What follows is a chronological list of all articles by NCS staff, interns, and associates. Use the menu to the right to search or restrict your results by author, publication or date.
Setting the PACE: New ways to invest in clean energy home improvements for low and moderate income Americans
Bill Ritter Jr
The White House announcement today on Residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a welcome solution to a problem that has plagued states since 2010. It will go far toward helping all citizens, but especially those on a low and moderate income, to make efficiency improvements to their homes and lower their energy bills.
A little history. In 2008, Colorado and California passed the first PACE legislation – allowing households to finance energy improvements on their homes through a simple assessment on their property tax bill. The revenue collected was bonded to finance the energy improvements creating a seamless and easy process for homeowners. Shortly after, 30 states followed with their own PACE legislation. Programs began exploding around the country.
In 2010, the Federal Housing and Finance Agency issued a letter saying that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could not guarantee mortgages on homes that included a PACE loan. While states had structured their PACE programs in different ways, some states had made the PACE assessment senior to the mortgage, similar to other property tax assessments. In a review by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in 2010, the authors concluded:
“Typically, the tax liens created by assessments are senior to other obligations, like mortgages, and must be paid first in the event of foreclosure. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHFA and other financial regulators reasoned that PACE assessments were, in effect, loans not assessments and so violated standard mortgage provisions requiring priority over any other loan.”
This action by the FHFA effectively stopped this successful policy in one pen stroke.
Since then, the Obama administration has been working with financing experts, the FHFA and other stakeholders to try and solve this thorny problem. The new FHA guidance issued today clarifies that the PACE assessment does not take first lien position ahead of a mortgage and that the assessment transfers with the property itself. It also requires home appraisers to factor in PACE-related improvements in the value of the property. This clarity is the linchpin that states and municipalities needed to begin, once again, offering a valuable service to their residents.
While most households in the United States spend four percent of their annual income on energy, low-income households typically spend 17 percent. Furthermore, their level of income often flags them as a credit risk to lenders. By using PACE, there is not only an easy mechanism for households to reduce their energy costs, the assessments that have been issued have less than a 2% default rate. Being a part of a successful lending program like this can help to raise credit scores of low income citizens. Furthermore, the competitive rates at which PACE programs can finance provide optimum savings for low income families – allowing them to focus their limited resources on other family needs.
To assist state decision makers in analyzing their policy options across 38 different clean energy policies (including Residential PACE), the Center for the New Energy Economy and The Nature Conservancy have launched the State Policy Opportunity Tracker (SPOT) for Clean Energy. This new resource is a 50 state policy gap analysis where we look at what best practices states have in place and what they are missing. SPOT points out where the Residential PACE state policy gaps remain and we also describe the key elements for any PACE program in a short memo.
Today’s announcement is a key step in a just transition to clean energy for all Americans. State policymakers should make every effort to enable this program for their citizens.
Bill Ritter, Jr.
41st Governor of Colorado
Director, Center for the New Energy Economy
29 June 2016
Colorado resident Sandra Laursen was looking for a way to reduce her own personal greenhouse gas emissions, and today her car sports a Project C license plate that reads “advancing clean energy.”
“I wanted to put my money where my mouth is on the issue of climate change,” says Laursen, who taught climate-related topics for several years and currently works at Colorado University in Boulder, researching science and math education.
The Project C license plate is an initiative within the Colorado Carbon Fund (CCF) and is one easy way Coloradans can contribute to emissions reductions in the state.
Initiated by the Colorado Energy Office in 2008, the CCF is the first voluntary, state-based program to help individuals and businesses offset their greenhouse gas emissions. According to a CCF statement, over 1,000 individuals and 74 Colorado organizations have used the program to reduce their emissions, producing 39,000 certified carbon offsets.
Until this month, however, the CCF was an endangered program, as its administering organization decided late last year it would no longer be able to manage it.
The Climate Trust has administered the initiative from the beginning, and that’s included outreach and marketing, even though its expertise is on the technical side of running an offset program – an expertise that is increasingly in demand as compliance markets like California scale up. Shelden Zakreski, the Director of Carbon Compliance at The Climate Trust, says The Trust underwent some internal shifting in the last year and determined it no longer had the capacity to manage the CCF.
In response to The Trust’s announcement, the CCF’s Advisory Committee launched a search for a new administrator that was spearheaded by environmental consultant Kate Hamilton who also sits on the Advisory Committee (Disclosure: Hamilton also served as a Director of Ecosystem Marketplace) and The Climate Trust. On June 1, they found new leadership in the Colorado-based nonprofit Natural Capitalism Solutions (NCS), which offers sustainability services to businesses and governments.
The Colorado Energy Office initially chose The Climate Trust for its technical expertise: namely, in identifying and managing offset projects as well as overseeing the fund’s accounting, which was needed to build the CCF and then transition it from a government initiative into a standalone program, says Zakreski. He adds, however, that the Trust doesn’t have a strong capacity in the marketing component: namely, outreach, awareness-raising, and education.
“The Climate Trust has never really been set up for that front-facing work,” he explains, adding that’s even more so after the Trust tightened its focus last year with the launch of the Carbon Investment Fund. The Carbon Investment Fund will design and build carbon offset projects in specific fields like forestry and grasslands to use in compliance carbon markets like the one in California.
“As there is a lot of work we have to do to get the Carbon Investment Fund off the ground, we need to narrow our business model,” Zakreski says. “We couldn’t really give the CCF the care and attention it deserves.”
According to a statement, The Climate Trust feels NCS is a good choice because of the organization’s strong leadership in sustainability and climate mitigation, working with both the public and private sector.
Reducing Emissions, Raising Awareness
The Project C license plate is a key and popular component of the CCF. It enabled the fund to function over the last couple of years as the plates are awareness-raising and emissions-reducing mechanisms rolled into one, Hamilton says.
The plates are also the fund’s primary source of finance. Buyers must make a $25 donation to the CCF, and they’re encouraged to offset at least 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions they generate by driving.
“It’s a way of advertising that you’re aware of the impact you’re making on the climate, even if you are driving a vehicle,” Hamilton says.
Laursen learned of the CCF through the license state program, and she says the plate not only advertises her own sense of urgency about climate change but also her belief that market-based solutions such as carbon offsets are one important part of the solution.
All of the carbon projects used to offset emissions are locally-based, supporting clean energy and “climate benefit” projects for communities and lands across Colorado. Zakreski notes these locally-based offsets, which deliver recognizable benefits to the state, as a cornerstone of the program.
The CCF helps people manage their emissions not just from driving but also from flying on airplanes and using energy in their homes. The fund uses a relatively simple three-part process. First, interested individuals, households and businesses use the fund’s online calculator to measure their carbon footprint referring to the aforementioned three activities. Then CCF offers ideas and tips as to how these groups can monitor their impact and reduce emissions. Finally, the fund provides tax deductible offsets for the part of their environmental footprint that can’t be controlled or reduced.
Hamilton and Zakreski both note the importance of having a Colorado-based nonprofit run the CCF as it is unique to the state. And Peter Krahenbuhl, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Consulting at NCS, agrees.
“We felt that it was high time to bring the CCF back to Colorado,” he says. “Only in doing so, through a home-grown, home-based nonprofit with expertise in global climate change and regenerative economy work, can the CCF truly realize its full potential in helping the state to be a global leader in sustainability.”
Hamilton says the search always focused on a nonprofit, as several of the fund’s provisions, such as the license plate program, must be administered through a nonprofit.
Plus, Krahenbuhl has experience in the carbon markets, working directly in this area for some time, which is another reason they found NCS to be a good fit. In short, Hamilton says they chose NCS because it’s capable.
“NCS is a small innovative organization that really stepped up to the plate,” she says.
Big Plans for the CCF
NCS seems pleased with its new leadership role. The nonprofit’s Founder and President and well-known champion of sustainable development, Hunter Lovins, said in a statement they are delighted to take stewardship of the fund.
“This transition will allow us to figure out next steps for this iconic Colorado institution and enable it to become the tool Colorado needs to begin implementing the world’s goal of fighting climate disruption,” she said.
Krahenbuhl said they’re still reviewing their options and opportunities and don’t have a crystal clear picture of what the CCF will look like in coming years but they know they want to grow the program and expand its scope. He mentions NCS is looking at grassland restoration and soil biosequestration projects and supporting ways in which to support local economic activity through holistic management.
NCS has grand plans that appear bigger than offsetting projects. Krahenbuhl said: “What we aim to do with the CCF beyond offsets is to develop climate benefit projects that connect climate mitigation, ecological integrity, social and economic benefit in a way that Colorado businesses and people can be proud of investing in to support their own future.”
Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and Editorial Assistant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
L. Hunter Lovins
“You walk into the future by laying the runway out in front of people. You clear the impediment littering the ground, smooth the surface, and enable people to see the route. If you want to change a paradigm, you have to tell a better story”
The global economy rests on a knife-edge, based on the unsustainable assumptions and business practices of Cheater Capitalism. The current paradigm, subsidizing incumbent technologies and corporate profits and bailing out too-big- to-fail banks and companies, while socializing losses and privatizing commons, is impoverishing citizens, communities, and countries, driving societies and ecosystems into successive collapses. Palliative “fixes” can delay collapse—but only for a time.
Change WILL happen because ecosystems and economies are already collapsing, and because a finer future is being entrepreneured. Both are important. We’re in a horse race with catastrophe, but the good news is that we’re in the race. A healthy economy—what John Fullerton calls a Regenerative Economy—is emerging. The science fiction writer William Gibson said that the future is already here; it’s just not widely distributed. The key principle is that this new economy is embedded within, and depends on, a healthy ecosystem. Because the one we have now is not.
Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, building on the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, warned that climate change and other assaults are tipping coral reefs, the Amazon, the acidifying oceans and other ecosystems into collapse. The Planetary Boundaries report set scientifically agreed safe boundaries for human impacts, showing how humankind has already exceeded four of these, and is fast approaching others. Dr. Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics shows that, despite the excesses by which our current economy extracts and quickly throws away resources, we are failing to meet minimum requirements to ensure well-being and dignity for all of the world’s people.
Developing nations struggle to lift from poverty the half of the world’s population that lives on less than $2.50 a day. Millions of drought-driven refugees across the north of Africa join people threatened by too much or too little glacial melt water and monsoon floods from the Himalaya to Columbia. It is clear that climate change will hit the most vulnerable hardest. Yet, these poorest three billion emit only seven percent of emissions. The richest seven percent [about half a billion people] spew out 50 percent. Issues of inequality are not only immoral, but threaten economic stability. Dr’s Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have shown that health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries. Their book, The Spirit Level, shows that people in more equal societies live longer, have better mental health, and have better chances for a good education regardless of background. Community life is stronger where the income gap is narrower, children do better at school and they are less likely to become teenage parents. When inequality is reduced, people trust each other more, there is less violence, and rates of imprisonment are lower.
L. Hunter Lovins
Hunter Lovins explains that when it comes to valuing nature, it’s better to be roughly right than really wrong.
This article has been submitted as part of the Natural Capital Coalition’s series of blogs on natural capital by Hunter Lovins, President, Natural Capitalism Solutions, Professor of Sustainable Management, Bard MBA and Time Magazine Millennium “Hero of the Planet”.
“NATURAL CAPITAL!” the famous author snarled at me, “It’s NATURE! It’s PEOPLE! not capital. You can’t call them capital; they’re… they’re…spiritual,” he spat at me. “You can’t put a price tag on them. It’s immoral.”
“Financial markets put prices on them every day,” I answered. “Actuarial tables assign a value to human life. Captains of industry see both people and nature as capital.” I quoted Pavan Sukhdev, chair of the landmark report from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), who pointed out that if you cannot prove that nature has a higher worth, corporate beancounters will enter it into business equations as having a value of zero. “That”, I said, “is why so much of what we value is being liquidated. No price on nature can ever capture its full worth, but it’s better to be roughly right than really wrong.”
The author went away mad, and we’ve yet to have the conversation saying that I agree with him that the wild places of the world should be accorded intrinsic worth, that the loss of cultures and languages driven by the Mac-homoginization of the world is tragic. How many times have I quoted Theodore Geisel to audiences: “I am the Lorax, I stand for the trees.” Then, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
The U.S. Department of Energy has recently released a new series of materials sharing the energy efficiency potential of six major pathways to energy and carbon savings that states and local governments can use to meet their clean energy goals.
These materials show that energy efficiency could save consumers and businesses more than 1 billion MWh of electricity between 2013 and 2030, providing cost savings, air quality improvements, economic development, increased energy system reliability, and other benefits across the United States.
In addition, DOE has released information that speaks to diverse audiences about the ways to achieve these benefits, along with opportunities for state and local governments to access technical assistance for incorporating energy efficiency into their clean energy plans. The full set of resources is available at: www.energy.gov/eere/slsc/EEopportunities.
Also downloadable from the hub above is SEE Action’s new Guide for States: Energy Efficiency as a Least-Cost Strategy to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution, and Meet Energy Needs in the Power Sector.
L. Hunter Lovins
In a world beset with woes, people hunger for a sense of who they are, where they belong and what they believe in.
Sixty million refugees are on the move, climate chaos is upon us, and the global economy teeters. Demagogues call for the worst in us, and find fertile ground in a political alienation that allows a flight to easy answers and loss of liberty in pursuit of stability.
Our economic narrative extols competition, perfect markets and unfettered growth in a world in which the rugged individual is seen as the only legitimate economic actor. The result is huge inequality in which 62 individuals have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion. Too big to fail crushes local self-determination.
Humanity has exceeded the planetary boundaries, yet we fail to deliver the basic standard of living needed to ensure human dignity for all people. As many of 30% of young people fear that they don’t have a future, and teen suicide is at record numbers.
Millions of people reportedly hate their jobs. The annual Gallup Healthways survey of worker satisfaction warns that more people are more unhappy than at any time measured, driving a disengagement at work that is costing the U.S. $400 billion in lost productivity annually.
To compensate, as Dana Meadows put it, we seek to meet non-material needs with material things.
And we grow lonelier.
Neil Belmore and his son Matt are on a road trip from Toronto to Palo Alto, California – 4300 kilometers – driving without stopping for gas. They’re powering up their all-electric Tesla Model S at charging stations along the way.
Not too long ago, electric car owners couldn’t plan a road trip like that. The lack of charging stations outside of major cities kept them fairly close to home. That, and the high price tag of electric cars, meant these alternative vehicles were only a tiny slice of the auto market.
Dawn of the electric age?
But at least one of those obstacles is being overcome. It’s getting easier to find charging stations all across the country, and around the world. Many Internet maps can now display the expanding network.
There are several stations in the parking lot of a luxury Colorado shopping center. The parking lot attendant calls the sleek oval electric charging stands a bargain.
“We give you one hour free to charge your Tesla,” he explained.
In Kansas, after driving down a country road surrounded by sunflowers and growing crops, Tesla drivers can power up for free at a Holiday Inn. That’s where the Belmores have stopped to plug in their shiny black Tesla. Neil says he and his son are sharing the driving.
“He’s a very fast Tesla driver, I have to say. He makes me nervous.” Matt laughed.
