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Lester Brown's Posts

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U.S. carbon emissions down as renewable energy keeps growing

Cross-posted from Earth Policy Institute. Between 2007 and 2011, carbon emissions from coal use in the United States dropped 10 percent. During the same period, emissions from oil use dropped 11 percent. In contrast, carbon emissions from natural gas use increased by 6 percent. The net effect of these trends was that U.S. carbon emissions dropped 7 percent in four years. And this is only the beginning. The initial fall in coal and oil use was triggered by the economic downturn, but now powerful new forces are reducing the use of both. For coal, the dominant force is the Beyond …

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Pipeline? We don't need no stinkin' pipeline

Is that really necessary?As the debate unfolds about whether to build a 1,711-mile pipeline to carry crude oil from the tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas, the focus is on the oil spills and carbon emissions that inevitably come with it. But we need to ask a more fundamental question. Do we really need that oil? The United States currently consumes more gasoline than the next 16 countries combined. Yes, you read that right. Among them are China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and Brazil. But now this is changing. Not only is the affluence that sustained this extravagant gasoline …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Oil

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Dust bowls, water shortages, and toxins drive people from their homes

For the millions of people who will be stuck in China's developing dust bowl, there's no California to escape to.Photo: erjkprunczykPeople do not normally leave their homes, their families, and their communities unless they have no other option. Yet as environmental stresses mount, we can expect to see a growing number of environmental refugees. Rising seas and increasingly devastating storms grab headlines, but expanding deserts, falling water tables, and toxic waste and radiation are also forcing people from their homes. Advancing deserts are now on the move almost everywhere. The Sahara Desert, for example, is expanding in every direction. As …

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Raging storms, rising seas swell ranks of climate refugees

Hurricane-devastated New Orleans. Photo: NOAAIn late August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approached the U.S. Gulf Coast, more than 1 million people were evacuated from New Orleans and the small towns and rural communities along the coast. Once the storm passed, it was assumed that the million or so Katrina evacuees would, as in past cases, return to repair and rebuild their homes. Some 700,000 did return, but close to 300,000 did not. They are no longer evacuees. They are the first large wave of modern climate refugees. One of the defining characteristics of our time is the swelling flow of …

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A $50 million tipping point?

Michael Bloomberg.Photo: Center for American ProgressAt a press conference on July 21, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, called it a "game changer." It is that, but it also could push the United States, and indeed the world, to a tipping point on the climate issue. It is one thing for Michael Brune to say coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg says so. Few outside the environmental community know who Michael Brune is, but every …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Coal

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Iowa is a lean, mean, grain-growin' machine

Iowa is an agricultural superpower, simultaneously eclipsing Canada in grain production and challenging China in soybean production. No, these are not mathematical errors. Last year, Iowa’s farmers harvested 55 million tons of grain, while Canada’s farmers harvested only 45 million tons. Over the last five years, Iowa has averaged 57 million tons a year to Canada’s 49 million tons. While Canada has more than 30 million acres of grain, mostly wheat, Iowa has only 13 million acres of grain, almost entirely corn. The difference in yield per acre is huge: just 1.4 tons in Canada against more than four tons …

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Growing Water Deficit Threatening Grain Harvests

Many countries are facing dangerous water shortages. As world demand for food has soared, millions of farmers have drilled too many irrigation wells in efforts to expand their harvests. As a result, water tables are falling and wells are going dry in some 20 countries containing half the world’s people. The overpumping of aquifers for irrigation temporarily inflates food production, creating a food production bubble that bursts when the aquifer is depleted. The shrinkage of irrigation water supplies in the big three grain-producing countries -- the United States, India, and China -- is of particular concern. Thus far, these countries …

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Rising Temperatures Melting Away Global Food Security

Heat waves clearly can destroy crop harvests. The world saw high heat decimate Russian wheat in 2010. Crop ecologists have found that each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum can reduce grain harvests by 10 percent. But the indirect effects of higher temperatures on our food supply are no less serious.  Rising temperatures are already melting the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Recent studies indicate that a combination of melting ice sheets and glaciers, plus the thermal expansion of the ocean as it warms, could raise sea level by up to 6 feet during this century. Yet even …

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The good news about coal

The world is waking up. Photo: TakverDuring the years when governments and the media were focused on preparations for the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations, a powerful climate movement was emerging in the United States: the movement opposing the construction of new coal-fired power plants. Environmental groups, both national and local, are opposing coal plants because they are the primary driver of climate change. Emissions from coal plants are also responsible for 13,200 U.S. deaths annually -- a number that dwarfs the U.S. lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. What began as a few local ripples of resistance quickly evolved …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Coal

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Turning toward the sun for energy

One key component of the Plan B climate stabilization strategy is solar energy. Solar is even more ubiquitous than wind energy and can be harnessed with both solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal collectors. Solar PV -- both silicon-based and thin film -- converts sunlight directly into electricity. The growth in solar cell production climbed from an annual expansion of 38 percent in 2006 to an off-the-chart 89 percent in 2008, before settling back to 51 percent in 2009. At the end of 2009, there were 23,000 megawatts of PV installations worldwide, which when operating at peak power could match …