Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Earth Day will be celebrated all over the country next week and Lester Brown will participate with a couple of presentations in the Washington, DC area. The first will be an evening presentation at Georgetown University on April 20 followed by one at American University on Earth Day (April 22). (See Events.)
This will be the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, started in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in. Since then Earth Day has grown under the guidance of Denis Hayes, who was selected by then-Senator Nelson's staff to organize the first Earth Day, which has now become the world’s most widely observed secular holiday. More than just one day, it is a weeklong global teach-in promoting awareness of climate change, renewable energy, a green economy, pollution, and much more. Earth Day is planning a big event on the National Mall on Sunday, April 25 from 12 noon to 7 pm: music, inspired speakers, and more.
The Earth Day Network now circles the earth with its 20,000 NGO partners in 192 countries. Check out their website for events and activities near your location. Highlights of some of this year’s global events and outreach include:
• Large city events on almost every continent including New York; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rabat, Morocco; Tokyo, Japan; and the Philippines.
• The National Mall flagship rally in Washington, DC on Sunday, April 25th will include a call to action on climate, performances, and an Eco-Village of the future.
• Sir Richard Branson’s organization, the Carbon War Room, is convening a two-day conference of high level entrepreneurs on April 21st and 22nd which will create a roadmap for a new green economy, renewable energy and innovation for the next century.
• 500 mayors are expected to participate in a Global Day of Conversation on Earth Day, April 22nd, convening their citizens to discuss climate change and sustainability.
Support the Earth Day events in your area.
For us at the Earth Policy Institute, the goal is for Earth Day to become a daily celebration, enlivened with a stewardship consciousness of Earth and its remarkable natural resources and life. This is why we offer a plan for saving civilization and the earth. It is, after all, the only home we have.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
South Korea has long taken the books of Lester Brown to heart. It started in 1980 with a young man named Yul Choi, who was one of the leaders of the democratization movement in South Korea. In jail for his pro-democratic activities, he read The 29th Day, a book Lester had written in 1978. He vowed then that if the democratization movement succeeded, he would use the energies of this student movement to save Korea’s environment.
Six years and a number of other environmental books later, he founded the first environmental NGO in South Korea: the Korean Research Institute of Environmental Problems (KRIEP). Due to KRIEP’s efforts, environmental issues became a major platform for the democracy movement, paving the way for a civilian government. In 1988, KRIEP merged with two other environmental groups, becoming KAPMA (Korean Anti-Pollution Movement Association) with Mr. Choi as its president. Nuclear waste was a big issue.
With the environmental movement engaged, there was also the need for environmental information. A South Korean publishing company called Earth Love Publications recognized the value of global environmental information and began publishing books by Lester in 1990.
In 1993, KAPMA united with seven local environmental groups to launch the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM), and Mr. Choi became its first and present secretary general.
KFEM is the largest and most influential NGO in South Korea, with 85,000 members and 47 local branches working on a variety of environmental, human rights, and economic issues. For his incredible work, Mr. Choi was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1995.
Dedicated to environmental literacy, KFEM publishes a magazine and books through its publishing house Doyosae. Mr. Choi had met with Lester a number of times when he had visited the United States. Thus, when we started Earth Policy Institute, it was a natural for us to approach Doyosae, which enthusiastically agreed to publish our books—and has been doing so ever since. Under Mr. Choi’s direction, Lester has traveled several times to South Korea to speak, meet with political leaders, and launch his books. Conversely, when Mr. Choi is in the United States, he takes time to meet with Lester.
The two men share a strong mutual admiration for each other's work. When Mr. Choi started the Korea Green Foundation in 2002 to focus on developing solutions to environmental and social issues and to foster cooperation among government, corporations, civic organizations, and individuals, Lester agreed to be an advisor.
