If you want a great synopsis of the state of the planet and whether you should be worried about the future, you should set aside an hour over this holiday break to sit down and listen to this excellent (and simultaneously non-excellent) talk by Lester Brown. It is packed with head-turning numbers and specifics. It’s the best overall presentation of the state of our planet I’ve heard in a long time. Even if the emotional message of it is hard to figure out.

FIND THE TIME FOR THIS — YOU’LL NEED 42 MINUTES. This year, instead of turning to religion for hope, you might want to turn to science, technology and society for your dose of hope via this very concise and interesting presentation by one of the grand old men of the environmental movement, Lester Brown.

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How can a talk be simultaneously excellent and non-excellent? How can a talk be boring, disastrous and perfect. It has to do with different audiences.

This talk by Lester Brown is amazingly good if you’ve got a long attention span, have no need for visuals, and can listen close enough and be smart enough to get your message ONLY from the substance of what he says, not from the style.

On the other hand, if you’re a short attention span person (like most of our society today and the artist half of my brain) it has the potential to be disastrous. First off, he says absolutely nothing with the style channel of communication. His largely monotonic voice does not waiver from when he’s talking about the grimness in his first third by describing a potential “perfect storm” of population explosion, global warming, and crop failure as soon as 2030. He’s predicting total calamity, and doing it without even changing the pacing of his words, versus the end of the talk when he pretty much says it’s starting to look like we may have this environmental thing licked. But with the same emotionless sterile delivery.

By the end of the talk he’s telling about how we’ve moved out of the age of coal, into the age of oil, and are now clearly headed to the age of wind — Yay! But he delivers this hugely optimistic good news with … alas … the same dispassionate even keel as the bad news. Which is great if you’re an academic and can get your cues just from the text delivered, but not so much if you’re a multi-tasking soccer dad who is trying to listen to this while talking to the wife on the phone and picking up the kids from practice. That audience member will have a hard time answering his friend’s questions that evening when he mentions at a cocktail party that he listened to this talk and they ask, “So what’s Lester Brown saying, are we doomed or not?”

The even worse news is that the last third of the talk is so packed with optimism that it would be very easy for a listener to come to the conclusion of, “Hey, we’re doin’ it! We’re actually saving the planet! Yay, I can quit worrying!”



Seriously. The broader messaging dynamics of this talk are a mess. And not the least of which is that he begins by saying, “The title of the latest book that came out earlier this year, “World on the Edge,” is intended to create a sense of urgency.” Well … if you wrote the book … and you want to create a sense of urgency … why are you so relaxed and presenting your talk in an utterly non-urgent manner?

You might answer, well, that’s just who he is — it’s his style of presentation. But I’m telling you that ALL elements of presentation come into play. This is like the people at NSF giving boring talks about science that are promoted with the slogan, “Science is Fun!” No, it’s not. Not if your presentation isn’t fun.

I mean, it’s comical, but it’s no different than the most boring, lifeless, droid of a person saying, “I’m really excited about the work I’ve been doing lately.” Yes, your substance says you’re excited, but your style doesn’t. It’s that simple.

So I hate to say anything critical about this talk because it is very, very good. In fact, why in the world can’t President Obama just take the EXACT transcript of what Lester Brown says here and deliver it to the entire nation in a national address. It really poops all over the climate skeptics. The statistics on wind power and fazing out of coal plants and implementation of energy efficient bulbs just absolutely steam rolls over the climate skeptics in their efforts to combat the climate movement as the numbers really do say, “It’s happening.”

My recommendation is that you find an hour over the holidays, turn off your cell phone, do a few mind relaxing exercises to get your attention span ready to listen for 42 minutes, then hit play. It is the most concise and broad ranging presentation I’ve heard in a long time that will give you a clear idea of how there really is hope for humanity. Which is a nice message for the holidays.