The TH Interview: Edward Mazria, the Man from 2030 (Part Two)



If you say there's no silver bullet to kill climate change, architect Ed Mazria says you're wrong. The bullet is here and Mr. Mazria is challenging the world to lock and load. He'll also tell you that trees won't save us (no matter how much you love to hug them), and that the LEED standards aren't getting us where we need to go. ::TreeHugger Radio

Check out part one of our interview with Ed Mazria here.

Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just listen/right-click to download.

(Thanks to Calabash Music for our soundtrack.)

Full text after the jump. TreeHugger: People are always saying that there's no silver bullet when it comes to the climate crisis. But you say that there is a silver bullet.

Edward Mazria: Absolutely. There's absolutely a silver bullet. I think what has happened is that we look for lots of different ways to address a situation so that we can involve as many people as we can. And in a sense, that's a good thing. But, depending upon how you look at the problem, you can then find different solutions. And so how you define the problem determines the range of solutions.

Well, we began to take a look at the problem a slightly different way, so we came up with a silver bullet, and we think it works. And we think now that scientists are actually calling for that and saying that it's 80% of the solution, which means, in essence, it's a silver bullet.

And what we found was this: we're peaking in oil now. In this country, we peaked in oil production in 1970. And we peaked in natural gas production in 1973 in this country. So we have to import more and more oil and gas as we increase our consumption every year, as the country grows and we add more people and more buildings. So we increase our consumption of those fuels.

Globally, we're peaking in oil right about now. Some people say we peaked last year. Some people say we're going to peak in six months. But we're right around the peak. What happens after the peak is that production declines, therefore consumption declines, therefore the price goes up. And we're beginning to see that happen now. And the further you get away from the peak, the more expensive the commodity becomes and the less and less you use.

So, if you look at all the proven oil and gas reserves left in the world, you begin to understand that you're not going to use all that up, first of all, because it just going to become too expensive once you get over the peak. And once those fuels become more expensive, alternatives begin to look economically more feasible and a lot more attractive. And so you begin to move toward alternatives very, very quickly as the price goes up and up and up. And the faster it goes up, the more quickly you look at alternatives. And you can see that now in the transportation sector, because of oil.

So in essence, you don't use up all that you have left because at some point it just becomes too expensive, the alternatives are just a lot more attractive. So when you look at it that way, you see that oil and gas can't really push us past the threshold of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Those two fuels can't get us there.

There are only three fossil fuels. What's the fossil fuel that will put us over? Well, there's coal. And we have plenty of it in this world. And we're moving to coal, and it's a really dirty fuel.

Coal by itself will push us way past a thousand parts per million. It has a capacity to really push the planet in that direction. Now, coal is very cheap and so there's an economic incentive to move toward it—especially if you're in a recession as we are right now—but that exacerbates the situation.

You have now the coal companies playing ads on primetime TV every night; they have a $50 million campaign going on right now to convince the American public that coal is clean. They don't tell you how it's clean or why it's clean or anything else, they just put out these warm and fuzzy ads that talk about clean coal and how inexpensive it is and how we should adopt it. They're saying nothing about climate change.

In essence, there really isn't any clean coal. So it's a disinformation or misinformation campaign on the part of the coal companies.

So if you stop coal, then you have basically leveled greenhouse gas emissions in this country and globally. We need a global moratorium on coal, then we need to phase out all dirty coal plants. So if you can't fuel global warming with oil and gas, and you get a moratorium on coal (which is the silver bullet) you don't get to the point of 450 parts per million and you can begin to actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions globally. So in essence, it's a silver bullet.

Now, people point to the fact that we have oil shale and tar sands, and those are unconventional fossil fuels. The problem with that is: to extract those two commodities requires a cheap energy source, because you have to put quite a bit of energy in to get a little bit more energy out.

So if you take cheap coal out of the picture altogether—you call a moratorium on coal—you have, in essence, made it very, very difficult to go to those other two sources.

TH: You spoke a second ago about the coal industry and the efforts that they're making to sell people on the clean coal thing. Architecture 2030 has taken out some ads lately in the New York Times and elsewhere, and the one that really stuck out to me where you list some of these major corporate sustainability initiatives and then juxtapose them against the impact of coal power.

The first one on the list says: "Home Depot is funding the planting 300,000 trees in cities across the US to help absorb carbon dioxide."
Then, to put that in perspective: "the CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired plant in just 10 days of operation will negate this entire effort." That's pretty humbling. What sort of response have you gotten since running this ad?