In 2008 Lester was in Seoul to launch the Korean edition of Plan B 3.0. Mr. Choi put together a program that included a press conference in the airport when Lester arrived, three major speaking events, exceptional media coverage,and meetings with the mayors of Seoul and Incheon City.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Lester Brown’s first book, Man, Land and Food, was published in 1963. Since then, he has authored 15 additional books and co-authored another 35 (not including his numerous monographs). Each book has been translated into at least one other language, often many more, so that his books can be found in some 44 languages.
Some of the languages in which he has long been published are Japanese and Chinese. The reason for both relate to an individual or individuals in each country.
In 1984, concerned about the need for solid environmental information in Japan, Soki Oda, an editor at the time, purchased the rights to publish State of the World 1984 and then found a publisher, Diamond Sha. Over the years, he became so involved with disseminating environmental information, especially because global environmental information was so lacking in Japan, that he established an organization, World Watch Japan, to promote the Institute’s research there.
When Lester founded Earth Policy Institute, Soki bid for the rights to publish our books in Japan, starting in 2001 with Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth. In addition to publishing and marketing, Soki also arranges book promotional tours that often generate exceptional media coverage.
Lester has been on prime time television on numerous occasions in Japan as well. In November 2008, NHK, Japan’s major media network, conducted a two-hour interview with him for a New Year’s program they were doing on the future. Unbeknownst to us, the 90-minute program was solely on the solutions he described in his Plan B book series. The program has aired a number of times since January 2009.
Japan is the only country that has published a book written by Lester that has not been published elsewhere. There isn't even an English edition. Eko Keizei Kakumei: Environmental Trends Reshaping the Global Economy was published in 1998 by Tachibana Publishing through the team efforts of Junko Edahiro, then an interpreter, and Peter David Pedersen then with BC Consulting. Peter David now heads E-Square Inc. Junko, who was Lester’s main interpreter when he visited Japan, is now a well-known author in her own right and heads her own environmental NGO, Japan for Sustainability, and Change Agent, Inc. which conducts seminars on systems thinking. Junko edited the book, drawing on Lester’s lectures and on interviews she conducted with him. The book became a Top Ten bestseller in Japan.
In China, Lin Zixin, formerly with the Institute of Scientific and Technological Information of China (ISTIC), has arranged the publication of Lester’s books in Chinese for more than 20 years. Mr. Lin retired from ISTIC at about the same time that we established Earth Policy Institute. Thus, when we were interested in a Chinese publisher, we looked to Mr. Lin, who not only found a publisher for Eco-Economy, but personally led the team of translators and arranged outreach. Part of the outreach for the Chiinese edition included a trip to Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces that helped Lester better understand the pressures on the land in China’s northwest, information that fueled subsequent books.
The government of China pays attention to Lester’s books. The first to draw a lot of attention was Who Will Feed China? which caused quite a stir in 1995. Perhaps the best assessment of its effect appeared in the South China Morning Post: “[Brown’s] arguments have caused near panic in the highest levels of the Communist Party and the government has responded by holding seminars and issuing defiant rebuttals…. In the past 40 years few other foreigners have managed to shake the confidence of China’s rulers as Brown has.” Lester's analysis, however, resulted in China reorienting its agricultural price, land use, and water policies.
Meanwhile, the Chinese edition of Plan B received a coveted national book award in 2005 from the National Library of China. And both Premier Wen Jiabao and Pan Yue, Deputy Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, have quoted Plan B 2.0 in public addresses and articles.
In late May and early June, Lester will be in both countries to promote the Japanese and Chinese editions of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. See our Events page for details as they unfold.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
From March 16-28, Washington, DC, will be the site of the Washington, DC 18th Annual Environmental Film Festival, offering some 150 films. That so many cities and universities host environmental film festivals says much about how hungry people are for environmental information—and film is such a marvelous medium for information.
In the rich diversity of films being aired here later this month are those just about our natural world such as beetles, bears, and gorillas; exotic lands like Bhutan, the Amazon, and Yellowstone; and even the soil that sustains us. Others examine food, where it comes from, the seeds that grow it, and how we eat it. And some films simply entertain us such as Up and Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati.
