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  • WEEKEND VIDEOS, SApril 10-11:
  • New Energy Means New Jobs
  • Better Communication About The Climate Crisis
  • VW Affirms Driving Is Ready To Go Electric

    Monday, March 30, 2009


    Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
    Lester R. Brown, March 2009 (Earth Policy Institute)

    In Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Lester R. Brown, the Founder and President of Earth Policy Institute describes the growing evidence of global climate change and the best ways to respond.

    Brown notes the Summer 2007 observations of accelerating Arctic melting and the falling away of chunks of the Greenland glacier, indications that sea level rise of 20+ feet around the world – and the concomitant social and economic upheavals – could be in the offing.

    Action is urgently needed. Business-as-usual is not an option. Brown’s book describes a comprehensive response. It offers 4 goals: (1) stabilize climate, (2) stabilize population, (3) eradicate poverty, and (4) restore earth’s ecosystems. He describes them as inextricably intertwined.

    click to enlarge
    (Click here for the complete slideshow)

    World population is growing at 70 million per year, stressing basic resources like water, soil, forests and land. When coping fails, governments weaken, leading to states failing. Examples: Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Pakistan. The list grows longer every year, indicative of civilization weakening. The result is a worsening climate and accelerating stresses.

    The solution, according to Brown, is to stabilize climate first by cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% in the coming decade to stop global temperature rise before the situation is beyond control. Doing so requires 3 steps: (1) Increased energy efficiency, (2) increased New Energy supplies and (3) increased tree cover everywhere on the earth. These 3 changes will make it possible to turn off coal burning, the single most devastating factor in emissions generation.

    Efficiency begins with changing the light bulbs. That alone, by Brown's count, would cut electricity consumption 12% — and eliminate ~705 of the world’s 2,370 coal plants. Greater efficiencies can be achieved with complete retrofits.

    Retrofitting U.S. buildings cuts their energy consumption 20-to-50%. Reduced consumption in conjunction with increased New Energy supply makes it practical to think in terms of a zero-emissions economy.

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    Wind is the key to New Energy in Brown’s thinking. He is one of the many advocates of a massive ramp-up in capacity, using a World War II-like mobilization to build 3 million megawatts of wind (1.5 million 2 megawatt turbines) by 2020 worldwide to meet 40% of world electricity consumption. Both distributed solar (rooftop photovoltaic, or PV, and solar hot water systems) and solar power plants also figure in Brown’s plan. As does geothermal energy.

    With efficient battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and a grid supplied by New Energy, the transportation system is the next place after the building sector where energy consumption cuts and concomitant emissions cuts are possible.

    The last part of Plan B 3.0 is economic. Putting a price on emissions is, to Brown, a way of telling the truth about Old Energy and the old habits it enabled. Brown advocates an essentially revenue-neutral tax on emissions that starts right away at $20 per ton and ramps up yearly to $240 per ton in 2020. Brown’s proposed emissions tax recognizes social inequities by returning portions of the revenues via the income tax. It uses the rest to finance the transition to New Energy.

    The tax is – even if revenue-neutral – a burden. Plan B necessitates the recognition that the time has come to assume burdens, if for no other reason than to avoid much greater brudens for future generations. Since it is time to go to Plan B, it is time for elected leaders to lead the way with greater responsibility-taking in the form of this truth-telling tax.

    click to enlarge
    (Click here for the complete slideshow)

    The reflexively conservative are repelled by dire warnings about the consequences of global climate change. One recently characterized things he had heard from former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore as “baloney.” Brown’s book will not please such people.

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    If it sounds radical, that’s because it is. Brown says he’s not interested in what politicians consider politically feasible. That’s Plan A, business-as-usual. This is Plan B: All-out action at wartime tempo to match the size and rate of the civilizational challenge.

    In his discussion of population, Brown points out that failed states are the wedge that opens up problems as diverse as rising oil prices, rising food prices and, ultimately, worsening climate change in all its ramifications. The ultimate consequence is further destabilization, more failed states and a worsening of the cycle.

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    Brown rightly puts efficiency first in taking on the enormous challenge. Efficiency can make a big difference because commercial and residential buildings generate ~40% of the nation’s GhGs. This means that simple changes in everyday habits of average consumers can have a cumulatively huge impact.

    After light bulbs and retrofits, comes eating habits. Switching from largely meat-based eating to a plant-based diet can cut 3/4 of the energy used to grow and transport food. This, according to Brown, is about the same as driving a Toyota Prius hybrid instead of a Chevrolet Suburban SUV.

    The potential for a massive ramp-up in New Energy capacity will be demonstrated in Texas’ plans to build 23,000 megawatts of wind instead of 23 coal-fired power plants. The Chinese plan to triple its 40 million solar hot water systems to 110 million by 2020 is another test. As are Algeria’s 6,000-megawatt solar power plant and trans-Mediterranean transmission plans. If Texas, China and Algeria win their bets, they will put themselves in positions of power in the coming carbon-constrained world.

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    The best thing about battery electric vehicles (BEVs) is that in conjunction with a smart grid capable of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) operation, BEVs become a source of short-term electricity storage. In this way, BEVs make the transition to New Energy more practical by providing a partial solution to New Energy’s biggest remaining technological challenge, storage against intermittency.

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    Brown’s clever formulation is that the change he calls for is not “a spectator sport” because “time is our scarcest resource.” Physics, chemistry and biology don’t ask permission and they don’t wait. Everybody will suffer the consequences if everybody doesn’t pitch in.

    - Lester R. Brown, President/Founder, Earth Policy Institute and author, Plan B 3.0: “…[By Summer 2007) the Greenland ice sheet was melting so fast that huge chunks of ice weighing several billion tons were breaking off and sliding into the sea, triggering minor earthquakes…We need not go beyond ice melting to see that civilization is in trouble. Business-as-usual is no longer a viable option. It is time for Plan B…”

    click to enlarge
    (Click here for the complete slideshow)

    - Brown: “Time is our scarcest resource. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize…These deadlines are set by nature. Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock…We are in a race between tipping points in natural and political systems…Which will come first? Can we mobilize the political will to phase out coal-fired power plants before the melting of the Greenland ice sheet becomes irreversible? Can we halt deforestation in the Amazon basin before it so weakens the forest that it becomes vulnerable to fire and is destroyed? Can we cut carbon emissions fast enough to save the Himalayan glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia?”
    - Brown: “It is decision time…Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we have to make a choice. We can stay with business as usual and watch our economy decline and our civilization unravel, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that mobilizes to save civilization. Our generation will make the decision, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.”


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