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US Group Urges Radical Cuts in Carbon Emissions

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A leading U.S. advocate for combating climate change has unveiled an ambitious plan to drastically slash global carbon emissions over the next 12 years, saying aggressive action is both necessary and feasible. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

Both major U.S. presidential candidates say they are committed to putting the United States on a path to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other so-called "greenhouse gases" by 60 to 80 percent by the year 2050. Meanwhile, EU officials say they are working on a more immediate plan to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

None of these initiatives or proposals is sufficient, according to Lester Brown, who heads the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. Rather than trimming emissions by one-fifth by 2020 or by more than half by 2050, Brown says the world needs to slash greenhouse gases no less than 80 percent by no later than 2020.

If that sounds overly-ambitious, Brown offers three basic strategies for reaching the goal.

"One is to systematically raise energy efficiency throughout the world economy. The second is a massive shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. And the third: a ban on deforestation and a very ambitious tree-planting initiative that involves the planting of billions of trees," said Brown.

Brown was speaking via teleconference with the U.S. and international news media.

When it comes to energy efficiency, according to Brown, replacing old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent lighting would reduce global electricity consumption by 12 percent. That would allow the United States and other countries to close hundreds of coal-fired power plants, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Brown also recommends the large-scale adoption of wind, solar, and geo-thermal power to boost non-polluting electrical output. The increased power capacity could be used to charge the batteries of next-generation plug-in hybrid vehicles being developed by U.S. and Japanese automakers. A shift away from combustion engines combined with renewed investment in public transportation would have a dramatic positive impact on carbon emissions.

Brown says leaders across the globe are attempting to weigh how great a reduction in greenhouse gases is politically feasible, but that this is the wrong approach. Rather, Brown says, politicians should be asking how great a reduction is necessary to avoid ecological catastrophe in the future.

"In looking at the climate issue, I think we are looking at more than just climate. We are looking at food security. If we stay with business as usual, we are probably going to lose the Greenland ice sheet and see from that a 23 foot [7 meter] rise in sea level," added Brown. "The result would be hundreds of millions of 'rising sea' refugees around the world."

Critics of proposals to radically alter energy consumption often argue that such plans are costly to implement and would constrain economic growth. Brown says the long-term costs of inaction are greater, and that governments should consider lowering taxes on income while raising taxes on energy consumption and pollution.

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