Each year our staff members pour through the Festival guide, marking off the films they will see.
To us at the Earth Policy Institute this year’s festival is of special interest because it features a film on Lester Brown’s Plan B. Produced by Hal and Marilyn Weiner, Emmy-Award winning filmmakers, Plan B (the same title as Lester’s book series) is a 50-minute work-in-progress of a two-part series. The final edition will be aired on PBS stations this fall. The Festival summary notes: “Shot on location in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, New Delhi, Rome, Istanbul, Ankara and Washington, DC, the film features Lester’s visit with world leaders to discuss ways to respond to the challenges of climate change. … But what makes Plan B significant and timely is that it provides audiences with hopeful solutions—a road map that will help eradicate poverty, stabilize populations and protect and restore our planet’s fisheries, forests, soils and biological diversity.”
The Weiners have won 130 top international awards from film festivals and their work has received three EMMY Nominations and two EMMY Awards, plus thirty-nine CINE Golden Eagle Awards. They are recipients of the National Academy of Television Arts and Science's 1998 Silver Circle Award for outstanding contributions to the television industry. http://www.screenscope.com/index_alt.html
We are thrilled that the film will soon be seen. For those of you not in the DC area or who can’t make it to see Plan B, when we know the release date for the two-part series, we will send out announcements via our listserv, Tweets, Facebook page, and even this blog. So ... stay tuned!
Meanwhile, for those in the DC area … enjoy the Festival. There’s lots of great films for everyone.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Next: long-established relationships
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
We note in our website that our books are translated into 23 languages and we provide contact information on the publishers. Behind this mundane information lurk inspiring stories of how these translations came into being. Over the next few months, we’ll give you a more in-depth look at some of these extraordinary people.
With such a number of remarkable stories to tell, it is difficult to decide which to start with, so I will begin with the most recent. (Next installment will discuss some of our long-term publishing arrangements.)
Last year one of our blogs mentioned the launch of the Portuguese edition of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester Brown. Although we’d had interest over the years from several publishers in Brazil, we had yet to pin down a contract. (Plan B 2.0 was published in Portugal—see later in this post.)
However that was soon to change when we were contacted in April 2008 by Edoardo Rivetti, head of New Content, a magazine publishing house. Edoardo and his wife had been on vacation in New York where he’d picked up a copy of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization. He loved the book and, although he’d not published a book before this, wanted to publish it in Brazil. He even purchased several dozen copies and sent them to government officials, businessmen, and colleagues. It was a number of months before Eduardo found a sponsor to help finance the translation. (The cost of a translation is often the highest part of publishing a book.)
By this time, Lester was well into the next major revision: Plan B 4.0. We agreed that this would be the best edition to publish. Edoardo suggested a simultaneous release of the U.S. and Portuguese editions. W.W. Norton & Co., our U.S. publisher, had the book on a fast track, which meant Edoardo’s team would have to be exceptionally fast. They would have to translate, edit, set in type, proofread, and then print in the same amount of time (about two months) our publisher had to print our press-ready pdfs.
With the help of a team of translators headed by Ricardo Voltolini of Ideia Socioambiental, the translation was completed in record time. We released the U.S. edition on September 30, 2009, and Lester launched the Portuguese edition in Sao Paulo on October 22 and 23. (See blog post.) The launching generated significant attention, bolstering Globo’s on-going effort to promote Plan B through its 2020 Campaign “To dentro”/“I’m in.”
The previous Portuguese edition, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, was published in Portugal through the cooperation of two men who separately had requested permission to publish the book. António Cerveira Pinto, an artist who also writes about the world after cheap oil, and Emanuel Pimenta, a member of the European Environmental Tribunal. António felt it the message in the book was so important that he wanted to distribute 2,000 copies of the book for free.