EM: Well, people are amazed. They didn't understand the power to pollute that coal has. So for example, the 300,000 trees: Home Depot's spending over $1 million and they want to up it to 3,000,000 trees.

Now, they're doing this for a number of reasons. One is to beautify cities, to provide shade, or create better microclimate conditions, create a nicer environment. But part of it is also to sequester carbon. What a tree does is as it grows is it soaks up carbon dioxide and stores it in its fabric, in its wood. The negating of this effort is negating the 300,000 trees over their 100-year lifetime. That's the power of putting out the CO2 from that power plant.

It also says is that it's going to be very hard for us to plant our way out of the situation—you just can't do it. You just can't plant enough to absorb more than a very small fraction of what we put out and produce in terms of carbon dioxide annually. So it really is going to take a moratorium on coal. That is the silver bullet.

What's interesting about that is it's something people can rally around. It's not some kind of amorphous, hundred-thousand item smorgasbord of activities. It's something you can define, it's something you can get behind, and it's something you can call for. And once the numbers get large enough, then that action will happen, especially in a democracy.

So it's critical that we get that word out, because the more numbers we have, the quicker we can get the job done.

TH: The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards have become the benchmark for what a green building is. At the recent Greenbuild Conference in Chicago there was a lot of talk about the fact that LEED buildings aren't very good to performing the way they're predicted to. Are the LEED standards getting us where we need to go as far as buildings?

EM: Right now, no. But they're moving in the right direction, and they have adopted the 2030 targets. If you look at the actual energy consumption and LEED certification, you have different values of LEED certification. Everything from just basic certification up through Silver and Gold and Platinum.

The Platinum buildings perform within the targets set by the 2030 challenge. Some of the Gold buildings do and some don't; and very, very few of the Silver buildings do. And then among those that are certified, you don't get very many that do. But recently, the USGBC adopted the 2030 targets and they're now working to incorporate the targets in LEED certification.

So that is a very, very positive move because the USGBC was one of the first organizations to bring awareness and, in a sense, they coined the phrase "green building." And so they have a huge role to play in alleviating the building sector's role and actually turning it around and making it part of the solution to global warming and climate change. And I think they're moving to do that now.

TH: Where do you see the most encouraging signs? What can you point at and say, there! There is what we need to see more of?

EM: Well, there are two sides to the coin: there is the supply side and demand side. Coal is the supply side. So we call for moratorium on coal—that's the silver bullet. The demand side is the 2030 challenge. You reduce demand, you don't need the coal. So you need to work those two in tandem.

What gives me tremendous hope at this point is that on the demand side, the 2030 challenge is spreading like wildfire. In fact, the federal government, in the latest energy bill that was just passed and signed into law, requires all federal buildings to meet the 2030 challenge targets.

So the feds now have taken it on. That puts the resources of the federal government behind creating the technologies, the information, to meet the targets, and so that is a very, very important step. So in that sense, the demand side is very, very encouraging.

You get cities and states now signing on to the 2030 challenge targets. Santa Barbara was the first city that actually enact it into code. California Energy Commission adopted it, the city of Richmond, Virginia adopted it, most professional organizations have adopted it.

On the supply side we had, up until a month ago, about 151 new coal plants in various stages of development in the U.S.; conventional dirty coal plants. About 50 of them have been knocked out already. So about a third of the coal plants that were going to be built—that were in various stages of development in the US—are now not being built. You see Governor Crist in Florida: no coal for his state. In California they are saying, 'we're not going to import any more coal.'

So you see things happening across the country that are heartening, and word is now getting out. That's why you see the coal companies on a $50 million campaign to convince the American public that coal is somehow clean. They wouldn't be doing this unless there was tremendous pressure not to build these dirty coal plants.

If we build the coal plants we just don't have a chance. The power of coal is just so great in terms of the emissions each one of these things puts off that no matter what else you do, you can't negate it.

We also see many states and governors, for example, issuing executive orders saying, "we're going to reduce our state's emission by X-amount by this date." Well, you go with coal in that state you'll never make it.

Another thing that has to get across to the investment sector is that not only do we need a moratorium, but we are going to need to phase out all these dirty coal plants. The investment community must understand that if they put money into building a plant, it may be shut down in a short period of time. That's a risk that they're going to have to take if they want to put their money in that basket.

Tags: Architects | Buildings | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | Carbon Neutral | Design Competitions

Best of TreeHugger