With the recent year of historic climate action behind us, it’s now time to gain some perspective about where the general public stands on issues related to climate and clean energy. By carefully studying the full complexity of public opinions, and identifying significant gaps between mass public and expert opinions, it is possible to improve communication, policy strategy, and public engagement so that real change can happen. By considering public opinions when developing a course of action, the public is then given the ability to influence policymakers and major institutions, and to help establish national priorities.
Although a majority of Americans trust the scientific community and believe that climate change is real, the public’s confidence has remained more or less the same since the mid 2000’s. John Krosnick of Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment conducted a survey in 2010, which showed that 75% of Americans believe temperatures have been rising and 70% are confident in what scientists say regarding the environment 10. Several ongoing surveys actually show a small decline in people’s belief in climate change over the last couple of years. Gallup has been tracking climate-related trends, such as the public’s worry, since 2001, and reports that worry was at its lowest point last year8. Aside from small fluctuations, over the last five years, the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is already occurring has remained steady at around 55%, and even the extreme weather of the 2014-2015 winter didn’t seem to sway the public8.
Several surveys have been monitoring public concern about climate change over the last 5 to 10 years, and the Pew Institute has been tracking these changes globally. Pew confirms what the US-only surveys found, reporting very small changes in overall concern, aside from noticeable declines in China and Japan7. Of course, there is a lot of variation among nations and within larger regions, but for the most part, there is still a lot of ambivalence about the importance of climate change. While it is unfortunate that climate change, and its scientifically confirmed causes, are not more widely accepted, some new polls show that this may begin to change in the near future6. A joint survey by Yale University and George Mason University showed that the public’s certainty might be shifting; those who already think climate change is occurring are becoming more sure, while those who do not are becoming less and less so2. It seems that even the climate change deniers may be starting to doubt their own skepticism. It also seems that a more precautionary approach towards environmental matters is becoming more popular. According to a New York Times and CBS News poll, 54% of Americans would choose to protect the environment over stimulating the economy in a situation where a sacrifice had to be made9.
There has been a lot of progress in the climate and energy fields, and the majority of the scientific community is clearly in agreement regarding the reality of climate change and its causes6. So why haven’t the general public’s attitudes about these issues caught up? It is a complicated question, and there is no one simple answer. It is challenging to change people’s perceptions in general, especially when there appears to be confusion and uncertainty among scientists and political leaders, or when your family, neighborhood, or entire community is of a particular point of view. It is also difficult to gain support for a burdensome issue, such as climate change, that threatens our way of life, and that people expect will involve personal sacrifice and effort in the future. For most people, because there are already so many pressing issues to deal with, it’s simply easier to push climate change aside for as long as possible, and avoid feeling any guilt or fear. Eula Biss of Northwestern University believes that the media can also have a major influence on the public’s perceptions of critical scientific issues1. Many people rely on popular and social media, rather than media based on well-respected, objective, and scientific publications, which leads to oversimplification and misinformation about many key issues. So, even though there is a consensus among experts, if the popular media does not provide current and accurate information, the general public’s perceptions of climate change will be fragmented and perpetually out-of-date. Also, there are a staggering number of news sources, which makes it possible for people to cherry-pick the type of news they see and which viewpoints they’re exposed to. This enables individuals, and even whole communities, to reinforce almost any worldview or mental model, and even to ignore an issue altogether. Sometimes it may be unintentional, but either way, it’s easy to develop a skewed perspective on climate change. Hopefully, with a more effective and accurate distribution of information, the public’s view of climate change can be more aligned with that of the experts. In addition, Krosnick believes that extreme weather events and noticeably warmer temperatures will eventually convince a greater number of people that climate change is already happening around the world10.
Believing in climate change does not mean the same thing to everyone; people vary greatly in the nature of their concern and in their beliefs about the cause of warming and necessary courses of action. Another Stanford survey confirms that a large majority of Americans think that climate change is a real and a serious global problem, and that it may continue to worsen. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people are very concerned at the moment. In fact, the number of people who believe that a 5°F warming (over the next 75 years) would be bad has fallen from 64% in 2007 to 53% in 20123. A recent National Survey on Energy and the Environment showed an interesting contrast between the high percentage of both Americans and Canadians that say there is solid evidence of climate change, and the much lower percentage that believe warming is primarily due to human activity5. It seems that, although most Americans believe scientists when they say that climate change is occurring, many are still reluctant to believe that humans and our way of life are to blame. In the US, only 40% of residents believe that climate change is primarily due to human activity, while most believe that it is due to either a combination of human and natural factors or exclusively natural factors5. The public debate over the greatest contributor to climate change may be partly fueled by the perception that there is no consensus among scientists. Also, since the Earth has already undergone major climatic transformations in its geologic history, all of which were due to natural forces, it is understandable why so many people think that present day climate change is natural as well. Although it’s likely that, if the contexts, causes, and timescales of these previous shifts were thoroughly understood by the general public, many more people would acknowledge how big of a role humans play.
Of course, America is quite a large country, so national averages don’t always give the complete picture. For most climate-related matters, there is substantial variation among states, as well as the counties, cities, and neighborhoods within each one. For example, a 2013 Stanford survey showed that, although nation-wide about 75% of Americans believe humans are partly responsible for warming, the percentage varies from 65% in Utah to 92% in Rhode Island4. There are many areas in the US where there is doubt about future warming and contention over humanity’s role in climate change. This variance can partly explain the discrepancy between Americans’ overall perception that climate change will be a serious problem and their uncertainty that warming is a result of human activity.
It is interesting, and sometimes disheartening, to explore the public’s attitudes about climate change, and to realize that America is one of the least concerned and most doubtful nations in the world. Fortunately, those are only two statistics and there is far more complexity involved. There are also many motivated and thoughtful people who will continue to confront climate change and inspire others to follow their lead. By participating in movements and societal debates, and by sharing ideas and discussing solutions, everyone can have a part in shaping the global response to climate change.
Mountain Town News
An agreement was struck at the Paris climate talks that may in the future be seen as a turning point in the effort to stall the worst of climate change impacts. But it wasn’t easy, as former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth illustrated in a story he told Tuesday in Denver.
Wirth has been engaged in climate change issues since 1974, when he was first elected to Congress, and then later, in 1997, was the chief U.S. negotiator at Kyoto.
Paris succeeded largely because of two reasons, he said. One was the decision to reach agreement with a bottoms-up approach, instead of the top-down approach used before, with the developed countries telling the developing countries what must happen.
Also crucial to success in Paris was the agreement struck between the U.S. and China and announced by President Barack Obama in November 2014. The United States and Chinese have “very real, very important” differences that cannot be understated, said Wirth. But in the vital issue of climate change, committed Chinese and American representatives put together the deal that showed commitment by the world’s two largest polluters.
L. Hunter Lovins
We’ve all felt it. Anxiety before an exam; the realization that we are about to be hurt, the sick feeling when kids with Kalashnikovs kill hundreds in the streets of Paris. Once, as the crew boss on a fire crew, I was assigned to protect a house against a fast moving brush fire. Deployed at the road’s edge, we got hoses ready, truck pump primed. Then the flames came at us, bigger and faster than we’d thought. Our only option was to hold our position, stay behind our fog spray and fight it.
As it roared at us, one young man yelled, “RUN!”
“If you run, we die,” I stared him down. “Fight it, we live.”
We did, and saved the house. The flames roared around our fog pattern. We lived to chase them all afternoon before finally declaring the fire out.
These days I hear a fear that reminds me of my young firefighter. Kids ask me if they’re going to have a future. They fear that climate change and other environmental harm will cut short their lives. Perhaps because of this, young people suffer record rates of affective anxiety disorder (fear of the future,) some say as high as 25%. Suicide, after years of falling rates, is at its highest level in 50 years, triple US homicides. Teen suicide is now the second largest cause of death for youths aged 15 -24.
No one enjoys playing catch up. Why work twice as hard after falling behind if you are already at the top of the ladder? Right now, the United States is at the top of the global economic ladder and has been since the twentieth century. However, the U.S. is vulnerable to losing this first-place position due to its lack of progress implementing renewable energy.
Germany is well on it’s way to using 100% renewable energy. Just this June, Germany succeeded in producing 78% of its energy from renewables, beating their previous record of 74%. Germany is not alone in making great strides in this field; various other countries are making a name for themselves in the renewables field as well.
A small Caribbean Island, Bonaire, has made the switch to renewables successfully as well. Bonaire depends on wind power and biofuel that is created from algae grown on the island. Another island off the coast of Denmark, Samso, depends almost entirely on wind power for its energy generation and plans to be entirely fossil fuel free by the year 2030. Renewable energy is no longer a myth or futuristic dream, it is happening right now and there is proof. Larger countries, as well, are making successful case studies such as Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, and the UK. The question is: where is the United States?
The United States is being greatly surpassed in the race for renewable energy usage. Given the legacy of the USA’s international power and leadership, one would think the country would want to avoid being surpassed in this race, if not for the sake of the planet but for the sake of pride.
The United States reached almost 10% of renewable energy usage in 2014. A bit pitiful compared to the whopping 78% achieved by Germany. The largest reasons the Department of Energy states for the low use of renewable usage is cost, the fact that it tends to be “remote”, and its unreliability. However, these issues no longer make a viable argument.
First, there are large financial incentives to turn to renewables. Financial paybacks have been proven on paper and seen through various case studies. For example, in Austin, Texas, the lowest costing solar energy was reached at 4 cents per kWh! In comparison, the average cost for residential energy consumption in the United States was 12 cents per kWh in 2014 (http://solarcellcentral.com/cost_page.html). The cost of solar energy is rapidly dropping and experts are predicting that it will continue to drop and soon become the cheapest form of energy available.
To summarize this financial argument, Hunter Lovins states in her article “Countries that lead the switch to renewable energy will reap the financial rewards” that countries are making the switch to renewables not because it will help save the planet but because it is the smarter move to make financially.
While it is clear renewable energy sources have made their financial and environmental case, there is another reason the United States should up its renewable energy game. If the United States wants to remain the leader of the world’s economy, the switch to renewable energy is imperative. Many professionals are now predicting that China will pass the United State’s economy by the year 2030. What is China doing? Investing in solar technologies and away from fossil fuels.
Historically speaking, countries that lead the global economy tend to also be leaders in the energy and transportation fields, amongst other areas. This being said, in order to remain at the top of the world economy, the United States needs to keep moving towards energy dependence, continue being a leader in technology and finally implement these renewable technologies (http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2013-08-27/six-reasons-the-u-s-will-dominate). According to Tony Seba, thought leader on topics such as clean energy disruption, 24-hour solar energy capture technology was invented 30 years ago, yet it is still slow to be implemented (Tony Seba: Clean Disruption). The technology is ready; society just needs to adopt it.
One positive example of innovative progress in the energy and transportation field is the company, Tesla. Tesla is not only a car company but also an energy storage company, which means it is effectively bringing together energy and transportation in a financially and environmentally sustainable way. Tesla is projected to generate $459.6 million in revenue in the next 20 years, which outdoes companies like General Motors. Tesla is a perfect example of successful financial and environmental innovation that will keep the United States a global economy leader.
It is important to realize that the United States is making some strides, and we do not want to discount those efforts. At the end of the day, however, there is great room for improvement. Other countries are providing successful case studies that prove that moving forward with renewable energy is beneficial and successful. The United States should get itself at the forefront of this movement as well.
L. Hunter Lovins
As Pope Francis visits the US, and the UN Summit on Sustainable Development and Climate Week kick off in New York City this week, government leaders, businesses, activists and global citizens will be discussing new ideas to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Here’s one: take up the European oil industry on their surprising, and so far largely ignored, offer to pay for the carbon their products create.
In June, six large European oil companies – BP, Shell, Statoil, Total, BG and Eni –called for an international price on carbon. Citing a desire to reduce business uncertainty, the companies asked world governments, and December’s UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, for country-by-country carbon prices and a framework to link them into a global system.
Whatever the motives of the oil companies, when such big polluters are willing to put a price on their emissions – a practice that could cost them significantly more to do business – it’s a big deal.
The fact that some oil companies are taking this stance could prevent companies opposing a price on carbon from claiming to represent the entire industry.
L Hunter Lovins
We stand on the cusp of the biggest transformation of our lives.
Humanity is in a horse race against catastrophe. The bad news is all around us from loss of species to global warming, social fragmentation, and growing inequality. The good news is that we’re in the race.
And we might just be winning. The speed with which renewable energy, especially solar, is growing means we can solve the climate crisis, create jobs, reinvigorate manufacturing and buy the time needed to do the more fundamental work of implementing the Regenerative Economy – an economy in service to life.
In the last year, the chronology of change has been inspiring. In June 2014, Citi Group released its “Energy Darwinism” report, warning of the “alarming fall in the price of solar.” Alarming to whom? Citi stated that this was now the Era of Renewables, predicting that within 10 years solar, even without subsidies, would be the cheapest way to generate electricity.
L Hunter Lovins
April 29, 2015
At this year’s Paris climate summit we need to change the tired narrative that developing nations need to follow the dirty coal route to financial prosperity. The numbers increasingly come out in favour of first movers to renewables.
Silicon Valley start-ups are proud of their fast-paced culture and being first movers in creating new product categories and markets.
UN climate change summits are the opposite: they sit and discuss the risks of being first movers by transforming our energy systems to reduce emissions and protect our planet, but only the proverbial second mouse gets the cheese. Silicon Valley treasures those who take risks, fail fast and iterate – at this year’s Paris climate change summit we need to adopt more of this approach.
The stance developing nations often take at international climate negotiations is that the rich got rich burning coal and oil, so why should poorer countries sacrifice their economic development for the good of future generations? Better to get rich via fossil fuels now even if we roast later, the logic seems to go, despite UN envoy on climate change Mary Robinson recently making the case for developing countries skipping straight to renewable power.
Meanwhile, coal companies have successfully persuaded some developing countries’ governments to buy into the notion that fossil fuels are essential to tackle energy poverty and US Republicans have long argued the US doesn’t need to tackle its polluters until developing countries cut their own emissions.
L. Hunter Lovins
It’s flattering to be asked to be a poster child for a major international campaign.
The language was veiled but the implication clear: Would I help a big company undertake a campaign to end energy poverty? The client? Peabody Coal, the largest private-sector coal company in the world. I told the caller that I wanted nothing to do with his client or his campaign. The logic didn’t work.
Yes, energy poverty is real, and no, coal is not an answer to it.
I’ve been in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. When night falls in December, the temperature drops by 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit—it’s real dark, and real cold. I’ve spent nights with families who cook with wood, the women, especially, dying young from smoke.
Yes, energy poverty is real, and no, coal is not an answer to it. Tweet This Quote
But sorry, coal won’t help them. Yes, the Afghans could have burned coal in their homes, but when used domestically, coal is nasty. And Peabody has no interest in selling their product door-to-door. They dig big holes in the ground for one reason: to flow megatons of coal to powerplants—releasing gigatons of carbon into the air. From an environmental and health standpoint, mines are dangerous and polluting. In North Carolina, Tennessee and hundreds of other sites coal ash spills laced with heavy metals that cause cancer and neurological damage are polluting rivers, killing fish, and damaging communities. Big, coal-fired power plants are no longer an economical way to bring high quality life and energy services to poor people anywhere on the planet. Nothing about it makes sense.