He found a kindred soul in Emanuel who solicited Julio Sarmento, the Mayor of Trancoso, to assist in printing 4,000 copies of the book, which were distributed to government leaders, prominent academics, university libraries, and leaders in other Portuguese-speaking countries. Following our example, they also posted the book online for free downloading.
The book was released at a conference held in Trancoso, where Lester spoke through a video conference hookup.
The success of these ventures started with just one dedicated person.
Reah Janise Kauffman
Next: long-established relationships
Thursday, January 07, 2010
One of the unique qualities of the Earth Policy Institute is its interdisciplinary and global vision that often allows it to see trends that more specialized organizations cannot. Such research generates attention.
Lester Brown, EPI’s president and senior researcher, has a long history of seeing trends before others. When but a comparative youngster at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1960s, he predicted an impending famine in India. The USDA team following India’s food production was skeptical. Orville Freeman, then Secretary of Agriculture, accepted Lester’s analysis and mounted the largest food relief effort in history, averting what would have been a great famine.
Sometimes Lester has been quite far ahead on his predictions. His book World Without Borders published in 1972 was the first to discuss the various implications of globalization—before the term was even in the lexicon.
He pioneered a redefinition of national security in his 1977 paper entitled “Redefining National Security” where he discussed that a military threat to national security was only one of many that governments should be addressing. The new threats were coming from stresses on the earth’s natural systems and resources.
Other groundbreaking work came through his book Who Will Feed China? (1995). That China is now leasing land in other countries to grow food for its people indicates the sharpness of his vision. (For more information on this phenomenon, see Chapter 1 in Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.)
More recently Lester was ahead of the curve on the food versus fuel issue. His Plan B Update released in 2005, “Ethanol’s Potential: Looking Beyond Corn” was the first of a number of Updates and articles on this issue. Even earlier, he’d seen the problem of relying on ethanol in a paper he wrote in 1980 entitled “Food or Fuel: New Competition for the World’s Cropland.”
This week, Lester weighed in on another trend that is just getting underway. In his Plan B Update, U.S. Car Fleet Shrank by Four Million in 2009 - After a Century of Growth, U.S. Fleet Entering Era of Decline, Lester noted that America’s century-old love affair with the automobile may be coming to an end. The reasons include market saturation (nearly five vehicles for every four drivers), the number of cars scrapped in 2009 exceeding by 4 million the number of new cars sold, “ongoing urbanization, economic uncertainty, oil insecurity, the prospect of higher gasoline prices, the rising costs of traffic congestion, mounting concerns about climate change, and the declining interest in cars among young people who have grown up in cities.”
The media pickup on this release has been greater than anticipated. While we like to post select stories about our work in our EPI in the News page, we’re unable to post all the coverage there. To give you a sense of the breadth, the analysis has been covered by Reuters, Chicago Tribune, Environmental News Network, Epoch Times, Globe and Mail, Greenwire, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Scientific American, Slate, Telegraph, US News and World Report, Washington Post, dozens of blogs and radio stations including the Environment Report and NPR, and a number of television stations, including ABC News, CNBC’s Street Signs, and MSNBC. The number of international newspapers running the story is increasing rapidly.
News coverage indicates interest, while time will verify Lester’s analysis. (By the way, don’t overlook the wealth of data backing up the Update. Several articles have featured these data, along with the graphs the EPI team created.)
In the meantime, we at EPI will continue to look at global trends and present our findings to you through our publications. So stay tuned!
Reah Janise Kauffman
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
This has been a busy year.
Our research staff worked heroically during the first part of this year to produce a new edition of Plan B—Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester Brown, which was released on September 29. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see the book yet, check out chapters 1 and 5, “Selling Our Future” and “Stabilizing Climate: Shifting to Renewable Energy.” You can also listen to radio interviews about the book and also watch lectures by Lester.
