In a teleconference on Dec. 11, Lester Brown (from the Earth Policy Institute) weighed in on the realities of a green economy. While experts in Washington are looking at the issue from a national perspective, the Earth Policy Institute is looking at it from a more global, long-term standpoint. Brown referred to it as “not just a stimulus package, but an opportunity to begin cutting carbon emissions and reducing oil imports.”
According to Brown, in order to avoid a 20-foot rise in sea level, emissions need to be cut 80 percent by 2020. “If we wait until 2050, it will be too late,” Brown says. “Time is the scarcest resource.”
Through renewable energies such as wind power, solar cells, solar thermal and geothermal power there is a large opportunity for us to cut emissions and grow our economy in the near future. There are already 24,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity in production, and that number is expected to increase by another 8,000 by next month. Last year, 200 megawatts of solar cell generating capacity were installed, and the construction of another 800 megawatts is already contracted. Eighteen new solar thermal plants are in development stages, which will total over 4,000 megawatts of energy — a 12-fold increase from just a year ago. There are now 96 geothermal energy plants in the planning stages, with an 8-fold growth in the next few years. And all of these renewable energy opportunities are two to four times more labor intensive then coal.
Hybrid and battery-powered cars are also on the rise. While manufacturing is still quite minimal, President-elect Barack Obama wants 1 million of these vehicles on the road by 2015. Brown suggests a tax incentive of $10,000 for those citizens willing to switch over. The difference in gas prices would help cover the cost of the incentive, as a 20-mpg car burns about 5,000 gallons over a lifetime, compared to a 100-mpg car, which burns only 1,000.
Brown predicts that a large portion of the funding for these technologies will come from private investors. With 400 billion dollars from the private sector and 100 billion from the government, 600,000 jobs could quickly be available, lasting through 2020. The good news is everything can be done with existing technologies, and even those can be improved in the years ahead. Now, we just have to continue expanding the use of renewable energies. If we do this, the atmospheric carbon levels could stabilize by 2020. Then, we can start thinking about ways to reduce them.