Central-station power plants aren’t cheap. In states from Montana to Texas, utility regulators have denied permission for new ones because they cost more than wind. In places like India, where Enron flogged off power plants that no one in the US wanted, saddling the government with massive debt before going broke themselves. Someone has to pay for power from a plant before it’s a viable business. But poor people are poor. They can’t afford electricity that is priced high enough to pay off the capital cost of the plant. So they don’t. The plant either gets cancelled half way through, or only sells power to the urban elites. Either way, it’s no answer to energy poverty.
Coal-fired power plants are no longer an economical way to bring high quality life and energy services to poor people on the planet Tweet This Quote
L. Hunter Lovins
14 April, 2015
Don’t believe in climate change? Okay, let’s pretend it’s a hoax. From a purely financial perspective it doesn’t matter.
If it is a hoax, you’ll make a lot of money. If it’s the real and worsening catastropheclimate scientists believe it to be, you’ll still make a lot of money. Now let me present some facts to you on the financial case for getting out of fossil fuels (I am fine if you just view it as some bar talk).
There’s a strong and growing business case for climate protection. The 2014 report “Climate Action and Profitability” by the Carbon Disclosure Project showed how companies that integrate sustainability into their business strategies are outperforming companies who fail to show such leadership. Companies that are managing their carbon emissions and are planning for climate change enjoy 18% higher returns on their investment than companies that aren’t, and 67% higher than companies which refuse to disclose their emissions.
Something tells me, though, you are sentimental about your personal ownership in fossil fuels, right? If improving your company’s returns on investment does not interest you, how about the prospect of stranded assets? That’s investments that quickly turn out to be worth much less than expected.
In early 2012 Seeking Alpha, an energy industries financial advisory service with more than three million registered clients cautioned against panicking and selling coal stocks, concluding that even though Peabody Coal’s stock value had fallen 45%, it was nicely undervalued, and after all, such companies had always grown: “Currently, Peabody Energy’s share price is at just over $36 (£25), but I think it has the potential to hit the $45 barrier before the end of 2012 because its Australian interests are likely to be snapped up by China and Indian Steel companies”, the advisors wrote. Seems like a strong argument for staying invested in coal, doesn’t it?
by Hunter Lovins
10 October 2014
A shift to the sharing economy, millennials shunning private car and home ownership, a saturation of consumerism – is a new economic narrative emerging?
Prosperity. Every segment of society seeks it, but ask what it means or how to get it and the answers are not always clear.
Do possessions equal prosperity? The mavens of Madison Avenue tell us: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” So we measure self-worth by what we buy, going deeper in debt to project the perception of plenitude.
A New Yorker cartoon portrays a woman in an elegant boutique asking whether they have something to, “Fill that dark empty space in my soul.” As Dana Meadows observed, we seek to meet non-material needs with things. It’ll never work. Worse, we’ve allowed the ad industry to induce the impression that in the absence of whatever they’re selling, we’re inadequate.
To play this game, you need money. The siren song is work harder, and you too, can join the moneyed class. It’s seductive: we all know someone who did win: the entrepreneur who struck it rich, hard-working immigrants who scrimped to put the kids through college, clawing their way to the middle class.
But Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century shows the system is rigged. Working harder won’t ensure prosperity. Without transformation of the financial system, the neoliberal ideology that has imposed austerity around the planet is punishing everyone who is not an owner of capital.
L. Hunter Lovins: “For a Finer Future”
10 September 2014
Hunter Lovins is on a mission, writes Sophie Morlin-Yron: to put the transformational technologies we already have to work for the benefit of people and business – and to re-create the economy so it’s no longer a machine for polluting the planet and devouring natural resources, but a mechanism for building and sustaining natural and human capital.
“What do you want your future to be? We have all the technologies to solve all the problems facing us. We can build a better world for us, for all of life on the planet.”
American author, economist, lawyer and environmentalist Hunter Lovins lives on a ranch in Colorado, north of Denver.
Here, she keeps horses which she buys at so-called“killer sales” – where people sell unwanted horses that would otherwise face slaughter. These are then rehabilitated at her ranch and eventually rehomed.
She speaks fondly of life on the ranch, the local community and rural activities such as riding, attending pie baking contests and celebrating the annual upcoming Hay Day.
But truth be told, Lovins spends most of her time on the road, traveling on her one-woman mission to make the world a better place. And her day-to-day reality is far from mowing hay and ‘angling horses’, she complains: “I live on a god damn airplane!”
Lovins has been in sustainability since 1972. She has won numerous awards, such as the European Sustainability Pioneer award and the Right Livelihood Award.
President and Founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions – a non-profit which educates decision makers on the benefits of green business and a regenerative economy. She is also a professor of Sustainable Business and has worked with the UN, governments and businesses in over 30 countries.
It was through working on a project called Green Afghanistan that she ended up with a membership at the prestigious Frontline Club in Paddington, London. And it is here, at Frontline, that I manage to get a piece of her time before she sets off for Heathrow, and her next airplane journey. Read more »
L. Hunter Lovins
19 August 2014
L Hunter Lovins: George Monbiot’s recent criticism of Allan Savory’s theory that grazing livestock can reverse climate change ignores evidence that it’s already experiencing success inn his recent interview with Allan Savory, the high profile biologist and farmer who argues that properly managing grazing animals can counter climate chaos, George Monbiot reasonably asks for proof. Where I believe he strays into the unreasonable, is in asserting that there is none.
Savory’s argument, which counters popular conceptions, is that more livestock rather than fewer can help save the planet through a concept he calls “holistic management.” In brief, he contends that grazing livestock can reverse desertification and restore carbon to the soil, enhancing its biodiversity and countering climate change. Monbiot claims that this approach doesn’t work and in fact does more harm than good. But his assertions skip over the science and on the ground evidence that say otherwise.
Richard Teague, a range scientist from Texas A&M University, presented in favour of Savory’s theory at the recent Putting Grasslands to Work conference in London. Teague’s research is finding significant soil carbon sequestration from holistic range management practices.
18 July 2014
Newsweek’s Green Business Icon talks of business opportunities in climate change.
JAMAICA’S private sector was yesterday warned not to allow coal-fired plants into the country’s energy mix as they are financially and environmentally unsustainable.
Addressing the Climate Change Learning Conference for the Private Sector at the Pegasus Hotel, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions L Hunter Lovins said of all the fossil fuels, coal, which is being proposed for the trans-shipment port on Goat Islands, as well as for the mothballed bauxite plants in Manchester and St Elizabeth, emits the most carbon — the primary culprit in climate change — and carries a heavy price tag in terms of construction.
“Coal as a future? No!” she said.
“Coal does not have a future. It should absolutely not be thought out for Jamaica. Why on earth would you accept any technology that you do not have here in Jamaica?”
“This is an incredibly energy-rich country,” she continued, highlighting Jamaica’s abundance of sun, wind and water. “The notion that you are beggaring your economy to buy imported oil [and] kill the climate to worsen the storms that are impacting your people is crazy.”
— Suzette Bonas
6 June 2014
The global economy is on the edge with 85 people having as much wealth as 3.5bn of the world’s poorest. We need a new story of an economy that doesn’t trash the planet
Humanity is learning the hard way. We are exceeding the planetary boundaries that define the edge of our planet’s capacity to support us. At the same time, we remain below the edge of what people need to live within a just, safe, and prosperous operating space, what Kate Raworth has called doughnut economics.
The global economy stands on the precipice, with 85 individuals having as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest. This leaves most of us living on a precarious edge of one form or another, as the “tower economy” accretes to itself ever-greater wealth. Read more »
Expect the Court to side with the old saw that “all’s fair in love and war.” After all, this is the Court whose majority ruled that dark money is free speech, corporations are people, and the Constitution is a flak vest for pretenders who lie about being decorated war heroes.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if political candidates were held accountable for lies, intentional distortions, character assassination and over-the-line hyperbole? And wouldn’t it be interesting if entire industries were held to the same higher standard?
For example, the coal industry and its supporters accuse the Obama administration of waging a war on coal. They cite EPA’s intention to limit climate-altering carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. But as I’ve written before, the administration is not warring against coal; it’s warring against global climate change. It would be closer to the truth to accuse the coal industry of warring against our children’s future.
Another example of corporate distortion is coming from the nuclear power industry in its new Nuclear Matters campaign. The campaign’s leaders, who include several former public officials, are promoting nuclear energy as critical to cutting the nation’s carbon emissions. Read more »
4 March 2014
I know the questions our children will ask
When they stop long enough to think of the past.
Was there ever a summer when heat didn’t kill,
ever a harvest when the grain bins were filled?
Was there ever a time when we didn’t fear rain,
When the skies were not angry and the rivers were tame?
Was there ever a year when no species were lost
to what people did without measuring the cost?
Was there ever a time when nature was kind,
when we thought of her warmly as a friend of mankind?
Did the breezes blow lightly, did spring come with grace,
did the snow ever fall at a far gentler pace?
Was there plenty of water? Was it cool, clean and clear?
Did you know that one day it might not be here?
Was our soil ever fertile rather than spent?
Were our forests majestic, were people content?
Did you know that despite all the world’s demarcations
that we were much more than separate nations?
Did you know you were linked to every thing else,
profoundly connected to more than your self?
Did you ever acknowledge the realization
that God made us stewards, not kings of creation?
Did you ever imagine the world you could build
beyond making sure that your gas tanks were filled?
Did you think of the health of our generation
or only of pleasure and gratification?
Did you know of the heights that humans could reach
when “better angels” were more than just figures of speech?
Did you work for a time there would be no more war,
no cruelty, bloodshed or hopelessly poor?
Did you work for a world that was better than yours
where life had more meaning than settling scores?
Did you reach out to save it as it slipped away,
or ignore all the changes that were underway?
Did you ever regret the pain you begat?
Did you realize that you all were better than that?
Did you think of your duty to all of the years
our forefathers sacrificed blood, sweat and tears
to build a new nation and work to conceive
a great civilization where people agreed
that we all have a contract– a duty to leave
a future the Founders most surely believed
was within our power and will to achieve?
Our scientists told us what we had to know:
We were crossing a line where we shouldn’t go.
Did you fight the deniers who said at the brink,
“You can lead us to science, but you can’t make us think.”
Did you hope that our God would show up to save us
when you failed to use the brains that he gave us?
Now the world you enjoyed is out of our reach.
We’ve slipped down humanity’s hierarchy of needs.
As Fuller once said with the greatest conviction,
We are here as world builders, not as its victims.
But we can’t be builders if we’re nonchalant;
We have to commit to the future we want.
Your lifestyles and worldview exacted great cost
but we’ll do all we can to regain what was lost.
The torch that you passed us had nearly gone out.
We’ll light it again so our kids have no doubt
that we loved them, our duty to them carried out.
21 January 2014
If you thought that the climate action plan President Obama announced last June contained a complete global warming agenda for the next three years, think again. There are few more things he can do.
Two hundred more things, to be precise.
In a Washington D.C. news conference, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter released a long menu of new ideas for the President’s consideration. The ideas, collected in a report called Powering Forward, were presented to the White House last week. They were developed by Ritter’s Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University (CNEE) in consultations with more than 100 U.S. thought leaders over the last 10 months. (Full disclosure: I work for the Center.)
The President’s in-basket is filled with recommendations from NGOs and interest groups, particularly just before his annual State of the Union address, but in this case a meeting with Obama inspired the idea-gathering exercise. Last March, Ritter was one of a group of 14 people, mostly corporate CEOs, invited to the White House to discuss energy policy with the President and his team.
Ritter was called out of the room for a few minutes. When he came back, the other members of the group had “elected” him to lead the effort to engage experts in five areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy financing, new business models for utilities, responsible natural gas production, and alternative fuels and vehicles.
After months of research, roundtables and peer reviews involving experts and corporate leaders, the result is more than 200 recommendations the Administration could implement without further action by Congress. Read more »
17 January 2014
President Obama’s designation of five localities as Promise Zones is the latest in a long history of efforts by his predecessors to wage the war on poverty in communities where the war is needed most.
It’s a good idea, if it is done well. It would make little sense to put new financial resources into the same strategies and power structures that have created and perpetuated the poverty that exists in parts of the United States today.
The Promise Zone initiative is starting small. Federal resources permitting, it has the potential to be a productive new campaign in the war on poverty that President Lyndon Johnson declared a half-century ago. It is reminiscent of the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Zone programs under the Clinton Administration. Then as now, the idea was to give special tax breaks and treatment in grant competitions to neighborhoods, communities and regions that are struggling economically and socially.
Today, however, there are new factors in the mix. One is global warming. Its impacts often stress the communities and people least able to cope because they lack resources. The resources in insufficient supply are not only money, but also “natural capital” including important ecosystem services that have disappeared because of environmental degradation. Those services range from flood control to water purification. One way to address poverty is to help communities restore their natural capital. Read more »
17 January 2014
by L. Hunter Lovins
It’s become weirdly fashionable to criticise companies cutting their impact on the environment and implementing more sustainable practices as insufficient.
That’s just wrong. More than 50 studies (PDF) from the likes of those wild-eyed environmentalists at Goldman Sachs show that the companies that are the leaders in environment, social and good governance policies are financially outperforming their less sustainable peers. Sustainability is better business –and we can prove it.
Richard Smith in “Green Capitalism: The God That Failed”, gets it even more wrong. He asserts: “The results are in: no amount of ‘green capitalism’ will be able to ensure the profound changes we must urgently make to prevent the collapse of civilisation from the catastrophic impacts of global warming.” He calls for “abolition of capitalist private property in the means of production and the institution of collective bottom-up democratic control over the economy and society.” Read more »
By Robert Costanza, Ida Kubiszewski, Enrico Giovannini, Hunter Lovins, Jacqueline McGlade, Kate E. Pickett, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Debra Roberts, Roberto De Vogli& Richard Wilkinson
Gross domestic product is a misleading measure of national success. Countries should act now to embrace new metrics, urge Robert Costanza and colleagues.
GDP measures mainly market transactions. It ignores social costs, environmental impacts and income inequality. If a business used GDP-style accounting, it would aim to maximize gross revenue — even at the expense of profitability, efficiency, sustainability or flexibility. That is hardly smart or sustainable (think Enron). Yet since the end of the Second World War, promoting GDP growth has remained the primary national policy goal in almost every country1.
Meanwhile, researchers have become much better at measuring what actually does make life worthwhile. The environmental and social effects of GDP growth can be estimated, as can the effects of income inequality2. The psychology of human well-being can now be surveyed comprehensively and quantitatively3, 4. A plethora of experiments has produced alternative measures of progress (see Supplementary Information). Read more »
19 December 2013
The international community is on a runaway coal train, the train is speeding toward a terrible wreck, and there appears to be no way to stop it. That, minus the metaphor, is the picture painted by the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). It predicts that the use of coal – the dirtiest of the fuels causing global warming – will continue growing at a “relentless pace” in the years ahead.
Absent some technology that does not yet exist at the level of maturity and scale to slow the train, it follows that carbon emissions will grow relentlessly too and so will the impacts of global climate change.
