Lester Brown

Lester R. Brown is founder and president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Follow EPI: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn

Zero-Carbon Buildings

The building sector is responsible for a large share of world electricity consumption and raw materials use. In the United States, buildings—commercial and residential—account for 72 percent of electricity use and 38 percent of CO2 emissions. Worldwide, building construction accounts for 40 percent of materials use. Because buildings last for 50–100 years or longer, it is often assumed that cutting carbon emissions in the building sector is a long-term process. But that is not the case. An energy retrofit of an older inefficient building can cut energy use and energy bills by 20–50 percent. The next step, shifting entirely to …

putting in sky lights

Know your solar

Concerns about global warming, rising fossil fuel prices, and oil insecurity have prompted calls for a new energy economy, one that replaces fossil fuels with renewables. The sun is an enormous reservoir of energy; in fact, the sunlight reaching Earth in just one hour is enough to power the global economy for a whole year. Harnessing some of this energy is an essential component of Earth Policy Institute’s carbon cutting plan, as presented in chapter 5 of Plan B 4.0. Here are some highlights from the accompanying data on three types of solar energy: solar photovoltaics (PVs), concentrated solar thermal …

open up the sun roof

On rooftops worldwide, a solar water heating revolution

The harnessing of solar energy is expanding on every front as concerns about climate change and energy security escalate, as government incentives for harnessing solar energy expand, and as these costs decline while those of fossil fuels rise. One solar technology that is really beginning to take off is the use of solar thermal collectors to convert sunlight into heat that can be used to warm both water and space. China, for example, is now home to 27 million rooftop solar water heaters. With nearly 4,000 Chinese companies manufacturing these devices, this relatively simple low-cost technology has leapfrogged into villages …

China's changing energy economy

In Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, I have presented a plan to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by increasing energy efficiency and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. In the push to reduce emissions, all eyes are on China, the world’s most populous country and now also the world’s top carbon emitter. Here are some highlights from the Plan B 4.0 datasets on China’s energy economy: Over the past several decades, China has largely relied on coal to provide energy for its rapidly expanding economy. Coal consumption has grown quickly in recent years, doubling from 2002 to 2008. Although …

Coal-fired power on the way out?

The past two years have witnessed the emergence of a powerful movement opposing the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States. Initially led by environmental groups, both national and local, it has since been joined by prominent national political leaders and many state governors. The principal reason for opposing coal plants is that they are changing the earth’s climate. There is also the effect of mercury emissions on health and the 23,600 U.S. deaths each year from power plant air pollution. Over the last few years the coal industry has suffered one setback after another. The Sierra …

getting out of the gridlock

Smarter grids, appliances, and consumers

More and more utilities are beginning to realize that building large power plants just to handle peak daily and seasonal demand is a very costly way of managing an electricity system. Existing electricity grids are typically a patchwork of local grids that are simultaneously inefficient, wasteful, and dysfunctional in that they often are unable, for example, to move electricity surpluses to areas of shortages. The U.S. electricity grid today resembles the roads and highways of the mid-twentieth century before the interstate highway system was built. What is needed today is the electricity equivalent of the interstate highway system. The inability …

soiled again

Data highlights on the global food supply

World agriculture today faces pressure from many sources. On the production side, the amount of unused arable land worldwide has dwindled. Overworked soils are becoming eroded and degraded, and overpumped aquifers are being depleted. Meanwhile, as the global population grows and increasing biofuel production converts grain into fuel for cars, demand for food continues to climb. I discuss these challenges in Chapters 2 and 9 of Plan B 4.0. Here are some highlights from the supporting data: In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, human populations increased threefold from 1961 to 2007, while livestock populations grew 12-fold. Increasing foraging needs and …

It'll fix what fails ya

Rescuing failing states

One of the leading challenges facing the international community is how to rescue failing states, those countries most at risk of collapse due to a combination of weak governance, internal violence, and social upheaval. Continuing with business as usual in international assistance programs is not working, as evidenced by the continuing deterioration of places like Haiti, Somalia, and Yemen. The stakes could not be higher. (See earlier discussion of failing states.) If the number of failing states continues to increase, at some point this trend will translate into a failing global civilization. Somehow we must turn the tide of state …

Mounting stresses, failing states

After 50 years of forming states from colonies and from the Soviet breakup, the international community is focusing on the disintegration of states