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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Amory Lovins: How to Face Today's Greatest Energy Challenges

Or see original article at Grist. You don't have to agree with climate scientists, non-blue-dog Democrats, or treehuggers (such as me) to agree with Lovins that one can get 100% off oil and do so profitably. But I'm betting our kids and the Iraqi people would both be pleased with us for having a go...

Q. After all you've done to shift the energy debate, why do supply-side questions still dominate the discussion in Congress?

A. Congress is a creature of constituencies, and the money and power of the constituencies are almost all on the supply side. There is not a powerful and organized constituency for efficient use, and there's a very strong political (but not economic) constituency against distributed power, particularly renewables. So I would not pay too much attention to what Congress is doing. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, but ultimately economic fundamentals govern what will happen -- things that don't make sense, that don't make money, cannot attract investment capital.

We see this now in the electricity business. A sixth of the world's electricity and a third of the world's new electricity comes from micropower -- that is, combined heat and power (also called cogeneration) and distributed renewables. Micropower provides anywhere from a sixth to over half of all electricity in most of the industrial countries. This is not a minor activity anymore; it's well over $100 billion a year in assets. And it's essentially all private risk capital.

So in 2005, micropower added 11 times as much capacity and four times as much output as nuclear worldwide, and not a single new nuclear project on the planet is funded by private risk capital. What does this tell you? [more]
Caveat: I've heard some very smart people worry about Amory's apparently too rosy view of what can be done with switchgrass, a worry voiced by one of the commenters at Grist. But on conservation, he has a sterling track record and can back op nearly all of what he says with proofs drawn from solutions saving real organizations real money all around the globe. Original meaning of "conservative" -- to conserve.

Another commentator is puzzled byt Amory's apparent disdain for governmental approaches to the issue. The commons is so important that many of us spend practically our entire activist lives defending it, forgetting that we have hardly even a fraction of the resources that those who would privatize it can throw at that particular battle.

In our frustration, we end up demonizing them, and it's a mistake. Decent people can be brought to serve vicious interests by simply allowing themselves to be co-opted by their taking a short-sighted view of their own (and their descendants') best interests. And this is multipled across a population of billions, at best trying terribly earnestly to do the right things for themselves and their children, whatever those "right" things might be, or at worst believing that their own apathy does little or no harm to themselves.

I see both these tendencies exemplified in things I do daily.

What's important to realize is that short-sightedness is the norm. Humans were not designed to appreciate complex, invisible, or long-term threats to their well-being. Good science well applied is hard to come by even in times when corporations and governments appreciate and nurture good science. And these are not such times. Amory is right; don't wait for government; invest in sound business practice over entrenched business practice; much of the rest will follow.


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