Inspired by environmentalist Lester Brown


Going green is the thing to do these days. The buzzwords include ”sustainability,” “eco-friendly,” and “carbon footprint.” For many, it may seem like the environmental movement started with Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth. But the first research institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental issues—the Worldwatch Institute—was founded by Lester Brown in 1974. On Thursday, June 18, Brown will speak about his life and work as an environmentalist and author.

Lester Brown had a strong influence on the early environmental movement. He has focused on such problems as the food/population equation, eroding soils, falling water tables, disappearing species, and more. In 2001, Brown founded the Earth Policy Institute to provide a vision and a road map for achieving an environmentally sustainable economy.

Image_1_1871 Brown comes to the museum as part of the “Portrait of Invention” series put on by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. We’ve had a longstanding interest in environmental history and practice at the Lemelson Center. In 1998 we presented a symposium on “Inventing for the Environment” and published a book on the subject in 2003. Our director, Arthur Molella, blogged about eco-cities in April. This program gives us a chance to examine the innovation required to solve today’s environmental problems and record the oral history of Lester Brown, an innovator himself.

We’re fortunate that Marc Pachter, former director of the National Portrait Gallery, will host the program. A cultural historian, Pachter is an innovator in the field of biography through his “Living Self Portraits” public interview series.

Hosting a renowned environmentalist like Lester Brown has challenged the Lemelson Center and the museum to be innovative in how we present the event. There will be no bottled water at the event and we’re trying to be as paperless as possible—invitations went out by email and the program booklets have been printed on recycled paper with soy ink. Brown has inspired us to be more eco-friendly. Come on Thursday, June 18, and let him inspire you.

Kate Wiley is the communications assistant for the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History.