On top of the physical damage, there will be some substantial economic damage farther down the track, a topic not addressed in the IEA report. Many of the countries important to the future of the global economy are at highest risk from climate change. Many of same countries are producing, importing, exporting and burning more coal, increasing their risk even more. The irony is that they are burning coal for economic development and in doing so, they are committing econocide by carbon. Unfortunately, in our shared atmosphere and global economy we all are along for the ride. Read more »
11 December 2013
By Hunter Lovins, Donna Morton, & Cat Jaffee
We are facing one of those rare moments in time when a true “giant of history” transitions from living to legacy.
As the memorial services for Nelson Mandela linger in our memories, the task of ensuring that his legacy endures is now our responsibility. We have spent days pouring over news release headlines, announcements, photos, and speeches of Mandela’s life. We have devoured magazine profiles full of quotes, labels, and taglines to find the words that will consummate his legacy. And now while we mourn, revere, and thank, we are left with huge questions – what is the legacy we will choose to remember this man by? And what do we do now? Read more »
Solutions Journal July/August 2013
by Robert Costanza, Jacqueline McGlade, Steve de Bonvoisin, Petra Fagerholm, Joshua Farley, Enrico Giovannini, Ida Kubiszewski, Frances Moore Lappé, Hunter Lovins, Kate Pickett, Greg Norris, Thomas Prugh, Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, Debra Roberts, Richard Wilkinson
Conscious that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption can impede sustainable development, and recognizing the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and wellbeing of all peoples.
—UnitedNations General Assembly,Resolution 65/309, 2011
In June 2012, the latest in a series of United Nations conferences on sustainable development was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this one called “The Future We Want.” As the most recent opportunity to present an equitable solution to climate change and other environmental problems, the declaration that arose from Rio left many cold. It did not go far enough in proposing alternatives that adequately recognized growing global challenges.
In response to the Rio meeting, the UN and emerging groups of academics, policy makers, business people, and others have begun to working on a broader, more wide-ranging vision for what a sustainable and desirable future could be. One such group was convened by the King of Bhutan, and met in January, 2013 in the country’s capital, Thimpu, with the goal of envisioning a future based on happiness, well-being, and an understanding of mankind’s interdependent relationship with nature. One subset of this group produced the following document to outline some of the features and policies of this new paradigm. The document is written somewhat in the style of the Rio declaration—a list of points under various headings—to highlight the differences with that document. Read more »
29 September 2013
The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tell us what we’ve been told several times before, except with a greater degree of certainty. Climate change is real and we had better stop burning carbon soon if we want to avoid a future in which we suffer in biblical proportions.
The IPCC is like a doctor who gives us a checkup every few years. Time after time, the diagnosis is the same except more certain and the prognosis is the same except more urgent. We are the patients who either refuse to believe it, or believe it and refuse to stop the behavior that makes us sick. The majority of us, it seems, would rather listen to beer commercials than the news because the news is getting pretty bad.
The latest report from this largest of all scientific enterprises is said to be conservative in its findings. Yet, its conclusions are not reassuring. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” the scientists report, “and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.” To be more specific:
• “The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”
• “Human influence on the climate system is clear… Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes… It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” Read more »
23 September 2013
Been thinking of late about dying. Nope, not personally, least I surely hope not. When folks ask,“How’s life?” my glib answer is, “Believe it beats the alternatives.” Which, of course is a testable hypothesis we’ll all get to try. Death is an integral part of life. And entrepreneuring.
One of my favorite entrepreneurs once told me that running a start-up means that you are always about to go out of business. His company sits at the intersection of public policy, activism, science and the best shot at success that VC money can buy. Three times in the company’s life distant politicians made a decision. Decide one way and his company’s gone. He’s still there, and with a bit more luck will shortly be making a big difference in the battle to stem climate change, as well as being very wealthy indeed.
My thoughts turn this way in part because I’m at Harmony Hill, a spectacularly beautiful retreat on the Hood Canal in Western Washington catering primarily to people dying of cancer. The bricks in the main walk up to the great hall are inscribed in memory of those who didn’t make it. A grape arbor hangs with copper strips engraved with names of the dead. Ghosts swirl round like the sea fog that wreathes the Olympic Range each evening.
They’ve little to say to me. We’re celebrating and strategizing on life and new beginnings: on “changing business for good” at a faculty retreat for Bainbridge Graduate School (BGI). The entrepreneurial business school, was founded by Libba and Gifford Pinchot, a pair ofentrepreneurs who used the profits from a successful start-up to transform business education, placing sustainability at the heart of every class, and pioneering the way for now hundreds of business schools who claim to be doing the same. Read more »
Published in Organic Connections
When capitalism hit the fan in 2008, it left a lot of us thinking that there must be a better way—one that takes into account not only financial success but human values that benefit and safeguard our communities and the environment. What you may not know is that this better way is already here.
Lovins’ seminal work, Natural Capitalism, was published all the way back in 1999. Her movement under the same name, along with her foundation, Natural Capital Solutions, has been garnering major attention and interest from both business and government sectors ever since. Over 13 years, 14 books, dozens of major television and film appearances, and countless speaking engagements later, Lovins still travels the world consulting heads of state, the United Nations and major corporate CEOs, as well as speaking and teaching at universities. At the time we interviewed her, she had just visited ten cities in the previous five days, and was shortly to be going right back out again from her home ranch in Colorado.
Coming to Fruition
“What we’ve sought to do is to put forth the argument that there is a business case for behaving more sustainably,” Lovins said. “Just over a decade later these principles are coming to be accepted, and that business case has only become stronger. There are now 47 separate studies from groups such as Goldman Sachs showing that the companies that are the leaders in environmental, social and good governance policy have the fastest growing stock values and are well protected from value erosion even in a down economy.*
“This clearly indicates that behaving as if you care about the earth and its people is simply better business. If this were just coming from the likes of me or the Sierra Club, you could say, ‘Well, it’s just those enviros again.’ But it’s not—it’s all of the big management consulting houses as well as Harvard Business School and the MIT Sloan report. Sustainability is better business.”
The Cornerstones of Sustainable Management
Lovins’ proposed cornerstones of sustainable business management are somewhat simple, yet vastly profound in their implications. Read more »
23 September 2013
Is President Obama waging a war on coal? That’s the allegation from the coal industry and its champions in Congress as the Administration cracks down on carbon pollution.
The “war on coal” theme came up again last week when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft rule to limit carbon emissions from power plants. But who’s warring whom? Let’s think about this.
The evolution of the U.S. economy – of any robust economy, in fact – is a story of invention and obsolescence. New technology comes along; old technology fades away. The people who depend on the old technology don’t like it. Until they adjust, they are victims of progress.
So it is with coal. The coal industry, including the black-faced, black-lunged miners who risk their lives every day to keep our lights on, deserves enormous credit for where we are today: one of the world’s most prosperous people.
But two new realities have emerged that are redefining progress: Coal is the dirtiest of the fuels responsible for global climate change, and we are finding much better ways to keep the lights on. The idea that the Obama Administration is waging a war against coal is like accusing Henry Ford of making war against buggy whips, or Apple of warring against conventional phones and typewriters. EPA’s new rules aren’t designed to kill the coal industry; they are a challenge for the industry to get clean or get gone. Read more »
10 September 2013
The next report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be released later this month, may cause some heat of its own according to The New York Times.
The Times’ staff has seen a leaked copy of the document. It contains a potential controversy over the IPCC’s newest estimates of how much warming and how much damage we can expect by the end of this century.
Reporter Justin Gillis writes that the draft embraces the most conservative end of the damage spectrum created by the predictions of various climate scientists. For example, the IPCC so far has decided to assume 3 feet of sea level rise instead of 5 feet, and less than 3 degrees of atmospheric temperature increase instead of 5 degrees.
Gillis speculates that the IPCC’s history of being bullied might prompt the panel to err on the side of low-balling its projections.
“The group has been subjected to attack in recent years by climate skeptics,” he notes. “The intimidation tactics have included abusive language on blogs, comparisons to the Unabomber, e-mail hacking and even occasional death threats. Who could blame the panel if it wound up erring on the side of scientific conservatism?” Read more »
11 June 2013
As Mother Jones and others are pointing out, there was a significant change in President Obama’s message when he gave his landmark climate speech last month. When he spoke about climate change at all during his first term, it was mostly about jobs. In his June 25 speech, it was mostly about morality – his moral imperative as president and father.That is an important shift in focus in the public arena and a possible preview for how global climate disruption should be made a campaign issue in next year’s mid-term elections. It will be another opportunity to sweep obstructionists out of Congress and to replace them with leaders who recognize their moral obligation to confront climate change head on.
This Congress is in unapologetic contempt of the American families who have been burned and flooded out of their homes; the elderly and ill who are succumbing to heat waves, now America’s No. 1 weather-related killer; and the farmers in the bread belt whose crops, animals and livelihoods have turned to dust.
Read more »
Ever since President Obama made his statement about the Keystone XL pipeline on June 25, editorial writers, climate-action activists and Canadian officials have been speculating about the significance of what he said. We are picking through his words like tealeaf readers.
The President’s staff reportedly feels that the President’s statement was straightforward and that all the speculation is fascinating. But for those optimists among us who want to believe President Obama is finally ready to tackle the climate issue, it sounded as though some very important precedents might be taking shape in the White House.
Here’s what the President said:
Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.
Here is what we might read between the lines: Read more »
23 June 2013
Email and Twitter are flooded with joyful electrons in anticipation of President Obama’s big speech on global climate change, scheduled for Tuesday at Georgetown University.
The legions who have worked so hard to push global warming to the top of the national agenda will have reason to celebrate if the President announces, in his words, a “national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it.”
Before the dancing begins, however, a few words of perspective are in order. Read more »
19 June 2013
The Obama Administration has unleashed its highly educated prognosticators to develop a new math for the Anthropocene. It attempts to count things we haven’t counted before. It also attempts to count things that haven’t happened yet but that might and probably will.
Get ready for the carbon lobby to brand this as heresy.
Here’s some background: Congress has failed to put a price on carbon. There’s no sign it intends to do so. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has developed a systematic way to estimate the “social cost of carbon” or SCC – in other words, the climate impacts of government policies on future generations. Agencies are using the SCC methodology to estimate the climate benefits of federal rules.
Here’s how EPA explains it:
The SCC is meant to be a comprehensive estimate of climate change damages and includes changes in net agricultural productivity, human health and property damages from increased flood risk. However, it does not include all important damages….The models used to develop SCC estimates do not assign value to all of the important physical, ecological and economic impacts of climate change recognized in the climate change literature because of a lack of precise information on the nature of damages and because the science incorporated into these models lags behind the most recent research.
Rachel’s Network “Green Leaves”
Spring Newsletter 2013
We all know well the challenges facing us. From reversing ecological and economic collapses to meeting the development needs of seven billion (and growing) residents of our planet, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
But what can one person—or one organization—do?
Join me on an adventure to transform the global economic paradigm. Read more »
9 June 2013
Since international negotiations on global climate change began, it has been the case that the two countries most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions today – the United States and China – could lead the world on the issue if they could agree with one another.
They haven’t gotten there yet, but they took a meaningful step last Saturday when Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping agreed to cooperate on phasing out the use of HFCs – a class of potent greenhouse gases used as refrigerants and in industrial processes.
The description of the agreement released by the White House notes that “a global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions”. Read more »
By: ASAP coordinating group: Robert Costanza, Jacqueline McGlade, Steve de Bonvoisin, Petra Fagerholm, Joshua Farley, Enrico Giovannini, Ida Kubiszewski, Frances Moore Lappé, Hunter Lovins, Kate Pickett, Greg Norris, Thomas Prugh, Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, Debra Roberts, and Richard Wilkinson
31 May 2013
“Conscious that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption can impede sustainable development, and recognizing the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of all peoples.”
~ United Nations General Assembly, Resolution 65/309, 2011
To meet the growing challenges facing humanity, many individuals, communities and societies are actively exploring different ways of looking at the world. Some have sought to describe a society in which happiness is the primary goal. Others have developed policies for a global economy based on a more thorough understanding of how safeguarding resources underpins the creation of material wealth. Others anticipate catastrophic events and surprises as portents of the future. Whilst different in substance, all these approaches have the common goal of lifting society to a new level of sustainable well-being. The King of Bhutan recently convened an International Expert Working Group to synthesize and integrate many of these ideas in order to set forth a New Development Paradigm.
30 May 2013
America’s power system is too vulnerable to meet modern challenges — a harsh reality underscored by Hurricane Sandy, which left 8.1 million people in the dark for extended periods. Yet, widespread outages should no longer come as a surprise. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s electrical infrastructure a “D” grade in 2008. Years earlier, a Clinton-era energy secretary described America as “a superpower with a third-world grid.” Even though power system vulnerability has been obvious for over a decade, little has been done to address this critical weakness. If the United States wants to stay globally competitive, then the country must finally invest in the creation of a 21st-century power system capable of driving sustained economic growth.
Any power system overly dependent on centralized generation and long-distance transmission is inherently susceptible to massive failures, and our system has proven this time and again. Each day, nearly 500,000 Americans spend at least two hours without electricity, while brownouts and blackouts grind economic activity to a halt — costing the country up to $188 billion annually. Monetary losses from outages will only climb higher in the future given that economic activities increasingly demand reliable electricity. High-tech companies need consistent, quality power to protect manufacturing equipment, and almost all businesses require steady power for operating computers and other information technologies. Unfortunately, the nation’s current power system is incapable of meeting modern reliability needs as large blackouts are becoming not only more frequent but also more severe.
“Hunter Teaches the Virtues of Green Business Development”
(by Douglas Brown)
16 May 2013
Climate-change activist L. Hunter Lovins teaches at several universities, runs a few nonprofits, writes books and gives talks around the world. She was named a “green business icon” by Newsweek, and a millennium “Hero of the Planet” by Time magazine. The Longmont resident is, simply put, an international leader in the field of sustainable development and climate change, with a particular emphasis on business and how capitalism can thrive in a green economy. When she talks about the topics — and she probably spends most of her days immersed in conversation about things like hydraulic fracturing, solar energy, carbon credits and drought — facts and figures roll off her tongue, and a certain passion captivates her. Listening to her, you think: Here is a person I want on my side.
The forester, social scientist and lawyer has been fixated on sustainable development for decades. In 1982 she co-founded with her then-husband, Amory Lovins, the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Snowmass nonprofit that wrestles with sustainability issues. Now, among many other things, she leadsNatural Capitalism Solutions, a nonprofit that helps businesses turn green.
Lovins, 63, who grew up in the mountains east of Los Angeles in a family of social activists, first moved to Colorado when she was 15 to go to high school. She never looked back, and she rarely removes her black cowboy hat, at least in public.
Given Lovins’ high profile, you might expect an office with a certain kind of green grandeur — something contemporary, with concrete floors and exposed metal and beetle-kill wood. But it’s just a small, turn-of-the-last-century farmhouse with creaky floors and sagging bookshelves and a draft in downtown Hygiene, which is little more than a rural intersection with a store and a cafe in unincorporated Boulder County.
The beat-up (and charming) farm house, the miniature town with its market selling homemade tamales and local lamb — these are Lovins’ kind of places. She lives on a nearby ranch, where she keeps a lot of horses and routinely adopts dogs. But she spends a good bit of her time in this atmospheric slip of a town.
