In short I, Marcel de Berg, have an economic background and in terms of social thinking I have been shaped by the pension world, engaged in socially responsible investing since 1993 and inspired by Lester Brown’s Plan B since 2008 (for more info see my personal website). In my view, Lester is Al Gore squared in knowledge and, unfortunately, Al Gore’s square root in financial resources. To indicate how big Lester is, in the photo above I stand with my daughter Maxime and Lester in front of a bookcase in his apartment and each book in this bookcase (about two by three meters) is a unique book by Lester. His books have been translated into more than 65 languages.
I brought Lester to the Netherlands in 2010 and worked together with Robeco, Rabo, PGGM and PFZW on funds to realize the goals of Plan B.
In 2017, my daughter had to study Lester’s ‘Plan B’ for her International Development study. By coincidence we went on vacation to the east coast of the US in 2017 and we were able to combine this with a visit to Lester in Washington. During that holiday we spent a whole evening with Lester with the whole family and Lester indicated that the weakest link in our society is most likely not CO2 but water. Lester indicated that societies have previously collapsed due to a lack of water. It is not only drinking water, but certainly also the decrease in long-distance transport of water by nature.
To find out more about the role of nature in water management, after our holiday I went with my daughter to Pieter-Paul de Kluiver, a landscape design expert whom I had previously met while developing a small urban windmill and in the development of an off the grid cooling system for small farmers. Pieter-Paul explained to us how the design of landscapes affects the cooling of areas in the summer and how landscapes can cool down houses in the winter and how breaking the wind improves the yield of land. (see Pieter-Paul’s journey)
Pieter-Paul had just read an article from the University of Shanghai that looked at the feasibility of an energy system in the troposphere that captures the energy released when water vapor falls back to liquid water. Pieter-Paul was not interested in this energy system, but his eye fell on the infrared frequency released during the phase transition. That energy frequency is in the atmospheric window. The special thing about the frequency in the atmospheric window is that all greenhouse gases, water vapour, CO2, methane, etc. are insensitive to this frequency.
Pieter-Paul realized that an important source of water vapor comes from the transpiration of water by trees and thus wondered whether the decrease in forests has led to less outgoing infrared radiation in the range of the atmospheric window and thus to a higher temperature on Earth. When Pieter-Paul told us this insight, we wondered what if this is true, what does this mean for our climate policy? We also told each other to get to the bottom of this. If we didn’t do this, we wouldn’t be able to look ourselves in the mirror every morning with good decency.
Meanwhile, more than ten man-years of research further has led us to consider it very plausible that the current temperature rise is not only due to the emissions of fossil fuels that have thickened the Earth’s greenhouse blanket, but that large-scale deforestation has contributed to a strong decrease in the cooling capacity of nature and thus made also a significant contribution to the temperature increase.
Our research makes it plausible that we can achieve our climate goals faster, cheaper, with less risk and more social perspective if we restore our landscape in a smart way so that the capacity of natural air conditioning is restored. The lesson I have learned is that when we look at the role of ‘Green Water’, the coolant of natural air-conditioning, we will not only be able to achieve our climate goals more efficient and effective but it is also crucial to save our society.
There is a video (we are updating it with the latest insights) on www.our-green-spine.org that goes into more detail about the insights.