand.

  28. 5 out of 5

    G.

    Clear. Concise. Informative. That's Lester Brown. A great book for anyone trying to wrap their head around food politics/climate change. Starts with a layout of 2007/08 food shortages and then takes you through the past few years, further developments in land acquisition, current farmer's woes, population dynamics, water resource scarcity, resiliency issues for crops in the face of climactic change, and much much much more. A great read for the lay person as well as the academic. Clear. Concise. Informative. That's Lester Brown. A great book for anyone trying to wrap their head around food politics/climate change. Starts with a layout of 2007/08 food shortages and then takes you through the past few years, further developments in land acquisition, current farmer's woes, population dynamics, water resource scarcity, resiliency issues for crops in the face of climactic change, and much much much more. A great read for the lay person as well as the academic.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Wonderful book explaining the economics of food scarcity and impacts for us all in rising prices and rising tensions across the world. Short but packed full of relevant figures and details Brown masterfully covers the main points, explodes myths and offers options. Two points really stood out to me: the cost of diverting corn to ethanol and the failure of land international purchases to work in agriculture.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Edvin

    As food scarcity is becoming ever more serious, I decided it was time to get some info about the matter. And this book is all that, and more. The author summarizes all the problems we are facing in a very clear, bullet point matter. States the reasons we are in this mess and explains the pressures in both supply and demand for food. Reading this book will give you a great overall picture of the food crisis we are / will be facing. Would recommend to everyone trying to get a feel for the topic.

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