Douglas Brown: I read your book, “Climate Capitalism.” It was full of hope, but it was infused with doom, too. Are we doomed? Read more »
“Honoring Happiness: What Bhutan, a Cowboy Hat, & the Economy Have in Common”
(By Ann Teresa Rich)
7 May 2013
From the moment she took the stage, smiling in a black cowboy hat and turquoise scarf, I knew I was in for a great talk. In October 2012, I had the pleasure of attending a Hunter Lovins lecture at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is a charismatic sustainability leader.
Lovins, the president and cofounder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, was named a Time Magazine “Hero of the Planet” in 2000, and is author and co-author of numerous books, including the groundbreaking work, Natural Capitalism, and most recently, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change. Lovins’ delivery was insightful and I left with a richer understanding of social and environmental responsibility in business. I was surprised, however, by two unexpected lessons that stayed with me after the applause ended.
First, Lovins put the power of change into our hands. No one in the audience was exempt from responsibility. She engaged the audience and demonstrated the influence a single person can have. This individual power was distilled down to the daily choices we each make and how these choices make a difference in our communities and the world. To become conscious of your choices you needed to become conscious of your statement.
What does happiness have to do with sustainability?
The second theme grew more slowly into a complete concept. It was the kind of idea that you find yourself mulling over late at night. Lovins proposed happiness as a determinant of wealth both alongside, and in place of, monetary wealth. I smiled and wondered, “What does happiness have to do with sustainability?” Read more »
Eric Garcetti currently serves as a Los Angeles City Councilmember, representing the 13th District. Mr. Garcetti was elected by his peers four times to serve as President of the Los Angeles City Council from 2006 to 2012. Now, Mr. Garcetti is running for Mayor of Los Angeles – in a race that will be decided on May 21.
The Clean Coalition knows Mr. Garcetti to be a stalwart champion of clean local energy. Recently, he authored legislation to establish the 100 megawatt (MW) CLEAN LA Solar Program. According to the Los Angeles Business Council, this 100 MW of local solar will create up to 4,500 jobs, generate $500 million in economic activity and offset 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. Additionally, the Sierra Club officially endorsed Eric Garcetti as their candidate for Mayor due to his outstanding environmental record.
As Mayor, Mr. Garcetti is committed to significantly expanding the production of local solar power in Los Angeles – specifically setting a level of 1,200 MW by 2016.
Craig Lewis, Founder and Executive Director of the Clean Coalition, recently had the chance to talk with Mr. Garcetti about making Los Angeles a national leader in the new energy economy, as captured in the relevant dialog below.
Craig Lewis (CL): Mr. Garcetti, you are committed to deploying 1,200 MW of solar energy within the City of Los Angeles by 2016. Why are you so dedicated to this objective? Read more »
As Republicans soul-search about how to align themselves with the contemporary values and concerns of the American people, global climate change apparently remains verboten. In fact, the GOP is moving farther away from its own voters on the issue, not to mention the new voters it hopes to attract.
That makes last Tuesday’s election of Mark Sanford to the House of Representatives even more interesting. As governor of South Carolina in 2007, Sanford was one of several Republican governors who acknowledged anthropogenic climate change and argued that it could be addressed with conservative market-based solutions.
Sanford’s election to the House already is a fascinating story – a dramatic come-from-behind victory and a dramatic comeback for a man who left his governorship in disgrace. He won this week without the support of the Republican National Campaign Committee, but with the backing of the Tea Party Express.
Therein lies a climate-related subplot. Three years ago, the Tea Party helped defeat another Republican congressman from South Carolina — Bob Inglis – after he acknowledged the reality of global warming. Sanford will have to stand for reelection again next year. Will he be intimidated by the Tea Party and the ideological militancy of the Republican Party, and flip-flop on climate change?
Or will he begin restoring his integrity by remaining true to his past position and joining the small group of Republicans who recognize that ignoring climate change is one of the issues that makes the GOP look like “the stupid party“? Read more »
With the exception of Alfred E. Newman and those who are taking advantage of legalized pot, we Americans are very good worriers. We are even able to worry about several things at once. It’s a kind of emotional multi-tasking and we do it all the time.
Nevertheless, it’s a skill that President Obama consistently underestimates when he talks about the politics of global climate change. The most recent example came in his meeting earlier this month with high-net-worth supporters in San Francisco. As the New York Times reported it, the President lamented that the politics of the environment are “tough”.
“You may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it’s probably not your No. 1 concern,” the Times quoted him as saying. “And if people think, well, that’s shortsighted, that’s what happens when you’re struggling to get by.”
How many times are you offered the chance to really swing for the fences? To be a part of something that could shape the future?
Most days are the usual sort: e-mails to be answered, classes to be prepared, reporters to be spoken with, articles to be drafted, corporate consultations to be walked through, interns to be folded into our ongoing projects….
It’s good work.
If we’re lucky, it adds up to genuine change: a company commits to adopt more sustainable practices, students choose lives of being change agents, someone reads something I’ve written and says, “That’s how I want to spend my life.”
Then I read a piece like Joe Romm’s Climate Progress post: “The Dangerous Myth That Climate Change is Reversible” and I wonder if what I’m doing is anywhere near enough.
So when an opportunity to try for a really big difference flies at me, I swing.
People can be excused for thinking I live a glamorous life: 2013 began by setting sail (literally) with the Unreasonable Institute – on the Semester at Sea ship. Blue water over the bow, 25 kick-ass entrepreneurs to be mentored, 600 undergraduates to talk with over meals, and guest lecture to, and Bishop Desmond Tutu for company.
I loved it, but left the ship in Hawaii – it’s somewhere off Africa now – to scramble back to the Central Coast of California to give a speech for Pacific Gas and Electric. And was delighted to see that THEIR first slide was titled: The Business Case for Sustainability. Read more »
ALSO PUBLISHED BY:
27 March 2013
Would the Keystone XL pipeline make America more secure or less? What contribution would it make, if any, to stabilizing our energy supplies or keeping us out of messes elsewhere in the world? Would it have an adverse impact on global climate disruption, or no impact at all? Informed people want to know.
Unfortunately, some of the pipeline’s supporters are fogging up the issue with deceptive numbers and claims, including vastly inflated job estimates and assurances that the pipeline would make America more secure.
Not according to the people who know security best, including high-ranking retired American military leaders who are no longer gagged by their uniforms.
Among those invoking national security are 14 Republicans from the House of Representatives who wrote to President Obama to argue that his rejection of the project would raise “dire national security concerns” by prolonging our dependence on oil from countries like Venezuela. Read more »
On March 19, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its new report card on the condition of America’s infrastructure. Overall, our infrastructure in 16 categories ranging from bridges to water systems earned only a D+. ASCE estimates the United States needs to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 to bring America’s infrastructure up to good repair.
Among these systems are several that are critical to reducing the loss of life and property from the growing impacts of global climate change. Dams were graded D; levees earned only a D-; waste water and storm water control systems also were given a D. Drinking water and energy infrastructure – both vulnerable to extreme weather events – received a D and D+ respectively.
The bad news is that the cost of bringing these engineered systems up to par comes at a time when government budgets at all levels are strained, if not in crisis. The good news is that some of the services we receive from engineered systems can be provided instead by natural systems if we restore and protect them.
Ecosystems perform a wide variety of important services for free. Trees provide shade, purify air and water, and store carbon. Wetlands regulate flooding. Coastal marshes buffer communities from storm surges. Forests and soils store carbon as well as water. Many of these ecosystems have been degraded or destroyed by human development. Now, communities need to put nature back to work.
I asked three of the United States’ premier experts on ecosystem services about these issues. The first is Keith Bowers, president of Biohabitats Inc. in Baltimore. Mr. Bowers is working on conservation, restoration and regenerative design projects across the United States, from Fairbanks, Alaska to the Big Cypress Swamp in Florida. The second expert is Dr. Bob Costanza, the ecological economist who coauthored one of the first assessments of the economic value of global ecosystem services. The third expert is Prof. Ed Barbier, a prolific author and blogger on the topic and a professor of economics at the University of Wyoming.
Bill Becker (Q): It has been our practice in the United States not to value things we can’t count – particularly things we don’t think have monetary value. A great deal of work has been underway in recent years to express the value of ecosystem services in monetary units so we can quantify their benefits in terms that everyone understands. What’s the status of that work? Read more »
As debate heats up again over the Keystone XL pipeline, each side will drop cluster bombs of data on why President Obama should or should not allow the project to proceed. The conventional arguments can be summarized in two words: jobs and carbon.
There are much bigger issues to consider, however. They include Obama’s credibility in the fight against climate disruption, the United States’ credibility in international climate negotiations, and whether the president’s “all of the above” energy policy will destroy any chance we have to prevent catastrophic changes in the world’s climate.
Before considering those issues, let’s touch on jobs and carbon.
Jobs: Proponents claim the project will create 20,000 direct construction and manufacturing jobs in the United States, plus 100,000 indirect and “induced” jobs. In its latest environmental impact analysis, the State Department puts the number at 5,000 to 6,000 direct jobs during the two years it takes to build the pipeline. Read more »
Boulder Daily Camera
3 March 2013
Boulder can create a cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable power system. The analysis of Boulder’s energy options, released last Thursday, found that the formation of a city owned and operated utility would slash greenhouse gas emissions while matching Xcel’s energy rates. Importantly, by giving Boulder control over its electrical system, municipalization allows the city to drive a decentralized, clean energy transformation.
With a municipal utility, Boulder could easily implement a Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) Program — a feed-in tariff with streamlined interconnection procedures. CLEAN Programs accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by encouraging broad participation in the energy sector and incentivizing innovation, competition, and entrepreneurship — a contrast to Xcel’s current monopoly. Local businesses, residents, and organizations can be energy producers, not just consumers, by building renewable energy projects on rooftops and parking lots. Read more »
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
21 February 2013 & 20 February 2013
It has not taken long for Barack Obama to face the first big test of his resolve on combatting global climate disruption.
That test is the Keystone Pipeline, which would carry one of the dirtiest of all fossil fuels from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Obama ultimately is “the decider” on whether or not to let the pipeline proceed.
A great deal has been written about the pros and cons of Keystone, including competing claims about its impacts on jobs, the environment, gasoline prices and so on. There is strong evidence that the money would be better invested in clean energy and associated jobs.
However, too little has been written about the moral dimension of Obama’s decision. That dimension is succinctly described by K.C. Golden, the policy director at Climate Solutions. He calls it the “Keystone Principle”:
We cannot abide any major federal action that results in long-term capital investments that lock in emission trajectories that make catastrophic climate disruption inevitable. More simply, we have much patient work to do over many decades to make it better, but we must immediately stop making it worse. We are in the “era of consequences” now. Each month brings new pictures of the victims. Today and every day from here forward, we can pledge ourselves to this and demand it of the Obama Administration: We will not allow major new investments in making climate disruption worse. Read more »
ALSO POSTED BY:
13 February 2013
Here’s a novel idea. Instead of importing oil from Canadian tar sands, the United States should import Canadian energy policy.
The province of Ontario recently announced that it would become the first jurisdiction in North America to completely eliminate coal from its energy mix — a notable achievement given that Ontario generates more electricity than the vast majority of U.S. states and relied on coal for 25 percent of its total electricity supply just a decade ago. Key to the coal phase out has been Ontario’s adoption of a proven energy policy that is responsible for driving clean energy transformations around the world and has enormous potential for the United States. Fortuitously, this unparalleled policy approach is complementary to U.S. tax incentives and Renewable Portfolio Standards. Read more »
ALSO POSTED BY:
13 January 2013
Barack Obama is very likely the last American president who can keep us from plunging helplessly off the climate cliff. Judging by his Inaugural and State of the Union speeches, he gets that.
It has been a long time coming.
Lyndon Johnson was the first president on record to be warned that unless our energy policies changed, climate change would become apparent, and perhaps irreversible, by the turn of the century. In 1965, Johnson’s panel of science advisors told him:
By the year 2000 there will be about 25% more CO2 in the atmosphere than at present. This will modify the heat balance of the atmosphere to such an extent that marked changes in climate, not controllable through local or even national efforts, could occur. Now, 48 years and eight presidents later, climate disruption is accelerating more quickly than most scientists predicted. U.S. energy policy is still dominated by denial, by the political influence of fossil energy industries, and by Congress’s negligent disregard for climate science. The growing consensus now is that the world is locked in to global temperature increases well above the 2 degrees Centigrade that scientists say would give us an even chance of avoiding the worst impacts of global warming.
In 2009, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that global greenhouse gas emissions must begin to decline by 2015 if we are to keep climate disruption from spinning beyond control.
“It is not enough to set any aspirational goal for 2050,” he said. “It is critically important that we bring about a commitment to reduce emissions effectively by 2020.”
That threshold year –2015 – is happening on Obama’s watch. Read more »
Kuensel, the newspaper of Bhutan
5 February 2013
This is an interview done while Hunter was in Bhutan 29 January-3 February 2013. Much of the work that was done while she was there is still under embargo–stay tuned!
Kuensel: Did we make any headway?
Hunter Lovins: Definitively. It’s mind bogglingly amazing that you could pull this diversity of disciplines, of points of views, of stature and come to the kind of consensus and coherence that will be reflected through this process.
There are people here who believe the problem is within each individual, the answer is building within each individual the capacity to find happiness. There are people here, like me, who believe the problem is the system – economic, political, business – and the answers lie in policy, in transforming how business is done, in laws, in economic measures.
You bring those two divergent points of views together and you’re bound to have sparks flying. Read more »
ALSO POSTE BY:
4 February 2013
There’s no question that when it comes to fixing national problems, Congress has bigger power tools than the President of the United States. But the President is not powerless. He has a variety of authorities conferred by the Constitution, validated by the courts, implied by tradition or delegated by Congress.
Nor does President Obama lack ideas on how to use those tools, especially on the topic of climate disruption. Since he announced in his Inaugural address that confronting climate change will be one his priorities in the second term, Obama has been bombarded with recommendations from outside groups.
He has tools. He has ideas. The next question is how aggressively he’ll use them. Several factors will be in play: his philosophy of government, competition from other issues on how he spends his political capital, his relationship with Congress or what he wants it to be, whether climate disruption has become a gut issue for him, and whether he has the support of the American people. More about that later.
Many of the President’s tools are well known, and the Obama Administration used a number of them on climate and energy issues during his first term. There’s the veto. There’s each president’s authority to appoint the smartest people in the country to lend their expertise in key government posts. There’s the power of the bully pulpit, used so successfully by past presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy to rally the nation to big achievements. Read more »
ALSO POSTED BY:
22 & 23 January 2013
With a new foreign policy team about to join the Obama Administration and with the possibility of budget cuts for the Department of Defense, are changes ahead in how the United States approaches national security? That question is on the minds of thought leaders in the security and defense communities. In the discussion, a novel idea is emerging: that sustainable development at home is a critical dimension of America’s foreign policy and national security strategy. (For examples, see here and here.)
