Lester Brown on cutting emissions 80% by 2020

The following YouTube clip is Part 4 from a recent lecture Lester Brown gave on Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization and will take you into the heart of the Plan B message. The presentation was to the Chemical Society of Washington on May 8, 2008.

Lester, who is President of the Earth Policy Institute, talks about the need to cut global carbon emissions by 80% by 2020, creating huge new industries and new jobs. Just by changing our light bulbs we could close 750 coal fired plants worldwide.

He says we can cut emissions this far for less effort than the mobilisation required for WWII!

13 Comments Posted

  1. IMHO, the planet’s sustainable carrying capacity is considerably more than 4 billion, and is not so much dependent on “affluence” as efficiency and life-style. There isn’t going to be enough red meat and fish at Western consumption rates for this many, but the planet can feed people adequately if we don’t squander our resources.

    The problem is that affluence is equated to quantity of products able to be bought, with quality not coming into it. We need long life light bulbs, not the 1500 hour incandescents or the 5000 hour CFLs we have at the moment. We need garments that last more than one season….

    We also need to be smarter about how we do things. Commuting 10+ km each way 5 days a week isn’t sustainable (unless it can be done with electric public transport).


  2. I think there is only one way to do this – and it’s the Greens who are standing in the way. My blog has the logic; rebuttals welcome!

  3. Yes… we have the renewable energy to export and if we were to work it out correctly the more aluminium we produce using renewables the more carbon credits we’d have.

    Globally the price of Al does not reflect the damage done by the coal plants that make the electricity to run the smelters. That has to change, but if anything, the production of things like Al for export, which have a high energy content and a lot of value in industry, should indeed be sourced to places like NZ and Iceland…. or places where they have some other decent supply of renewable juice.

    The alternative way is addressed a few posts above. We also have to address global population. I think the Chinese have a point about their immense progress in population control and the impact that has on their carbon footprint. A frightening number of people on this planet don’t have the ability to even think about it.

    The planet has IMHO, a sustainable carrying capacity of between 2.5 and 4 Billion humans, depending on their level of “affluence”.

    We are already 50% over that number. Naturally population overshoot causes an inevitable population crash, which is Lovelock’s perspective and I don’t argue too much except with respect to the degree. He’s the only person I know of who is more pessimistic than me.


  4. Yesterday I saw an interesting documentary on Iceland. Iceland has large geothermal and hydro resources. To get themselves out of their economic predicament, some people are proposing building a lot of new aluminium smelters to make use of these “clean” and cheap energy resources. The problem is the hydroelectric lakes will flood large areas, and even the geothermal power generation has environmental problems. Understandably there is opposition to the building of more aluminium smelters (which also create pollution issues).

    What is the answer? On the global scale building aluminium smelters in places like Iceland and New Zealand makes environmental sense. Do we have to sacrifice the local environment (e.g. Lake Manapouri) for the global good? Is there an alternative way?

  5. MAt

    If it could produce that much power and only cost 100m you would not need to spend any taxpayer money as companies would be lining up to make a killing. The fact they are not indicates it is neither that easy or that cheap

  6. We can also electrolyse water to create hydrogen, and use that in ammonia manufacture and then turn that into nitrogen fertilizers such as urea and export those. Currently urea is made from hydrogen (via ammonia) and exported by the Petrochem plant in Taranaki, but it uses Kapuni gas to create the hydrogen.

    I see this as a good way of making use of surplus power during summer evenings (providing we can cut back during “dry years”).


  7. I was very impressed with Lester Brown, I even downloaded his ebook free on his site. Lester seems to get carried away with Al Gore’s favorite word “IF” but he has got some good points. He is one of the few that mentions doing something about population. If global warming is man made like a lot of people say, then it seems obvious we should be looking at doing something about population. I read somewhere that China was saying they were reducing their carbon footprint because of their population policies but I cant remember the link. But then again China is opening one new coal fired electricity generating plant every week according to Al Gore.

  8. The aluminium smelter effectively exports 500MW around the clock. No trans-Tasman cable needed.


  9. Ah, john-ston – he’s talking about the US exporting power, not NZ! As for your incandescents, I share the same pattern in my house. The real reason for never changing your kitchen to a CFL is that the colour rendering is not what we are used to, so it can make the food subconsciously look worse. However, CFLs are not the only bulb out there, and the halogen ecobulb is fine for the kitchen and for some of those fixtures where a CFL is just wrong. Fortunately;y, there is lots of choice out there.

  10. “If we did that we could create so much energy we’d need to start exporting it.”

    Or, it would just become too cheap to meter. We couldn’t build a Trans Tasman electric cable even if we tried.

  11. “Just by changing our light bulbs we could close 750 coal fired plants worldwide.”

    That we can let households do on our own. In my household, for instance at the moment, around a quarter of our bulbs are the eco-type, and there are three main reasons why we haven’t gotten more

    1 – we inherited the incandescents when we moved in, and they haven’t blown yet
    2 – the fittings don’t suit the eco-bulbs (particularly in the kitchen)
    3 – it isn’t safe to run an eco-bulb in the fitting (lamps)

    They are particularly useful when you have several lamps coming off the same fitting – we have found that the incandescents blow a lot more because too much current is being drawn; eco bulbs don’t draw so much current.

  12. All these ideas are completely do-able, as he says, but what is the fundamental issue holding them back from actually happening? It seems the opportunity to make money from a green economy isn’t enough to cause a tidal shift in the current global economy (bar a few pioneering entrepreneurs).

    It will take a global disaster to rally the united support of the world and get everyone to push the same way. What will that be? Most likely when we lose a massive chunk of the Arctic ice caps in one go (and get video footage of it so we can repeat it over and over again like 9-11) will be the catalyst for concerted change. It deeply and continuously frustrates me that this is the case.

    Personally… I believe NZ should spend 100m on getting researchers and engineers from all over the world to install a giant ‘Blue Energy’ turbine on the sea floor of Cook’s Strait- an area that regularly experiences the strongest ocean currents in the world. If we did that we could create so much energy we’d need to start exporting it.

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