Conventional politics and governance, even in so-called advanced democracies, are failing to manage human affairs. In our twenty-first century of global problems that cannot be addressed by any single nation, civic leaders arise from business, finance, academia, cities, media, and the grassroots. Two such leaders are Lester R. Brown, public intellectual extraordinaire, and Ted Turner, media mogul and social innovator.
For full disclosure, I know and admire both Brown and Turner and share their lifelong concern for the future of our human species and the viability of our planetary life-support system. 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. 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 under way, as Ethical Markets tracks in our Green Transition Scoreboard[R] 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 that 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.
In his memoir, Breaking New Ground, Brown recounts how he sidestepped Washington bureaucracies and traditions to launch the Worldwatch Institute in 1975. He built it into a respected think tank heeded by politicians, business leaders, academics, and citizens worldwide. Brown recruited me and a small group led by former U.S. 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. He 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 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, launching a 51-book production line, published in 42 languages.
Ted Turner read the first State of the World report and declared it the most important book he had ever read. …