In March the team released a Plan B 3.0 presentation (PowerPoint and PDF) that has been downloaded over 10,000 times and translated into French and Spanish. An updated version using the new data in Plan B 4.0 was released in early November.
One of the more satisfying things this year has been seeing our early work calling for an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 gaining traction with other organizations and some national governments.
The May issue of Scientific American featured an article by Lester entitled “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?” where he revealed that the biggest threat to global political stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries to cause government collapse. Food shortages could be the weak link that brings down civilization.
COP15: Janet Larsen, our Director of Research, was a speaker at an NGO-sponsored event at the UN Conference on Climate Change as well as an observer. She wrote several articles for National Journal’s COP15 blog that we also posted on our blog. Lester weighed in early with a number of articles, including two features in the Washington Post and one in the Guardian.
Meanwhile, Lester launched the Portuguese edition in of Plan B 4.0 in São Paulo and the English edition in London. He also went on a two week book tour in the United States. (See our Events page.) Other translations are in the works and Lester will be launching a number of them next year. Our EPI in the News section gives you access to webcasts of some of the lectures, radio interviews, and more.
This year we totally revamped our website. One big change is our Data Center that allows for easy access to this wealth of information. Our publications are all available for free downloading, including our books. We’ve even included all of the data behind the numbers in Plan B 4.0. You can receive our podcasts and releases via RSS, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
EPI’s success to date is due not only to the quality of its research but also because we provide an overall plan of what can be done. In addition, our uniquely global vision often allows us to see trends that more specialized organizations cannot. In short, our research generates attention.
The Institute recognizes that it will take an enormous dissemination effort to guide the global transition to a Plan B economy. The stakes in the battle to save the planet are high. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.
Our thanks to all of you for helping in this global effort. As a small organization of eight people, we count on you to help make Plan B a reality. Let’s make 2010 the year we get Plan B on everyone’s agenda.
Reah Janise Kauffman
P.S. If you’ve appreciated receiving our releases and news, searching for data, watching the videos of Lester Brown or listening to our podcasts, please consider a tax-deductible donation. Your support is essential.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Janet Larsen, our Director of Research, has been at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week. During this time, she's posted articles on the National Journal's special COP15 website. Here is her final blog.
Should Young People Trust Political Leaders to Lead? UNFCCC Executive Secretary Says Maybe Not Yet
by Janet Larsen
Today at a packed COP15 side event for intergenerational exchange, a young woman from Mumbai, India, shared her story of living through devastating floods in a country where people have become used to having their homes washed away with increasing regularity. In concluding her speech, Ruchi Jain, India coordinator for the group 350.org, expressed trust in leaders to help combat climate change on behalf of future generations. In response, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer cautioned that trust is something that has to be earned, telling her that the negotiations here had yet to earn his trust.
There are some 1,500 youth here at the Copenhagen Conference, and many more attending unofficial events and rallies around the city, and they are trying to make their voices heard. Today many of the young people (and friends, like Middlebury scholar Bill McKibben, whom I just spotted in the hall) are here sporting bright orange shirts with the message "How old will you be in 2050?" At one of the early negotiation sessions, Christina Ora, born in 1992 in the Solomon Islands, implored, "You have been negotiating all our lives; you cannot tell us that you need more time."
Wednesday morning in the main plenary, a youth representative warned the delegates of "carbon colonialism," urging all parties to remain accountable to their past emissions: "It's not enough to say 'Yes we can.' We need to say 'Yes we can, yes we must, and yes we will!'"
That was one of a half-dozen times when enthusiastic applause broke out in yesterday morning's session. An impassioned plea from the Tuvalu delegation for the delegates to "seal the deal" with a legally-binding commitment was the first of the morning to rally the participants here in Copenhagen's Bella Center: "The world is watching us...the time for procrastination is over."
