Trained as an economist, Brown realistically assess how much each of the proposals would cost, and how those costs can be covered. Most proposals pay for themselves over time (e.g., energy savings), can be paid for by reducing subsidies on destructive behaviors (like existing subsidies for virgin timber, coal production, and oil production), or are equivalent in cost to more destructive investments that they would replace (e.g., wind power for coal fired electricity generation, especially when direct and indirect costs of coal mining are taking into consideration).
Two chapters of particular interest to readers of Blue Island Almanack are Chapter 11 Raising Energy Efficiency and Chapter 12 Turning to Renewable Energy. The entire chapters are available on-line, and down loadable in pdf format. Excel files with links to all the major data sources for the chapters is also available for those who like to play with the numbers themselves.
In Chapter 11, Brown argues that it is technically possible and economically feasible to completely offset increases in energy demand between now and 2020 with improvements in energy efficiency. He lays out the major areas -- lighting, appliances, buildings (both new and renovated), transportation, manufacturing and re-manufacturing, materials use, and lifestyles -- in which energy efficiency can be improved given existing technology and knowledge. Everything he proposes is something that is already in use somewhere in the world, and has already demonstrated the capacity to reduce energy use. Brown provides dozens of specific examples from countries, cities, and corporations around the world who are already using these techniques and technologies for energy and cost savings.
In Chapter 12, makes a compelling case that we are technologically capable of increasing the contribution of renewables (wind, rooftop solar, solar electric plants, solar thermal, geothermal, biomass, and hydro-power) by nearly 600 percent between now and 2020. Combined with efficiency gains (outlined in Chapter 11), continued use of nuclear power (at the same level as presently -- about 15 percent of the world's power), Brown argues that the use of hydrocarbons (coal, oil and gas) could be nearly eliminated. Brown acknowledges that
"The Plan B goals for developing renewable sources of energy by 2020 that are laid out in this chapter are based not on what is conventionally believed to be politically feasible, but on what we think is needed to prevent irreversible climate change."Moreover, Brown demonstrates that these proposals are technically possible, by providing example after example of specific existing, successful projects around the world. For example, already in China 40 million rooftop solar water heaters have been installed, and there are 2,000 Chinese companies manufacturing solar rooftop units, at a purchase cost of the equivalent of $200 installed. Many remote villages in China that still do not have electricity, now have hot water readily available. The city of Beijing along, already has plans to increase its 124 million square meters of rooftop solar collectors to 300 million by 2020.
Brown makes an excellent case that transforming out energy economy away from hydrocarbons through energy efficiency and sustainable, renewable power sources is technologically possible. The only question is whether or not we have the political will to do so. There in lies the rub.
Politics in Kentucky demonstrate how difficult the political battle can be. Just yesterday (Wed. May 21, 2008), the Lexington Herald-Leader commented ("State Can't Afford Coal Propaganda") upon the decision by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to divert "$400,000 from tax coffers into public education efforts by Kentucky coal industry groups." This comes at a time when sharp cuts are being made in the vast state programs, including higher education, and the state is failing to fully fund retirement programs and other future commitments. The coal-education money is going to foundations run by the Kentucky Coal Association and two smaller coal associations in Eastern and Western Kentucky. The editorial view of the Lexington Herald Leader: "some of the information the associations have put out -- including gushing, unequivocal praise for mountaintop-removal mining -- is more propaganda than objective fact."
Let's face it, coal is still King in Kentucky, and it will take strong external political clout -- such as national legislation banning new coal-fired plant construction, and serious carbon taxes -- to bring sanity and renewable energy to Kentucky.