EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
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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. Lester with Edoardo Rivetti & Ricardo Voltolini, publishers of Portuguese Plan B 4.0

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.

Lester speaking at University of Colorado BoulderEPI’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
Vice President

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.

Posted by Reah Janise on 12/23 at 02:23 PM

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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

Posted by Reah Janise on 12/14 at 08:24 AM

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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?

Posted by Reah Janise on 12/13 at 08:24 AM

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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.

Posted by Reah Janise on 12/11 at 08:24 AM

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Since Lester Brown returned from his two-week book tour promoting Plan B 4.0, we've received such great comments from so many people that we wanted to share a few of them. Lester discussed climate change, food security, population, Plan B, and the progress being made on the renewable energy front.

San Francisco
“Thank you for sharing your insights with our community.” –Greg Dalton, The Commonwealth Club of California
Lester signing copies Plan B 4.0 as gifts with help from Millicent.
“It is always a pleasure to have you address our members and guests.” –Ned Hawkins, World Affairs Council of Northern California

“…a well-deserved standing ovation.” –Edward Wolf

“We’d love to have you out this way again.” –Peter Schoonmaker, Illahee

"... awesome. ... While any speech from Lester is bound to be inspiring and relevant, one thing about today's talk that was particularly important is the new information about adoption of renewable power in places like Texas, China, and N. Africa." –Scott Lewis, BrightWorks

SeattleLester & Millicent -- signing Plan B 4.0 for gifts
“Your talk was timely, motivational and inspirational.” –Barbara J. Lither, David Bray, and Melanie Wood, EPA, Region 10

“A ‘wow’ moment for EPA Region 10! Thank you.” –Dave Upulek, EPA, Region 10

“You are a great inspiration.” –Rick Albright, EPA, Region 10

“Thanks for delivering a much needed message in a clear way.” –Don Martin, EPA, Region 10

 “Thank you for your outstanding lecture at the University of Minnesota. … It was truly inspiring.” –Jonathan Foley, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota

“…a memorable occasion…” –Diane Ross
Almost done signing gift books!
“Our guests, tenants, and staff were delighted to have the chance to share your time and expertise. … You are helping the Alliance fulfill its mission of advancing sustainability through collaboration.” –John Powers, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado

"It was a pleasure hearing you speak last night at CU Boulder. You've inspired me to get back to work writing letters to the editor about the crisis humanity is facing." –Teresa Foster, Naropa University

If you are interested, here are links to some of the presentations.
 • Watch his presentation at the University of Washington on Pirate TV Seattle
 • Listen to his presentation at the University of Minnesota aired on Minnesota Public Radio.
 • Listen to his presentation "Tackling Climate Change & Our Growing Food Insecurity" for the World Affairs Council in San Francisco.

And if you were cruising channels over the Thanksgiving weekend you may have seen Lester on CNN's Book TV, which twice aired the presentation he gave at the University of Chicago.


Reah Janise Kauffman
Vice President

Posted by Reah Janise on 12/03 at 08:24 AM


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