Tuvalu's call for a strong legally-binding agreement was echoed by a number of allies, including many of the other small island states who make up the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Their message is that limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is necessary for their very survival. The G-8 has convened on targets of 2 degrees Celsius, the number more broadly discussed here, though existing commitments put us above this trajectory.
As noted in a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) pre-COP release: "According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an aggregate emission reduction by industrialised countries of between minus 25% and 40% over 1990 levels would be required by 2020 in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with global emissions falling by at least 50% by 2050. Even under this scenario, there would be an only a 50% chance of avoiding the most catastrophic consequences." [bolding is mine]
Small island residents, whose societies are at immediate risk from rising seas, and young people, who will be the ones left to face the consequences of warming, have thus far been some of the most passionate voices here. Whether world leaders deserve their trust we have yet to see.
This blog was initially posted on December 10, 2009, on the National Journal UN Climate Change Conference blog.
Also by Janet Larsen from COP15:
What is Necessary to Prevent Dangerous Climate Change?
Economy, Food Drives China’s Renewable Energy Sector
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Janet Larsen, our Director of Research, has been at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week. During this time, she's posted articles on the National Journal's special COP15 website. Here is her second blog.
What is Necessary to Prevent Dangerous Climate Change?
by Janet Larsen
When politicians look at the need to address climate change, they often ask the question: What is politically feasible? Yesterday at a Copenhagen climate conference side event sponsored by the Bellona Foundation, I raised a different question: What is necessary? What kind of cuts in emissions are needed to stop the most dangerous effects of climate change? And, importantly, how do we achieve them?
While negotiations go on as if the world has another 40 or so years left to solve these problems, nature is telling us that we're already close to departing the relatively narrow range of temperatures in which human civilization developed. We are already outpacing the worst-case scenarios for temperature and ice melting that were laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just two years ago. Can we really afford for the temperature to rise much higher?
Scientists are now talking about the possibility of an ice-free Arctic in the summertime within the next five years (just a few years ago, they were predicting an ice-free summer in the Arctic by 2050). While white ice reflects sunlight, dark open water readily absorbs heat, warming the region. And Greenland, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 7 meters (23 feet), is in that very region. Even a fraction of that sea level rise would flood not only small low-lying island nations, who have banded together to deliver their desperate plea to the climate delegates, but also much of Manhattan and London, not to mention Washington's National Mall.
Here in Copenhagen some artists are trying to drive the point home with their Seven Meters exhibit that stretches strings of blinking red LED lights at the seven meter mark around the negotiations center and throughout the city. According to the artists' website, a seven-meter rise in sea level would flood "all of the isle of Amager and big parts of Copenhagen...but already at 2 meters, as some scientists foresee can be a reality in this century, 2/3 of Amager and many areas by the coast and canals will be flooded."
Since business as usual, what we term "Plan A", isn't working, we need a Plan B. Earth Policy Institute has developed a plan for the world to cut net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent from 2006 levels by 2020. This could prevent atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, now at 387 parts per million (ppm), from exceeding 400 ppm. This sets the stage for making reductions to bring us back down to 350 ppm, the level that a growing number of scientists, like NASA's James Hansen and IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri, have stated is needed. The steps to reach 80 percent reductions by 2020 are laid out in detail here, but in general they involve:
1 - dramatically increasing energy efficiency (changing to more-efficient lighting alone would allow us to close more than 700 of the world's 2,600-some coal fired power plants);
2 - ramping up development of renewable energy (sending coal, now the source of 40 percent of the world's power generation, out the door, and replacing it with clean, widely-distributed, and abundant wind);
3 - ending net deforestation and implementing a major tree-planting and soil-stabilization campaign worldwide.
Are the Plan B goals ambitious? Certainly. Cutting net carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 will require a dramatic restructuring of the world's economies, with speed and urgency comparable to the entry of the United States into World War II.
The first item on the wish list would be raising the price of carbon to more closely reflect its true cost. Tax shifting, offsetting a price on carbon emissions with a reduction in income taxes, could be an economically efficient way to raise carbon's price in a predictable fashion with incentives for improving energy efficiency.