One of the thought leaders is Marine Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby. Before retiring from the Marine Corps in 2011, he served as a special strategic assistant to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. While in that post, Mykleby and his colleague, Navy Captain Wayne Porter, proposed a new vision for a 21st Century American grand strategy in a paper entitled “A National Strategic Narrative.” They suggested that the U.S. needs to build security through sustainable development at home, creating the credibility and influence to lead the world down a more lasting peace and prosperity. That path, they suggested, is less expensive and more effective than investing solely in the traditional tools of foreign policy, which have been mostly dominated by military power.
I asked Col. Mykleby about these and other issues facing President Obama in his second term. The resulting interview is long but well worth reading. It offers a fresh approach to national security from someone who has served at the highest levels of the U.S. military.
Bill Becker: As Congress and the President hammer out an agreement to cut federal spending, what are your concerns about the impact on our military effectiveness and national security? Can we save money without sacrificing security?
Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby: To be honest, I’m not too concerned about our long-term military effectiveness. We have the finest, most professional, best-equipped, and most lethal military force the world has ever seen. I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon, with or without budget cuts. I say this simply because I believe the quality of our military is mostly tied to the quality of our people (and the quality of their training). I’m not saying budget cuts won’t be painful, but we need to have some historical perspective on this. Our national defense budget historically has been cyclical; it looks like a sine wave. We’ve survived budget cuts before; we’ll survive them again. During my career in the Marine Corps, we never seemed to have enough “stuff.” That’s why I always found it useful to remember the words of former Marine Corps Commandant General Al Gray, “Fight with what you’ve got; make what you need.” Read more »
Dawn of the great day. I woke before the alarm, packed my gear and got gone downstairs to catch the bus to Ensenada to board the boat.
With some anxiety. I’d asked the clueless ol’ gal sitting on the Semester at Sea desk in the lobby of the Hilton about the details of the bus to meet the boat in Mexico next morning, to be told that the bus was going Wednesday AM. Not tomorrow.
But my hotel reso was for one night.
Gawd, did we get it wrong? I checked with the inveterate Nancy, my Exec, who assured me that Taylor, Chief of Staff for Unreasonable at Sea, had assured her that the bus went Tuesday. But she’d check.
Course Taylor was nowhere to be found – no doubt managing the thousand and one last minute details or getting this show organized. Several hours later when Nancy’d corralled Taylor word came back: the bus goes tomorrow.
But when at 5:45 in the cold dark of a San Diego alley, with no bus, no fellow passengers , no nothing, the anxiety gnawed. I sat. Big trucks crawled by. As did the minutes.
Lights rounded the corner. A bus. Gonzalez Transit. OK, that’s a start. Read more »
The coast of Mexico stretches away south. From my hotel room in San Diego I can see where I will journey tomorrow to join the Semester at Sea ship to sail to Hawaii. As a mentor for the new program, Unreasonable at Sea, I’ll be working with 25 young entrepreneurs who have joined this inaugural program to bring social entrepreneuring to the world.
The lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses come to me:
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
Not quite. I’ll only be on the boat to Hawaii. I’m due on the central coast of California to give a speech for Pacific Gas and Electric on the 17th. We’ll dock in Hilo on the 15th, I’ll spend the day with the Governor, various dignitaries and our Unreasonable entrepreneurs, then hop a night flight to LA, thence to San Luis Obispo, grab some sleep and go back to work.
9 January 2013
Imagine this: You live in beautiful house with the best of everything. However, when you turn on your faucets, only one-fifth of the water you pay for comes out. The rest leaks from bad plumbing onto your basement floor.
That describes America’s situation with energy. Only 13% of the energy we burn results in useful work. The rest is wasted by inefficiencies in buildings, power plants, infrastructure, transportation systems and equipment. Much of it ends up as pollution.
Just as a responsible householder would fix his plumbing, a responsible nation would fix the leaks in its energy economy. Responsible businesses are figuring this out and are saving money with green energy, including greater efforts to get more work out of every energy dollar, cutting their greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
I discussed this recently with Hunter Lovins, one of the world’s leading experts on the business case for sustainable energy. Hunter, who Newsweek has called “the green business icon,” co-authored Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security in 1982; Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution in 2010; and Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change with Boyd Cohen in 2011, now available in paperback as The Way Out: Kick-Starting Capitalism to Save Our Economic Ass.
In her latest book, Hunter writes:
Believe in climate change. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. But you’d better understand this: the best route to rebuilding our economy, our cities, and our job markets, as well as assuring national security, is doing precisely what you would do if you were scared to death about climate change. Whether you’re the head of a household or the CEO of a multinational corporation, embracing efficiency, innovation, renewables, carbon markets, and new technologies is the smartest decision you can make. It’s the most profitable, too. And, oh yes — you’ll help save the planet.
This post was a two-part interview in Huffington Post.
Bill Becker: In his first news conference after the election, President Obama said he’d like a national conversation on combating global climate change. However, he suggested — and I’ll paraphrase him here — that the conversation needs to address the job and economic benefits of climate action, because that’s foremost on the minds of the American people. You’ve worked with companies around the world on the business case for reducing their carbon emissions. What kind of reception have you found?
Hunter Lovins: A warm one. Smart companies recognize that the best way to cut their carbon emissions is to cut their use of energy through implementing cost-effective energy efficiency, because this cuts their costs. Read more »
(Hunter Lovins answers Reader Questions)
8 January 2013
Late last year, Sustainable Industries’ Ilana Lipsett & Zach Sharpe interviewed Hunter Lovins, and invited you to participate in the conversation. Lovins responds to your questions below, addressing the US military and its energy efficiency advances, divesting from polluting companies, who is winning the solar race, and where to find daily inspiration to continue this work.
Reader Question: I’ve studied and followed sustainability for years now and am fully on board. It strikes me though that so much of the ideas almost seem common sense, and certainly logical. Why is there such resistance to the idea? Does it require a belief and understanding of our interconnected nature?
As a follow-on, I (and I know thousands of others too), want to work in the sustainability field. I am ready to give up a lucrative and specialized set of knowledge to work in this arena. However, it strikes me that really anyone can do this type of work. From a career perspective, am I looking at this all wrong, is it silly to give up a specialized skill set and get into this field (even if just to see if I like it)? –Anonymous
Hunter Lovins: Yes, much of sustainability is common sense, though as has often been remarked, that is an uncommon commodity.
Why the resistance? Margaret Mead once said that the only person who likes change is a wet baby. And I’d argue that the baby squalls all through the process. Humans delight in change and fear it, all at once.
Change that is painted as a sacrifice, as much of the environmental movement has portrayed the shifts necessary, is particularly unpalatable. The corporate interests, who, as Bill McKibben has pointed out in his excellent Rolling Stone interview, Exxon and the other fossil fuel companies have a business model that rests entirely on roasting the planet. It is very much in their interest to portray any changes that dampen their sales as extremely distasteful, even un-American. Read more »
ALSO POSTED BY:
19 December 2012
Superstorm Sandy may be remembered years from now as the pivot point in the United States’ response to global climate change. Politically speaking, Sandy’s true power was not its wind and water; it was the fact that it hit the principal center of America’s population, financial institutions and media.
It was another wake-up call, but with more people in high places hearing the alarm. Network news anchors are now acknowledging that climate change may be the common denominator in all the weird and destructive weather we’ve seen in recent years. Mitt Romney’s view that we don’t need FEMA is now unthinkable, and Congress should be getting the message that climate change is a budget buster — that investments in mitigation are far cheaper than paying for damages.
The Paul Reveres of climate change may find New Yorkers and New Jersyans joining their ranks. This is a case where “fugetaboutit” should become “do something about it.” Read more »
(by LH Lovins & Colette Crouse, 2012 NCS Intern)
18 December 2012
Ask any member of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Group or Sustainable Apparel Coalition and they will tell you consumers are not the ones driving sustainability. Companies such as prAna, Patagonia and GoLite were weaving environmental good into the fibers of their operations long before ‘green’ became a buzzword. For them, using — or abusing — sustainability purely as a marketing strategy deflates the concept’s complexity, dilutes company values, and ultimately disserves their customer.
For Beth Jensen, head of the SWG, sustainability is not a marketing device but rather “the license to do business.” Director of Sustainability at prAna, Nicole Bassett, concurs: “Marketing becomes a laundry list — it’s organic, it’s fair trade, it’s made of recycled materials. … And we’ve completely destroyed the true essence of what we’re trying to get across in sustainability.” Read more »
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13 December 2012
For those of us concerned about the future of the United States in an era of global climate change and international competition over diminishing natural resources, the new report from the National Intelligence Council (NIC) contains goods news and bad news.
The good news: The NIC predicts that in a “likely tectonic shift” the United States could become energy independent in the next 10 years. That’s a goal we’ve been trying to achieve since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.
The bad news: The NIC predicts we’ll get there by increasing our addiction to fossil fuels. In other words, we’ll stop importing oil but we’ll export more greenhouse gases and make ourselves more vulnerable to rising seas and weather disasters. Surprisingly, the nation’s top intelligence agency doesn’t directly acknowledge this rather important trade-off. Read more »
(by Illana Lipsett & Zach Sharpe)
11 Dec 2012
As Natural Capitalism Solutions celebrates its tenth anniversary, Hunter Lovins reflects on what has changed in the sustainability world over the past decade, how companies have woken up to the profitability of sustainability, why things are going to get worse before they get better, and how small businesses and cities may hold the key to climate protection. Ilana Lipsett and Zach Sharpe of Sustainable Industries spoke with Lovins, and invite you to continue the conversation. Lovins answered reader questions through the Sustainable Industries web site and is happy to do so here as well.
Sustainable Industries: In your opinion, what is the most pressing sustainability challenge we are facing right now?
Hunter Lovins: Bill McKibben is right: It’s climate. We solve this one or we lose life as we know it on this planet. Three of the earth’s ecosystems are tipping into collapse: coral reefs, oceans, and the Amazon. If we continue business as usual, by the end of the century there will be no coral reefs because of warming water. The oceans are acidifying, and the Amazon is warming and drying. We could lose the earth’s lungs.
There are many challenges facing us. All of the worse ones tend to be tied to climate change. And it’s frustrating because as my recent book, The Way Out: Kick-starting Capitalism to Save Our Economic Ass, has shown, we have all the solutions. Implementing them would make us a great deal of money. … And at the end of the day, if climate change is a hoax we’ll just make a lot of money.
SI: How have you seen behaviors toward sustainability change in the last 10 years? Read more »
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29 November 2012
This is the last in a three-part post about what the Atlantic Coast can learn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from victims of past natural disasters.
When it comes to solving problems, elected officials are inclined to support solutions that allow people to keep behaving as they always have, but with less damage. That’s how it has been with America’s response to weather-related disasters.
It’s a response that won’t work anymore. America’s experience with weather disasters over the past century proves that the least political risk often imposes the greatest physical and financial risks. What’s more, as federal disaster policies are structured today, all taxpayers are helping insure people who choose to live in harm’s way and all of us share the cost of cleaning up the messes after disasters occur.
It’s questionable whether these policies can be sustained politically; it’s almost certain they can’t be sustained financially. There is a dangerous confluence of factors coming together like a super storm. At the same time we are experiencing more extreme weather and after years of destroying natural systems that once protected us, our disaster prevention infrastructure is aging and funds to fix it are scarce.
To be clearer, the natural disasters I refer to in this post are not really natural. They are the extreme weather events influenced by anthropogenic climate change, made worse by the destruction of ecosystems and by poor building practices, and made more deadly by people’s insistence on living and working in known hazard areas. They include floods, heat waves, extreme storms, hurricanes, drought and wildfires. Read more »
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28 November 2012
This is the second in a three-part post about what the Atlantic Coast can learn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from victims of other natural disasters.
In 1993, flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers produced one of the country’s worst natural disasters at the time, killing 50 people and causing $15 billion in damages. Hundreds of flood control levees failed in nine Midwestern states. Parts of the region remained underwater for five months.
When floodwaters finally began to subside, pubic television aired a movie about Soldiers Grove’s relocation to higher ground (see Part 1). People in several of the communities destroyed by “The Great Flood of 1993” saw the movie and tracked me down where I was working at the time — the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) — to ask for advice as they considered moving out of the floodplain. Read more »
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27 November 2012
This is the first in a three-part post about the potential for sustainable recovery along the Atlantic Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
As the communities on the East Coast contemplate rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, here is a story they might consider. I’ve told it before. It seems like a good time to tell it again.
In the late 1970s, a small community in Wisconsin made a big decision. The Village of Soldiers Grove decided that when people and nature come into conflict, it’s sometimes better for people to get out of the way.
A little history is necessary. From its founding in 1856, the Soldiers Grove had been a river town. It was built on the banks of the Kickapoo River, a 126-mile-long tributary of the Wisconsin River in the southwestern corner of the state.
Being “river rats”, as the townspeople liked to call themselves, made sense then. The river furnished mechanical power for the village’s principal industry, a sawmill, and provided an easy way to transport logs cut from the forested hillsides upstream. The Kickapoo eventually provided the village with electricity, too. Read more »
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19 November 2012
In his first post-election news conference, President Obama made clear that his concern about global climate change will not push the economy and jobs off the top of his priority list.
“If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader,” he said, “I think that’s something that the American people would support.”
Before 24 hours passed, a nonpartisan group in Washington D.C. – the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS) – issued a detailed, data-rich report that shows climate action meets the President’s test. It will indeed advance economic growth and create jobs. Moreover, it will significantly improve America’s energy security.
The CCS report gives Obama some good news to share with Americans who have been victimized by extreme weather, as well as those who are victims of the recession. It also gives his Administration some good news for the international community when it meets later this month in Doha, Qatar, to continue work on a global climate treaty. In the past, the United States has been regarded as a laggard in cutting carbon emissions.
CCS – a diverse group of experts best known for helping states create and develop broad support for climate action plans – said its economic and energy modeling shows the United States is on a trajectory to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 23% by 2020, compared to estimates in 2005 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Sliced another way, we’re on the path to achieving nearly 70% of President Obama’s goal for carbon emission reductions by 2020. Read more »
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6 November 2012
That observation by Charles Darwin has interesting implications in these last weeks of the presidential election campaign. It suggests that both candidates may be missing what’s most important to keeping America safe, strong and competitive in the years ahead.
Jobs, education, tax reform and energy security all are important, of course. But the key to America’s success will be our willingness to adapt to the new realities of the 21st century.
One of those realities is that economic development as we have practiced it, and as it is now being replicated around the world, is rapidly pushing us toward several critical ecological boundaries and has already exceeded others. These boundaries are important not only because they threaten some species and some regions of the world; they’re important because exceeding them is an existential threat to continued peace and prosperity. These are not the relatively isolated and repairable environmental problems of the past. They involve global systems that support life, including the oceans, soils and freshwater resources. They also include the atmosphere’s ability to absorb man-made pollution without destabilizing the climate. The most available way to manage that risk is to reduce and eventually stop burning oil and coal to fuel economic development. Read more »
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23 October 2012
Earlier this month, federal officials streamlined the development of centralized, large-scale, solar power plants by establishing 17 new “solar energy zones” on 285,000 acres of public land. According to Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, this cutting of red tape will expand solar energy production and help the nation remain competitive in the global clean energy race. While this move marks a step in the right direction, an integral piece of the puzzle is still missing. Policymakers must also streamline the development of local energy, known as distributed generation (DG).
