Amory Lovins: Living As Usual, but Not Business As Usual.

Can there be a future without Oil, Coal, and Nuclear energy? Every fossil may not have useful fuel, but every useful fuel that has powered human civilization so far is found in fossils or organisms that have found ways of directly capturing Sun’s energy. The dependence on fossil fuels even now is alarming. In USA, 41% of all energy needs are met by Oil – some three quarters of that are guzzled by motor transport. Another 40% are met by electric power, which principally comes out of coal, and again three quarters of that disappears into powering homes. Trouble is that fossil fuels are limited. Before fossil-fuels take our leave, it would be prudent if we kick our addiction to them. This imperative is compounded by the carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, climate change, and extreme weather events these entail. Nuclear energy is touted as a go-green and clean alternative, which can *safely* replace our addiction to fossil-fuels, and would not run out any time soon. But Nuclear Industry in USA has not found private funding for nuclear plant construction despite administration providing 100% subsidies for 7 years. Why? Because private capital there finds the proposition too risky [go tell that to India’s nuclear brigade, who champions the cause of Areva, Westinghouse, GE, and seeks to bail them out]. All this and more I found today on RMI website. TED Talks, which is currently celebrating 1 Billion views, typically run for 15-16 minutes, and rarely exceed the 20 minute barrier. I was amazed to see this talk, A 40 year Plan for Energy, by Amory B Lovins – Cofounder, Chairman and Chief Scientist at Rocky Mountain Institute– run for full 27 minutes. Before you see his Ted-talk, his concise 139 second Reinventing Fire Video would help you to a flying start. The exception made in this case for exceeding time limit shows the growing concerns over energy and future.
Lovins begins his presentation with a dramatic flourish, which he says dominates debates in USA over public energy. He says any discussion begins with possible choices, [a] would you prefer dying in a heat wave, [b] climate change, [c] nuclear holocaust, or [d] all of the above; and concludes, but  [e] none of the above is what he is going to offer. He categorically states that addiction to oil, coal, could be kicked; and nuclear non-alternative could be easily avoided by taking recourse to solar energy harnessing techniques like PV, Heating, or Wind. Lovins point of departure with the sustainable living advocates comes with not considering small is beautiful. That last bit calls for reducing human foot print to a level agreeable to nature and environment. I would have preferred for sake of accuracy had he described his energy philosophy by Living As Usual, but not Business As Usual. But strangely he calls his model Business As Usual. Lovins blueprint for reaching his overarching vision passes not through Capitol Hill or White House, but is driven by future energy businesses that seek profits, but above all want to survive in changing world. The rapidly changing landscape demands disruptive technologies, and smart business models to deploy them. New Businesses, or alert old ones, understand this and would lead the change he argues. Lovins posits that US GDP can be 158% of what it is today based on totally revamped energy matrix by 2050 with little help from oil or coal. The other driver alongside change in energy sources would be of dramatic improvements in energy efficiency across disciplines: Transportation [75% energy savings], Construction/ Buildings [38% energy savings], Industry [9% energy savings, while output grows 184% of 2010 levels], and Energy sector itself [distributed and efficient].
Energy experts may join issues with his optimistic projections and may challenge him on facts. Sustainable Living advocates would find Lovins’ model unworkable. And it does appear unworkable. For instance, he often mentions *security concerns* as one of the drivers of quest for changes in energy sources that are presently managed in an over-centralized fashion. The very centralization makes energy infrastructure vulnerable to extreme weather or geological events, or even to terror attacks [that bogeyman created by last 4 US administrations]. Pentagon he mentions wants to embrace the security offered by decentralized energy network and redundancy offered by sustainable energy mix, which renewable sources are supremely suited to deliver. But he utterly fails to see the paradox of 5% of world population consuming 25% of world resources. The paradox that would only grow like a runaway cancer with his vision of 58% growth in US GDP. This unrealistic model  of consumerism, which leaders of 90% of the rest of the humanity hold to their hearts as the great ideal to pursue and peddle it to their subjects to stay in power, finds no accommodation in his model. Such model would simply collapse under the resources-strain and security-strain that rest of the world’s aspirations would put on it.
However, the point of this post is not to join issues with Lovins’ vision. If one focuses on outcomes rather than motives, then one would see Lovins as an ally. There can be no disagreement over shifting to sustainable renewable energy and relentlessly improving energy efficiency. His vision is also free of Nuclear-chimera. and Lovins dreams of a world not based on fossil fuels. What more should anyone ask? Once we break Business As Usual habit, we can dream of breaking Living As Usual habit. Until then at least he is our partner.
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