Imagining a future where the world's economy is based on renewable energy sources may sound far off. A world where population has stabilized, poverty doesn't exist, and we've begun to repair our damaged ecosystems even farther off.
But for Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, that's exactly the future we need to realize if we're going to save civilization.
Last week, Brown outlined his plan for a group of business leaders, environmental activists, scientists, journalists, and policy experts, at the first-ever Aspen Environment Forum, a conference hosted by the Aspen Institute and National Geographic Magazine.The major tenants of Brown's Plan B, 3.0 (reviewed in February on TreeHugger here):
1. Stabilize climate
2. Stabilize population
3. Eradicate poverty
4. Save and restore damaged ecosystems
"We're probably not going to make it if we don't achieve each of these goals," Brown told the audience.
Far from spreading a doom-and-gloom message, Brown then gave a number of reasons for hope, provided that people work to make a difference. "Saving civilization is not a spectator sport," he added.
Stabilizing climate, for Brown, means systematically raising energy efficiency, making a massive investment in renewable energy, and planting trees to sequester carbon.
He noted that if everyone started using the most efficient lighting available (which in most cases means CFLs), that would eliminate 12 percent of world energy demand, obviating the need for 705 of the world's nearly 2,400 coal-fired power plants.
Rather than getting 40 percent of our energy from coal, Brown sees 40 percent of the world's economy being driven by wind power. According to his calculations, we could achieve this goal by building 1.5 million 2 MW turbines. (Currently, there are about 100,000 wind turbines worldwide with an average generating capacity of about 1 MW.) That may seem like a lot of turbines. But Brown reminds us that worldwide we are already producing 65 million cars annually, so producing 1.2 million turbines over the next several years shouldn't sound that daunting.
In effect, Brown is calling for a massive mobilization of people toward a common cause. All we need is the kind of inspired leadership that allowed the United States to retool its industrial sector in a matter of months after the invasion at Pearl Harbor to fight the spread of fascism. This time, however, we'll mobilize to fight climate change.
Even though this kind of mass mobilization has yet to happen, Brown sees a few promising signs:
Texas, through the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, plans to build 23,000 MW of wind generating capacity. The largest investor in Texas wind energy to date is T. Boone Pickens, a former oilman. When asked why he was investing $10 billion in a 4,000 MW wind farm in the Texas panhandle, he responded, "I've gotten tired of oil depletion curves."
Another promising development for Brown is the creation of green jobs. Building wind turbines to power our clean economy could help many U.S. industries that have been struggling in recent years. Just a few weeks ago, TreeHugger reported that Gamesa, the Spanish wind turbine manufacturer, would soon be opening its third plant in Pennsylvania, creating some 300 new jobs in the rust belt. The company's other two Pennsylvania plants employ 1,300 workers, some of whom used to work in the steel industry.
Framing these developments, Brown said:
This is no longer marginal, incremental thinking. This is quantum jump thinking. It reminds me a bit of a comment that Amory Lovins made when he was being interviewed by Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker . Elizabeth asked Amory about thinking outside the box. Amory said, 'There is no box. There is no box.' And that's what we have to do. We have to get rid of the boxes.
For Brown, that kind of thinking and can-do attitude augurs a better future. Challenging the audience, he said, "We are the first generation that can build an energy economy that can last as long as the sun and the earth themselves." Time to roll up our sleeves.
::Watch clips of Lester Brown talking about Plan B, 3.0 here
Image credit::BizToolBelt, "Airborn Wind Turbines Called MARS"