The role of DG in the global renewable energy market is rapidly growing. In fact, Germany’s solar market — the world’s largest — is dominated by DG. Of all Germany’s solar capacity, which is large enough to meet half the country’s midday energy needs, 80 percent is on rooftops. DG, not large-scale generation, is powering Germany’s solar success. Streamlining DG in the United States, which boasts significantly stronger renewable resources than Germany, will put the nation on a path towards lasting energy independence. Read more »
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19 October 2012
While energy got some airtime in the second presidential debate, neither candidate hit at the weakest spots in the other’s positions. Mitt Romney’s energy platform ignores the substantial downsides of fossil fuels and reveals a misunderstanding of how the rea
l world works. President Obama has presided over a national energy strategy that he admits is a “hodgepodge”.
This is a topic that deserves far more attention before Nov. 6. After all, we all use energy. We all pay for it. We all breathe its pollution. We all depend on it to be there when we need it. If there is one issue that affects every American of every age, place and income level, it’s energy.
Here are the some of the details that didn’t come out in the debate, starting with a look at Gov. Romney’s policies, then Obama’s:
The energy paper the Romney campaign released in August presumably is the definitive statement of his energy plans. He proposes that the United States achieve energy independence by 2020 by producing more oil, coal and natural gas. What we couldn’t produce ourselves, we’d import from Canada and Mexico. Read more »
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22 October 2012
An ongoing argument in the presidential election campaign is whether Gov. Romney’s or President Obama’s positions are better for small businesses on issues such as government regulation and energy policy. I asked David Levine for his opinion.
Levine is cofounder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), a growing non-partisan coalition of business networks and businesses committed to creating a vision, a framework and policies that support a vibrant, just and sustainable economy. Founded in 2009, ASBC’s mission is to inform and engage business leaders, and to educate policy makers and the media, about the need and opportunities for a sustainable economy.
ASBC and its organizational members represent more than 150,000 businesses and more than 300,000 individual entrepreneurs, owners, executives, investors and business professionals across the United States. Members cover the gamut of local and state chambers of commerce, microenterprise, social enterprise, green and sustainable business groups, local living economy groups, women business leaders, economic development organizations and investor and business incubators
Here’s what Levine had to say.
1) Both presidential candidates have highlighted the value of small businesses in creating jobs. How important is mitigating and adapting to climate change to small business development and success?
There is a particular concern among our members about the consequences of human-induced climate change. As the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010 argues, “Economic growth alone is unlikely to be fast or equitable enough to counter threats from climate change, particularly if it remains carbon intensive and accelerates global warming.” The World Bank goes on to say, “climate policy cannot be framed as a choice between growth and climate change. In fact, climate-smart policies are those that enhance development, reduce vulnerability, and finance the transition to low-carbon growth paths.” Read more »
10 October 2012
Remember the feeling of excitement on your first day of class? Imagine the first day of creating a whole new MBA program.
I was honored last month to give the inaugural lecture to a class of 19 candidates for a Masters in Sustainable Business, the new MBA created by Bard College. Unlike most MBA programs, the fundamentals of doing business in sustainable ways are woven throughout the entire curriculum. More, we will be using the city of New York as a living laboratory – yep, that’s a class that all students are enrolled in – exploring how one of the world’s great cities is implementing more sustainable practices, what the best businesses are doing in sustainable finance, manufacturing, retail and services.
As part of this, all students will be blogging here, describing the cool new companies they are finding, the best practices of making it happen and the cool things that they are learning in their classes.
Want to come along for the ride? Sit back and enjoy. Every week now, the students and faculty will be bringing you the best of Bard MBA.
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1 October 2012
The Obama and Romney campaigns are making the point that there are big differences between the positions of the two presidential candidates, and America has a clear choice between two futures.
There are no issues on which those statements are truer than energy policy and its impact on global climate change. The candidates haven’t said much about climate change so far. They should be forced to talk about it in one of the upcoming presidential debates, preferably the first of the three mano a mano face-offs on Oct. 3 in Denver.
Every interest group in the country would like to see its issues highlighted in a presidential debate. Why should climate change be at the top of the list? Read more »
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27 September 2012
|Written by Hanna Schum
Alameda County’s 9,000 employees range from sheriffs to librarians to landscapers. County employees provide health and human services to the most vulnerable populations, run elections, inspect restaurants, ensure the safe use of agricultural pesticides, prevent floods, and prepare for emergencies. Even though these employees work in different departments with very different day-to-day tasks, they have a common interest in making the county a better place to live and work. A recent countywide survey demonstrated that thousands of county employees are eager to make more sustainable choices. However, creating a structure in which employees are able to make those decisions is what makes Alameda County stand out.
I had the opportunity to talk to Emily Sadigh, Sustainability Project Manager at Alameda County, about their sustainability team’s success with employee engagement.
Hanna Schum: Tell me about how your program to engage employees in climate action started.
Emily Sadigh: When our Board of Supervisors adopted the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 (and later the interim goal of 15% by 2020), a collaborative effort started among 20 county agencies to achieve the goal. This effort ultimately led to the Alameda County Climate Action Plan for Government Operations and Services.
Employees submitted more than 500 ideas for the plan at employee events and through the intranet, email, and their agencies’ Read more »
27 September 2012
Why Give a Damn: New corporate leadership and sustainability practices are reshaping the business landscape. Learn how you can help shape the future you want to live in by voting with your dollars.
Fall settles softly over the St. Vrain Valley, as gold tinges the cottonwoods and snow softens the Rocky Mountain front. Warm days, cool evenings – perfect for sitting on my deck as the horses graze and reflecting on times past.
It’s been a year and a bit since my friend Ray Anderson died, and this evening I’m missing him. Ray was one of the first traditional industrialists to recognize that everything that his company did was contributing to the destruction of life as we know it on earth. And, he vowed, his company, Interface, would be the first company of the next industrial revolution.
His next observation was that he hadn’t a clue how to do that. So he called Paul Hawken, who, along with Amory Lovins, would become my co-author of the book Natural Capitalism – tho in 1994 it remained a gleam in our eyes – and asked for help. Paul called a bunch of us and we became Ray’s “Dream Team”. Together we guided Interface to become the poster child of sustainable business, and Ray became a friend. Read more »
Note: Hunter Lovins is a past Wrigley Lecture Series speaker at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and was a keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education held at ASU in 2006.
Business is probably the only institution on the planet that is nimble and well-managed enough to respond to the global sustainability crises facing humanity. Such challenges as the impacts of climate change, soaring resource prices, poverty, and loss of biodiversity are threats, but are also opportunities. The businesses that successfully respond will be big winners in the marketplace.
Business sustainability leaders already outperform their less sustainable peers. Over 40 studies from all the major management consulting houses, as well as from academic journals such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Review, show that the companies that are sustainability leaders have higher and faster growing stock value, better financial results, lower risks, and more engaged workforces than other companies. Read more »
18 September 2012
Extreme weather, midwestern droughts, record commodity prices and global economic instability are only a few of the sustainability challenges facing business. As governments prove unable to respond, society looks to companies to take greater responsibility in implementing solutions. Havas Media Lab’s Global Report, which surveys 50,000 customers across 14 countries, found that nearly 85% of consumers worldwide expect companies to become actively involved in solving these issues (an increase of 15% from 2010). Only 28% of respondents felt that companies today are working as hard as they should to solve the big social and environmental challenges people care about. Trust in corporations is at an all-time low. Edelman’s Global Trust Barometer 2012 found that CEOs, as sources of information, are trusted only by 24% of the population.
In the last century, companies felt that the responsible way to contribute, and perhaps buy consumer goodwill was to create a corporate foundation and give money to community charities, libraries, art museums and symphonies. There’s nothing wrong with such giving, but it’s not going to save the world. Read more »
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13 September 2012
More than seven million Californians live within 50 miles of the San Onofre nuclear plant, which was abruptly shut down after safety inspectors discovered radioactive steam leaking at the facility in late January. The unexpected closure of San Onofre raises legitimate concerns about the safe operation of nuclear plants. To further complicate matters, both of California’s aging nuclear plants — San Onofre and Diablo Canyon — are located near active fault lines, greatly jeopardizing the safety of millions of Californians in the event of an earthquake comparable to the one that caused multiple meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
There is, however, one upside of San Onofre’s indefinite closure. Now, state policymakers have a pivotal opportunity to significantly expand the use of distributed renewable energy resources to offset San Onofre’s lost generation capacity. A shift to distributed solar, wind and biomass energy generation would prove cost-effective for California ratepayers and enhance grid reliability should future outages at nuclear plants take place.
In fact, reliance on San Onofre nuclear plant has proven exorbitantly costly for Californians. Southern California Edison (SCE), the majority owner of the plant, charges ratepayers about $54 million per monthfor San Onofre, even now, as the plant provides no services whatsoever. Furthermore, ratepayers funded a$671 million replacement of the plant’s ailing steam generators just two years ago — the very same generators that are now leaking, forcing the plant to shut down. Read more »
6 September 2012
Why Give a Damn: In a world in trouble, entrepreneurs are our best hope of implementing solutions to the crises facing us and bringing prosperity to our communities.
On a planet beset with recession, erosion of all major ecosystems, the climate crisis, and political instability, it is clear that governments are incapable of implementing needed solutions, large companies are committed to preserving their incumbency, and citizens too unorganized to respond effectively.
Governments are high-centered, wheels spinning pathetically in thin air. The recent UN meeting, Rio+20, was supposed to be a world summit of global leaders. Mr. Obama didn’t even bother to attend. Many government delegations “bracketed” language agreed to 20 years ago at the first Rio Earth Summit – meaning that they no longer agree to abide by even those weak commitments. Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, a periodic report from scientists around the world, made clear that many of the earth’s ecosystems are tipping into collapse i. The International Energy Agency and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (traditional boosters of unlimited growth) both recently warned that the world has locked in a 2°C rise in global temperatures. If world leaders fail to implement climate protection by 2017 it will become impossible to prevent locking in a 6°C increase – a driver of climate change that is likely not survivable by life as we know it. Extreme droughts in 2012, likely to be the hottest year ever in recorded history, wiped out the Midwestern American corn crop – leading to a doubling in the cost of that food staple, exacerbating the 60 year drought that now threatens famine for 18 million people across the North of Africa.
Read more »
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5 August 2012
With Congress paralyzed late last year, President Barack Obama decided to assert his authority more aggressively on a number of issues: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.” He coined a slogan: “We Can’t Wait“.
Global climate change certainly falls into the “we can’t wait” category. It’s a very bad influence on things we care about — a healthy economy, affordable food, protection from natural disasters, lower taxes, control of federal spending, and the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, to name a few. That should lift global warming to the top of the candidates’ platforms and the next president’s agenda.
So, when the first presidential debate takes place for Oct. 3 in Denver with a focus on domestic issues, somebody should ask the candidates this question:
Top climate experts are saying that global climate change will increase the likelihood we’ll see much more extreme weather in the future, even more severe than the droughts, floods, wildfires and heat waves we’re seeing today. Let’s assume that the Congress remains deadlocked next year on the climate issue. What will you do as president to address the risk that these experts are correct? Read more »
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2 August 2012
The atmospheric thermostat isn’t on hold while we wait for a better political moment. And outside the beltway where voters are dealing with drought, floods, fires and heat waves — and soon, higher food prices — the right political moment may already have arrived. What remains is for our current and prospective elected leaders to seize it.
That might not be as difficult as some think. In a poll last March by George Mason University and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 82 percent of respondents said they had personally experienced one or more extreme weather events during the previous year; more than one in three Americans said they had been personally harmed by extreme weather. A Gallup poll the same month found that 77 percent of Americans say they are “personally worried” about global warming. The well-documented risk is that these impacts will grow much more severe if we don’t address them.
At this point in the campaign, neither Gov. Romney nor President Obama has said much about the issue. It may be an uncomfortable topic for them. A year ago, Gov. Romney acknowledged anthropogenic global warming and said “it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases.” Several months later, he flip-flopped without apology. Read more »
Nothing conveys brand like an engaged employee. Nothing conveys a sustainable brand like employees whose day jobs involve implementing their company’s commitment to greater responsibility. Integrating your sustainability program with a strategy to inspire your workforce can drive your innovation. Purpose-driven businesses generate excitement, loyalty, creativity, productivity and profits. This month we explore some outstanding stories, creative strategies and tools for engaging your team in building the integrity of your market-leading sustainable brand. Read more »
|ALSO POSTED BY:
26 July 2012
|Written by Lily Thaisz (Program Manager) & Colette Crouse
What do blue jeans have in common with burritos and shampoo?
All are making the business case for sustainability and employee engagement. And they are doing so by empowering their employees, unifying company and employee values, and collaborating internally and externally. As part of this month’s guest editorship of the July Issue in Focus on employee engagement, we received case stories from Levi Strauss & Co, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Aveda, which are using these practices to achieve their goals.
Levi’s uses engagement to break a “dirty little habit”
Becca Prowda, senior manager of Community Affairs at Levi Strauss & Co., is a woman on a mission. Two missions, to be exact: corporate social responsibility, and wearing her jeans at least five times before washing them. Read more »
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26 July 2012
|Written by Toby Russell (CEO) & Thomas Hendrick
Sustainability is more than just a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) checklist or making a commitment to reduce carbon emissions. It spurs innovation, creates new ways of delivering services, and often comes from ideas by employees at every level of an organization.
Employees are the ones who enable a company to reach its sustainability goals. Do employees turn off computers after work? Do they feel empowered to act on inefficiencies that they encounter? Do they see sustainability as a part of their job? Are they motivated? If the answer is no, then the sustainability policy is nothing more than empty rhetoric.
Companies often start their sustainability engagement by creating a cross-functional ‘green team’ that acts as a catalyst for their programs. This approach can yield phenomenal results but, more often than not, the enthusiasm gained from the initial quick wins dwindles and teams soon lose momentum and suffer from burnout.
How then do you continue to motivate employees around sustainability? Here are a few tips on how to use web 2.0 tactics to bolster your sustainability engagement programs:
Create an environment of trust
Many companies ban social media use (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) at the workplace, worrying that employees will be distracted by photos of weekend vacations or waterskiing squirrel videos. Yet when it comes to engaging employees around a specific initiative, Read more »
When Students Become The Masters: The Importance of Embedding Sustainability in Secondary Education Curriculums
The diverse crises that the planet faces will only be solved when companies and communities implement authentic and innovative sustainability practices. It is therefore encouraging that there are an increasing number of colleges and universities now including sustainability as part of their campus management programs and curriculum.
Are these programs effective enough to create the next generation of thought leaders our world needs? The answer is, “No. Not yet.”
A good start is underway, however. Pressure from companies, students, and ranking organizations is forcing colleges and universities to embrace sustainability.
The business community is demanding candidates with sustainability training. Accenture found that over 93 percent of CEO’s see sustainability as crucial to business success, with 88 percent stating it needs to be fully embedded into their strategy and operations. Read more »
In the olympics of living, there used to be a moment when an older generation “passed the torch” to the next generation in line.
In his inaugural speech a half-century ago, John Kennedy declared “The Torch has been passed to a new generation”.
