Environmentalist promotes ‘Plan B'

Lester Brown, one of the nation's best-known environmental thinkers, spoke Monday night at Catawba College in Salisbury. Brown now leads the nonprofit Earth Policy Institute in Washington. His latest book, “Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization,” outlines steps to reduce planet-warming emissions, promote renewable energy, ease global poverty and restore ecosystems. He spoke with Observer environment reporter Bruce Henderson before his Catawba talk. Here are excerpts of the interview:

Q. How will a new president and a financial meltdown influence your plan?

I've been watching the investment flow into things like wind and solar thermal and geothermal, and here and there you see signs of things slowing down. On the other hand, a lot of the things that are happening are continuing to move ahead. A lot of new manufacturing facilities for turbines and blades, new wind farms, continue to be announced.

I think (President-elect Obama) is very much aware that we have these trends converging now – the urgent need to cut carbon emissions, cut dependence on imported oil and create jobs. The interesting thing about these three trends is that the solutions to one help solve the others.

Q. How important is the change of leadership to energy policy?

Just having someone in the White House who views renewable energy positively is encouraging. We've gone from thinking of renewables in sort of a marginal way to suddenly thinking about it on a scale that we've never done.

Q. What opportunities do you see in the Southeast?

One possibility would be offshore wind. And there's a relative abundance of solar energy, rooftop solar hot water and space heating could be very useful in this part of the country. It looks to me that Obama is thinking about a pretty stiff cap-and-trade program (to reduce carbon emissions) and if so a lot of these things are going to be much more competitive.

Q. What needs to happen for Plan B to come to fruition?

If we can get the market to tell the truth, a lot of these things will take care of themselves. One of the things it doesn't do well is incorporating the indirect costs of goods and services. The costs of climate change are not included in the cost of the gasoline we buy or the price of the coal-fired electricity we buy.