EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
Lester R. Brown

Chapter 13. The Great Mobilization: Summing Up Climate Stabilization Measures

Earlier we outlined the need to cut net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020 to minimize the future rise in temperature. Here we summarize the Plan B measures for doing so, including both reducing fossil fuel use and increasing biological sequestration.

Replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy for generating electricity and heat will reduce carbon emissions in 2020 by more than 3.1 billion tons. (See Table 13–1.) The biggest single cut in carbon emissions comes from phasing out the use of coal to generate electricity, a step that will also sharply reduce the 3 million deaths from air pollution each year. Other cuts come from entirely backing out all the oil used to generate electricity and 70 percent of the natural gas. 25

In the transport sector, the greatly reduced use of oil will eliminate close to 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions. This reduction relies heavily on the shift to plug-in hybrid cars that will run on carbon-free sources of electricity such as wind. The remainder comes largely from shifting long-haul freight from trucks to trains, electrifying freight and passenger trains, and using green electricity to power them. 26

At present, net deforestation of the earth is responsible for an estimated 1.5 billion tons of carbon emissions per year. The Plan B goal is to bring deforestation to a halt by 2020, thus totally eliminating this source of carbon emissions. The idea of banning logging may seem novel, but in fact a number of countries already have total or partial bans. 27

We’re not content with just halting deforestation. We want to increase the number of trees on the earth in order to sequester carbon. The forestation of wastelands will fix more than 950 million tons of carbon each year. This does not include the similarly ambitious planting of trees to control flooding, reduce rainfall runoff to recharge aquifers, and protect soils from erosion. 28

The other initiative to sequester carbon biologically is achieved through land use management. This includes expanding the area of minimum- or no-till cropland, planting more cover crops during the off-season, and using more perennials instead of annuals in cropping patterns. The latter would mean, for example, using less corn and more switchgrass to produce fuel ethanol. These practices can fix an estimated 600 million tons of carbon per year. 29

Together, replacing fossil fuels in electricity generation with renewable sources of energy, switching to plug-in hybrid cars, going to all-electric railways, banning deforestation, and sequestering carbon by planting trees and improving soil management will drop carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 more than 80 percent below today’s levels. This reduction will stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations below 400 parts per million, limiting the future rise in temperature. 30

Although we devoted a chapter to increasing energy efficiency—doing what we do with less energy—there is also a huge potential for cutting carbon emissions through conservation by not doing some of the things we do, or doing them differently. For example, in the summer of 2006 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan announced that in order to save energy, Japanese men would be encouraged to not wear jackets and ties in the office. This meant thermostats could be raised, thus reducing electricity use for air conditioning while maintaining the same comfort level. 31

Our tabulated carbon cuts do not include lifestyle changes like this, which can make a huge difference. Urban planner Richard Register recounts meeting a bicycle activist friend wearing a T-shirt that said, “I just lost 3,500 pounds. Ask me how.” When asked, he said he had sold his car. Replacing a 3,500-pound car with a 22-pound bicycle obviously reduces energy use dramatically, but it also reduces materials use by 99 percent, indirectly saving still more energy. 32

Dietary changes can also make a difference. We learned in Chapter 9 that the energy differences between a diet rich in red meat and a plant-based diet is roughly the same as the energy-use difference between driving a Chevrolet Suburban sports utility vehicle and a Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid. The bottom line is that those of us with diets rich in livestock products can do both ourselves and civilization a favor by moving down the food chain. 33

For countries everywhere, particularly developing ones, the economic good news is that the Plan B energy economy is much more labor-intensive than the fossil-fuel-based economy it is replacing. For example, in Germany, a leader in the energy transition, renewable energy industries already employ more workers than the long-standing fossil fuel and nuclear industries do. In a world where expanding employment is a universal goal, this is welcome news indeed. 34

The restructuring of the energy economy outlined here will not only dramatically drop CO2 emissions, helping to stabilize climate, but it will also eliminate much of the air pollution that we know today. The idea of a pollution-free environment is difficult for us even to imagine, simply because none of us has ever known an energy economy that was not highly polluting. Working in coal mines will be history. Black lung disease will eventually disappear. So too will “code red” alerts warning of health threats from extreme air pollution.

And, finally, in contrast to investments in oil fields and coal mines, where depletion and abandonment are inevitable, the new energy sources are inexhaustible. While wind turbines, solar cells, and solar-thermal panels will all need repair and occasional replacement, the initial investment can last forever. This well will not go dry.

Table 13–1. Plan B Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reductions and Sequestration in 2020

Source: See endnote 25.
Amount (million tons of carbon)

Energy Restructuring

Replacing fossil fuels with renewables for electricity and heat
Restructuring the transport system
Reducing coal and oil use in industry

Biological Carbon Sequestration

Ending net deforestation
Planting trees to sequester carbon
Managing soils to sequester carbon

Total Carbon Dioxide Reductions in 2020

Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2006 9,180
Percent Reduction from 2006 Baseline

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25. Table 13–1 calculated with fossil fuel and transport carbon reductions using IEA, op. cit. note 20, p. 493, industry reductions using IEA, Tracking Industrial Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions (Paris: IEA, 2007), avoided deforestation and aforestation reductions from Vattenfall, op. cit. note 1, and soil carbon sequestration based on conservative estimates in Rattan Lal, “Soil Carbon Sequestration Impacts on Global Climate Change and Food Security,” Science, vol. 304 (11 June 2004), pp. 1623–27; deaths from World Health Organization, “Air Pollution,” fact sheet 187 (Geneva: revised September 2000).

26. IEA, op. cit. note 20, p. 493.

27. Vattenfall, op. cit. note 1.

28. Ibid.

29. Lal, op. cit. note 25.

30. Figure of 400 parts per million calculated using fossil fuel emissions from G. Marland et al., “Global, Regional, and National CO2 Emissions,” in Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change (Oak Ridge, TN: Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center (CDIAC), ORNL, 2007), and land use change emissions from R. A. Houghton and J. L. Hackler, “Carbon Flux to the Atmosphere from Land-Use Changes,” in Trends: A Compendium of Data on Global Change (Oak Ridge, TN: CDIAC, ORNL, 2002), with decay curve cited in J. Hansen et al., “Dangerous Human-Made Interference with Climate: A GISS ModelE Study,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, vol. 7 (2007), pp. 2287–312.

31. “Ditch the Tie Japan Tells Workers as ‘Cool Biz’ Drive Begins,” Agence France-Presse, 1 June 2006; U.N. Population Division, op. cit. note 14.

32. Richard Register, e-mail to author, 16 October 2007.

33. Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin, “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming,” Earth Interactions, vol. 10, no. 9 (2006); USDA, Production, Supply and Distribution, electronic database, at www.fas.usda.gov/ psdonline, updated 12 October 2007; U.N. Population Division, op. cit. note 14.

34. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Renewable Energy-Employment Effects: Impact of the Expansion of Renewable Energy on the German Labor Market (Berlin: June 2006); “German Plan to Close Coal Mines,” BBC News, 29 January 2007; Michael Levitin, “ Germany Says Auf Wiedersehen to Nuclear Power, Guten Tag to Renewables,” Grist.com, 12 August 2005.


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