U.C. BERKELEY INSTITUTE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
FIRST ANNUAL DISTINGUISHED LECTURE 2007
Lester Brown's new book is available for downloading free of charge from: www.earth-policy.org
Time is our scarcest resource. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize. These deadlines are set by nature. Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock. The key to restructuring the world energy economy is to get the market to tell the environmental truth by incorporating into prices the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels, such as climate disruption and air pollution. To do this, we propose adopting a carbon tax that will reflect these indirect costs and offsetting it by lowering income taxes.
Saving civilization is not a spectator sport. We have reached a point in the deteriorating relationship between us and the earth's natural systems where we all have to become political activists. Every day counts. We all have a stake in civilization's survival. We can all make lifestyle changes, but unless we restructure the economy and do it quickly we will almost certainly fail. We need to persuade our elected representatives and national leaders to support the necessary environmental tax restructuring and other changes. We all need to educate ourselves on environmental issues. This is decision time. We can stay with business as usual and watch our economy decline and our civilization unravel, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that mobilizes to save civilization. Our generation will make the decision, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.
At the heart of a genuine climate-stabilizing initiative is a detailed plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions80 percent by 2020 in order to hold the future temperature rise to a minimum. This initiative has three major components -- raising energy efficiency, developing renewable sources of energy, and expanding the earth's tree cover. Reaching these goals will mean the world can phase out all coal-fired power plants.
In setting the carbon reduction goals for Plan B, we do not ask "What do politicians think is politically feasible?" but rather "What do we think is needed to prevent irreversible climate change?"This is not Plan A: business-as-usual. This is Plan B: an all-out response at wartime speed proportionate to the magnitude of the threats facing civilization.
We are in a race between tipping points in natural and political systems. Which will come first? Can we mobilize the political will to phase out coal-fired power plants before the melting of the Greenland ice sheet becomes irreversible? Can we halt deforestation in the Amazon basin before it so weakens the forest that it becomes vulnerable to fire and is destroyed? Can we act fast enough to save the Himalayan glaciers that feed the rivers of Asia?
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