Is a strong 2020 goal reachable? Only if we get moving soon. The challenge in Copenhagen is to align the politics with what the science tells us is necessary.
This blog was initially posted on December 9, 2009, on the National Journal UN Climate Change Conference blog.
Also by Janet Larsen from COP15:
Economy, Food Drives China’s Renewable Energy Sector
Should Young People Trust Political Leaders to Lead?
Friday, December 11, 2009
Janet Larsen, our Director of Research, has been at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week. During this time, she's posted articles on the National Journal's special COP15 website. Here is her first blog.
Economy, Food Drives China's Energy Sector
by Janet Larsen
In the last several years since China surpassed the United States to become the world’s number one emitter of carbon dioxide, it has become fashionable to point a finger at China for building a new coal-fired power plant every week. There’s no question that new coal is a problem. But as Congressman Markey notes, China is doing far more to green its economy than most give it credit for. And if the United States does not wake up to that reality and get fully on board the green economy train, it will lose market share, job creation potential, and a ride into the 21st century energy economy.
Rather than focus on China’s official pronouncements, look at what the country is doing. Today many U.S.-made cars are banned for sale in China because they are too inefficient to meet China’s stricter fuel economy standards. Some 27 million Chinese homes have rooftop solar water heaters. China leads the world in production of solar photovoltaics that can convert sunlight directly in electricity. Most of those solar panels are sold internationally. China supplied a quarter of U.S. solar panel imports in 2007; since then the share has likely climbed, representing manufacturing jobs being created in China rather than in the United States.
With the production of electricity from the wind, China is set to blow by the United States within the next year or so. China’s Wind Base program is creating 6 massive complexes of over 10,000 megawatts each, which together would double the early 2008 wind power capacity of the entire world. Chinese officials who have been bullish on wind energy supplying a growing share of China’s power were bolstered by a report by Chinese and U.S. scientists published this year in the journal Science, which revealed that the country’s wind potential was seven times larger than its current total electricity consumption. Chinese manufacturers are gearing up to meet the new demand at home and abroad. Last month’s announcement that a new wind project in Texas, which would be partially financed with U.S. stimulus package funds, planned to import Chinese-made turbines provided a glimpse of how the scenario could play out if the U.S. does not do more to foster its domestic renewable energy industries.
That China has a vested interest in renewable energy for economic reasons is clear. But China also has high stakes in preserving a stable climate for a more fundamental reason: food security. Global warming poses a major threat to China’s food supplies. And food security is an incredibly sensitive issue in China since nearly all high-level government officials are themselves survivors of the 1959-61 famine when 30 million Chinese people starved to death.
Agriculture’s 11,000-year existence has been a time of remarkable climate stability. With higher temperatures, droughts can become more prevalent, crop yields suffer, and glacier-fed rivers could periodically run dry. A report last week from China’s Meteorological Administration noted that higher temperatures would shrink yields of food staples like rice and wheat. Already we are seeing faster melting of the mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau that feed Asia’s major rivers during the dry season. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has noted that with future warming two-thirds of China’s glaciers could disappear by mid-century. Earth Policy Institute president Lester Brown warns that because China is the world’s leading producer of both wheat and rice, “the vanishing of mountain glaciers in Asia represents the biggest threat to the world food supply that we have ever seen.”
While this may seem far removed from the concerns in the U.S. Congress, with China now our banker, holding some $800 billion in U.S. Treasury securities, the United States can’t very well withhold food exports. Were China to turn to the world market for substantial grain imports, food prices everywhere would rise, driving hunger up even further.
The economic incentives for leading rather than lagging in renewable energy and efficiency are compelling enough, but food security is the trump card for why no country can ignore the urgency of stabilizing climate.
This blog was initially posted on December 7, 2009, on the National Journal UN Climate Change Conference blog.