Review of BREAKING NEW GROUND by Lester R. Brown (Norton, 2013) and of LAST STAND by Todd Wilkinson (Lyons Press, 2013)
By Hazel Henderson (c) 2013
Conventional politics and governance, even in so-called advanced democracies are failing to manage human affairs. In our 21st century of global problems that cannot be addressed by any single nation, civic leaders arise in business, finance, academia, cities, media and from the grassroots.
Two such leaders are Lester R. Brown, public intellectual extraordinaire, and Ted Turner, media mogul and social innovator. Both learned to transcend the artificial conceptual and institutional boundaries that prevent progress in developing coherent policies and governance needed for human development on our crowded polluted planet. For full disclosure, I know and admire both Lester Brown and Ted Turner and share their lifelong concern for the future of our human species and the viability of our planetary life-support system. Both see the future of human society as I do: no longer powered by digging fossil fuels and uranium out of the Earth, but instead looking up and harvesting the free daily shower of photons from the sun. Plants learned to do this millions of years ago, developing the technology of photosynthesis - which provides the daily food humans consume. The global shift beyond fossil fuels toward this next Solar Age is well underway as Ethical Markets tracks in our Green Transition Scoreboard® with $5.2 trillion privately invested in green companies since 2007.
Lester Brown learned these truths growing up on a farm in New Jersey and became an agricultural expert in many countries. Ted Turner learned of these realities of human survival as the founder of CNN, seeing through his global TV network and reporters all the challenges humanity faces: from overcoming ignorance, disease and conflict to evolving new energy and economic systems in harmony with Nature and the success of life forms for the past 3.8 billion years.
Lester Brown recounts in his memoir Breaking New Ground how he sidestepped Washington bureaucracies and traditions to launch the Worldwatch Institute in 1975 which rapidly became the most respected think tank, heeded by politicians, business leaders, academics and citizens worldwide. Brown recruited me and a small group led by former US Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman to serve on the Worldwatch board, on which I continued until 2002. I saw how Brown's intellectual power and modest low-key management style drove Worldwatch to its rapid success. Brown shifted debates in Washington and other capitals beyond petty power politics to address urgent global issues of widening poverty gaps, growing desertification, pollution and the underlying unsustainability of our economic and financial models. I remember the debate in Worldwatch's boardroom in 1983 about Brown's idea of producing an annual State of the World report, which the Rockefeller Foundation executive Bill Dietel had promised to help underwrite. I applauded this bold initiative and the first State of the World report in 1984 largely written by Brown appeared and became a global best-seller, as a series, part of his 51 book production line published in 42 languages.
Ted Turner read the first State of the World report, declared it the most important book he had ever read. He proceeded to carry boxes of them to deliver to his CNN reporters - eventually sending the report out annually to every head of state, political, business and NGO leader around the world. Ted Turner and Lester Brown became lifelong friends.
During these early years, I witnessed the unfolding debate worldwide on the state of our planet's life-supporting biosphere, as an advisor to the US Office of Technology Assessment, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering from 1975 to 1980. This led to my own lifelong focus on the failure of economics and its financial models in my The Politics of the Solar Age (1981, 1988) on which I still treasure Lester Brown's comment: "Hazel Henderson is the original thinker of our generation She breaks new ground and plants the seeds. The rest of us follow to do the cultivating and harvesting."
Ted Turner's life has been driven by these concerns, documented in the Last Stand by author Todd Wilkinson. This book follows Turner's fascinating life from his success in building CNN to his concern with peace-building in his Goodwill Games in Moscow and friendship with Mikhail Gorbachev. Wilkinson recounts Turner's well-founded support of the United Nations (NYSE:UN) and the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992, headed by Canadian Maurice Strong, which I also attended as a journalist. Author Wilkinson recounts Turner's growing interest in land conservation and his gradual acquisition of tracts in the USA and Latin America to become the largest private landowner in the world. Wilkinson also describes how Turner's interest in the UN culminated in his largest-ever private donation of $ 1 billion, setting up the UN Foundation still run today by his friend, former Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado.
Both these books document two outstanding global citizens, a new breed of human sorely needed in our 21st century. Ted Turner and Lester Brown are role models for millions in their bold grasp of our human history and future options for further evolution. Their relevance will continue to grow as we face the breakdown of traditional politics and governance as well as of conventional economics and finance - now driving ecological destruction and disrupting human security in many local countries worldwide.
Both these books are enthralling, illuminating our times and widening our perception of our own options in our lives. It has been my own personal privilege to know Lester Brown and Ted Turner, and I continue to be inspired by their exemplary lives.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.