Lester Brown: Time's Up, Coal

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute (and a frequent contributor to this site), launched a shot across the bow of big coal - claiming that the dramatic shift in public opinion away from coal-fired power plants signaled "the beginning of the end of the coal industry." Coal-to-liquid technology, which we've taken a dim view of in the past, and carbon sequestration are mere feints, he asserted, and much too carbon-intensive.

The proper strategy for supplying our energy needs - whilst mitigating our global warming impact - would be to invest in energy efficiency solutions and alternative sources such as wind and solar energy. What to do with the estimated 200 years' worth of coal still in the ground? Leave it there, Brown said. Predictably, his latest call to arms has aroused the ire of the coal industry, which accused him of "grossly" exaggerating opposition to coal and of being on a "jihad." Brown fired back by pointing to the large number of coal plant projects that were either abandoned or contested in 2007 - more than 50 - and to recent polls suggesting a large majority of the public had turned against coal as its preferred source of electricity. The "kiss of death for the industry," he said, was the announcement made by several large banks, including Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, that future lending for the plants would be "contingent" on their demonstrating that they would be "economically viable under future federal rules on emissions."

Many will likely counter Brown's claims by pointing to the resurgence of coal in countries like China and India, whose energy consumption is predicted to continually rise over the coming years. That, of course, presents a huge challenge to the world. Yet, as Brown lays out in his excellent book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (which we heartily recommend), many of the solutions, due in great part to the latest innovations in solar cell and wind technology, already exist - and their potential applications in China and other developing countries are enormous.

The economic appeal of clean energy is already clear: As Jesse recently noted, several large institutional investors pledged to invest another $10 billion in emissions-reducing technologies over the next 2 years. This follows a surge in green investment by some of Silicon Valley's most powerful VC firms, led by the likes of Vinod Khosla, John Doerr and Al Gore. The solutions are there: we just to commit to them.

Image courtesy of the NIH Record

See also: ::Coal-Based Abstinence While 'Hooking Up' With Renewables: New Wall Street Paradigm Emerging, ::More than 50 Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants are Now on the Back Burner

Tags: Coal | Lester Brown

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