Washington Post columnist David Broder used the same phrase when Bill Clinton became the first baby-boomer to be elected President of the United States, shaped by influences far different than his predecessors experienced during World War II.
After the disenchanted class pitched their tents in the streets last year, journalist Gregory Stanford wrote: “The nation’s Occupy movement has picked up the torch that Martin Luther King Jr. once carried to light the path to justice.” National Review blogger Mark Steyn used the same phrase last December in an analysis of events in Egypt.
But today as the leading edge of the baby-boom generation reaches the traditional torch-passing age, the tradition is obsolete. The mores, norms, policies and behaviors of past generations have left the torch in far too poor a condition to pass in good conscience. Insofar as we can fix it, we all need to get a grip: Baby Boomers as well as Generations X, Y and Z. Read more »
Our very own Bill Becker attended Rio+20, the United Nations sustainability summit in Rio deJaneiro, Brazil this June. Bill attended to display the Future We Want (FWW) in the form of a visual media exhibit—this project has become a global platform calling for positive solutions for a sustainable future. Bill also went as a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s international Task Force on Climate Change, which at the conference, issued a detailed report on current climate science; described the consequences of inaction; and offered several recommendations to world leaders. Bill gave several speeches, including an address to the World Youth Congress, which met just before Rio+20 began.
Returning home from the 2009 U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Bill said, “After the failure at Copenhagen, people in the environmental movement were not only disappointed, they were depressed.” However, the mood from Rio+20 held more optimism. “Rio+20 also ended with frustration, but the mood was far different. It was as if the tens of thousands of people who hoped for a better result said, ‘Okay, our leaders won’t lead. No surprise. We’ll just have to go home and do it ourselves.’ There was a feeling of resolve.” Read more »
On the eve of the United Nations’ Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a task force created by Mikhail Gorbachev urged international delegates to “face the urgent realities” of global climate change.
The appeal came as the Gorbachev’s Climate Change Task Force issued a detailed report on climate change, the result of two years of research and peer review. By the time the report was issued, it had been signed by nearly 40 experts and high-level public officials ranging from scientists and economists to philosophers and former heads of state.
Within hours of its release, the report was endorsed by an international organization of mayors from 164 cities in 21 countries, representing 170 million people. Read more »
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12 June 2012
It was 20 years ago this month that Severn Suzuki, then 12, gave the speech of her life. As she stood on the podium at the first Earth Summit, Severn’s admonition to dignitaries from 178 nations also became the speech of her generation.
The topic was sustainable development. The place was Rio de Janeiro, where heads of state, delegates and negotiators assembled to consider how humankind and the rest of the natural world could co-exist, to the everlasting benefit of both.
Ten years later, Severn recalled the experience and assessed the world’s progress in a column for TIME magazine:
“I am only a child,” I told them. “Yet I know that if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this would be. In school you teach us not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? You grownups say you love us, but I challenge you, please, to make your actions reflect your words.”
I spoke for six minutes and received a standing ovation. Some of the delegates even cried. I thought that maybe I had reached some of them, that my speech might actually spur action. Now, a decade from Rio, after I’ve sat through many more conferences, I’m not sure what has been accomplished. My confidence in the people in power and in the power of an individual’s voice to reach them has been deeply shaken.
Later this month, international negotiators and heads of state will meet again in Rio to assess progress over the last two decades and to discuss new commitments. The theme of Rio+20, as the conference is unofficially called, is “The Future We Want” – an invocation, perhaps, of Buckminster Fuller’s observation that “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”
Severn’s name today is Severn Cullis-Suzuki. She is married and has her own child. If she were invited to the podium at Rio+20, what would she say? We asked her. Green Cross International taped her answer for The Future We Want project. Read more »
The Solutions Journal
The global economy rests on a knife’s edge. The financial crash of 2008 caused 50 trillion dollars and 80 million jobs to evaporate.1 And the wreck is not over. This article describes the major challenges facing the economy and proposes solutions.
The International Labor Organization sets forth the following grim statistics:2
- Studies of 69 of 118 countries with available data show an increase in the percentage of people reporting worsening living standards in 2010 compared to 2006.
- People in half of 99 countries surveyed say they have little confidence in their national governments.
- In 2010, more than 50 percent of people in developed countries lacked decent jobs (in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain, it is more than 70 percent).
- The share of profit in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased in 83 percent of countries studied between 2000 and 2009, but productive investment stagnated globally during the same period.
- Growth in corporate profits increased dividend payouts (from 29 percent of profits in 2000 to 36 percent in 2009) and financial investment (from 81.2 percent of GDP in 1995 to 132.2 percent in 2007). Bankers regained their bonuses, but workers face falling wages.
- Food price volatility doubled from 2006 through 2010 compared to the prior five years. Financial investors benefit from this; food producers do not. Remember, it was a food riot that touched off the Arab Spring in Tunisia.
Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz observed, “Unless we have a better understanding of the causes of the crisis, we can’t implement an effective recovery strategy. And, so far, we have neither.” His diagnosis: ideological driven release of the financial sector from the regulations that had prevented collapse since the 1930s, bubble-fueled consumption, and growing inequality. His prescription: promote energy conservation, reduce inequality, reform the global financial system to drive productive investment instead of a buildup of cash, and strong government expenditures to aid restructuring.3
21 April 2012
At the April 2012 Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, Nick Aster spoke briefly with Hunter and they reflected on the nature of the conference and how the business case for sustainability is finally hitting home.
22 May 2012 | New York, NY | Women in Conservation Changing the World: Hunter Lovins Honored as 2012 Rachel Carson Award Recipient
The National Audubon Society recently recognized our very own Hunter Lovins as an influential environmental pioneer. Hunter was chosen as one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Rachel Carson Award, which honors visionary women whose dedication, talent and energy have advanced environmental educational locally and globally. The Award ceremony, which was emceed by NBC News environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson, took place May 22, 2012 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Allison Rockefeller, the Founding Chair of the Rachel Carson Award Council, stressed its value as “one of the most coveted awards for American women in the environmental and conservation movement.” She emphasized the social significance and longevity of the Award, noting, “Women have played an enormous role in environmental and conservation leadership and this award recognizes and celebrates their work, and influences a younger generation of girls and women to do the same.”
The Award is named after Rachel Carson, author of the seminal Silent Spring and a forerunner of the modern environmental movement. This year’s Award was particularly special, as 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication. Established in 2004, the Rachel Carson Award has raised more than $1,000,000 to back Audubon’s Women in Conservation Program as well as the organization’s campaign to protect the Long Island Sound.
In addition to Hunter, the Reverend Canon Sally Bingham and Janette Sadik-Khan were also recognized: Bingham for her leadership of the Interfaith Power & Light campaign, a popular religious response to global warming; and Sadik-Khan for her spearheading of a major overhaul of public transportation in New York City to make it safer, flexible, and more sustainable. Past recipients of the Award include actress and environmental activist Sigourney Weaver; founder and executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, Majora Carter; and producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Laurie David.
So why Hunter? Read more »
It’s always an honor to be invited to join a head of state to tackle global problems. But it’s rare that anything comes of it.
Last February I was surprised to receive an invitation from the Royal Government of Bhutan to join His Excellency, Jigmi Thinley, the Bhutanese Prime Minister and more than 600 leaders from civil society, business, governments, academic institutions and global experts for a High Level Meeting at the United Nations on Happiness and Well Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.
Many of you have heard my rants against the bloated UN bureaucracy, but for some reason this invitation caught my attention.
And rightly so.
April 2, as I arrived in New York, it was clear that the Bhutanese are competent, far more than typical UN functionaries. They excel at hospitality and I believe they’re serious about making the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) amount to something. From being presented with a strikingly beautiful little pin of a Bhutanese flower for my jacket to the Prime Minister’s kickass opening and closing speeches, the Bhutanese did it right. And assembled a stellar cast to help them. This was a meeting I’m proud to have been a part of.
My old friend Robert Costanza and his very competent team were a key part. Reading the preparatory papers, I’d a hunch that they had the fingerprints of some genuine experts, and they do. The Bhutanese had brought Bob, the Prince of Wales (via video); Vandana Shiva; Mathis Wackernagel; and Joseph Stiglitz, as well as Gifford Pinchot, founder of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, where I’m honored to be faculty; a really impressive gathering of world religious leaders; and others. Read more »
In our first piece from the “Run up to SB’12” series, Hunter Lovins answers our questions around the economic implications of climate change, how organizations can use sustainability as an innovation platform, and how the business community can collaborate to create positive change.
Mike Hower: What do you think is the most pressing environmental threat facing our planet today? (and what do you foresee the implications being if these threats are not addressed?)
Hunter Lovins: Climate change. The OECD released a report this spring saying that if government leaders don’t take immediate action it will become impossible to prevent a global temperature increase of 6%. That’s not survivable.[i] If the OECD is saying this, it truly is a dire situation. Despite the fact that 80% of Americans believe climate change is real, and dire, and that it is urgent for us to take action to build an economy based on clean energy, the U.S. remains the only country that is denying climate change. We can’t even get a decent energy policy passed through Congress.
MH: What kind of revolutionary action needs to be taken to avoid global climate change devastation? Read more »
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11 April 2012
On May 11, a group of children will face off against the Obama administration and the National Association of Manufacturers for the latest round of a David vs. Goliath battle in federal court.
The kids filed a lawsuit last year against the administration, arguing that common law requires governments to protect critical natural resources on behalf of current and future generations. In this case, the kids argue, the government has an inherent duty to protect the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions, and all of us from the impacts of global climate change.
In their lawsuit, a group called Our Children’s Trust filed against a who’s who of administration officials including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Robert Wikins ruled that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and several California businesses could intervene against the kids, based on the argument that limiting greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a “diminution or cessation of their businesses” — in other words, jeopardize their profit margins.
25 March 2012
(by LH Lovins & Steve Wilton)
Hands up everyone who wants to spread the green message….
Sustainability is knocking at the door of every business, but why do so many small and mid-size American business owners deadbolt their minds to more sustainable practices?
Has it ever crossed your mind that they’re just naïve or stubborn or even ignorant?
Or is it we green advocates who are at fault?
Clinging to use of technical language alien to the conversation on mainstream America, many green business gurus are not reaching a general population. In these polarized times, how we communicate may even be driving our cause farther to the fringe.
As OgilvyEarth likes to put it, we need to “Shift sustainability from polar bears to people.”
ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
19 March 2012
While the nation’s attention has been focused on ending one war (Afghanistan) and avoiding another (Iran), a different idea about national defense has been circulating lately among some of America’s thought leaders.
The idea is this: National defense isn’t only about containing foreign threats; it’s also about strengthening the fabric of society. In other words, sustainable development is a critical component of national security.
This isn’t a new thought, but new people are thinking it, including some whose job is to figure out how to prevent the foreign conflicts that end up costing U.S. lives and treasure.
A half-century ago, President Eisenhower, Congress and U.S. automakers defined “strong” as an interstate highway system. Thirty years ago, Amory and Hunter Lovins defined “strong” as moving away from “brittle power” — our dependence on fragile energy systems.
Last spring, two influential military officers went public with the idea that sustainable development must be central to America’s global strategy. Marine Corps Col. Mark Mykleby and Navy Capt. Wayne Porter wrote that to thrive in this century’s “strategic ecology”, the United States must move from a global posture of containment designed to preserve the status quo to a posture of sustainability designed to build our strength at home and our credible influence abroad. They wrote the paper while serving as senior strategic advisors to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Read more »
14 February 2012
Claudia Capitini, the aptly named Sustainability Maven at Eco-Products, had a problem.
She knew, as smart companies do, that sustainability is the path to greater prosperity and profitability. Twenty six separate studies from such consultancies as those wild eyed-environmentalists at Goldman Sachs show that the companies that are the leaders in environment social and good governance policies, bolster stock prices, achieve higher profitability,and secure an enduring competitive advantage.
With a large sales staff that had no formal training in sustainability, Claudia needed to enhance their understanding of the environmental attributes of the company’s products so that they could sell them effectively. She observed,
“With a brand centered around sustainability, and a complex offering such as ours, we needed to tell our story with precision, but we realized our sustainability story was being lost in translation to the customer.”
Claudia and her team identified the knowledge, skills and attitudes her sales staff needed to communicate sustainability to customers. Realizing that a “Sustainability 101” approach wouldn’t suffice, the team built a series of interactive e-learning modules that distinguish the life-cycle characteristics of the company’s diverse product offering. The flexibility of the e-learning platform enabled the company to create updated online learning modules as new content becomes available. Read more »
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25 November 2011
Here are some questions for the Occupiers, the Tea Party demonstrators, the people engaged in the Arab Spring and those around the world who are too hungry, too tired, too discouraged or too occupied with basic survival to protest.
These are questions, too, for the young people who will inherit the future we are setting in motion today, and the elders who are concerned about the world they are leaving their grandchildren.
Most of us want things to be better. We don’t want the kind of world we’ll get if we allow global climate change, resource conflicts, resource constraints, environmental degradation, overwhelming population growth, helter-skelter urbanization, war, social injustice and other looming problems to go unaddressed.
We have a pretty good idea what we should avoid. But what should we build?
We have incredible technologies and tools today – arguably all we need to create communities that are resource efficient, resilient, safe and prosperous while treading lightly on the environment. How would our lives be improved if we deployed the best sustainable development technologies and practices? How would it impact future generations?
Those questions are at the heart of a campaign called “The Future We Want“, announced this week by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. The UN has chosen “The Future We Want” as the tagline of Rio+20, its international conference next June on sustainable development. Coming on the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, the conference has symbolic importance. We hope it will have concrete significance, too. Read more »
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20 September 2011
When House Speakers John Boehner said last week that his relationship with President Obama is like a conversation between “people from two different planets“, he identified a disconnect that extends well beyond the House and the White House.
We are two Americas headed for collision. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg touched upon it with his recent warning about the rising frustration of young people who have graduated college but cannot find jobs. The riots in Cairo could happen here, the mayor said, and he’s correct.
Several factors that triggered the Arab Spring are present in the United States today, including crony capitalism, political corruption, poverty and the unmet aspirations of the young. In neighborhood after neighborhood, and in home after repossessed home, the American dream is in shreds while the gap between rich and poor has become a canyon.
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15 September 2011
The people trying to wake us up to the realities of global warming have taken to calling themselves “climate hawks.” In the field of Republican presidential candidates, we are seeing a new breed emerge: climate chickens.
Once upon a time, America elected heroes to be President of the United States, some of them veterans of war, others who earned the title in office when they refused to run from tough issues.
Those were the good old days. Today national politics is dominated by personalities who in polite company might be called “differently principled.” There seems to be no issue on which they won’t reverse positions, deny the obvious, pander to special interests and even act against the best interests of the American people.
On climate change, for example — the most dangerous long-term threat in the world today — the viable candidates in the GOP presidential field, with the exception of Jon Huntsman, are showing a reckless disrespect for science and a callous insensitivity to the victims of weather-related disasters, present and future.
Let’s review. Front-runner Rick Perry has called global warming “one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight”. His chief science advisor apparently is his father. While he campaigned at the Iowa State Fair, somebody asked Perry about the drought that’s killing crops, cattle and family businesses in his own state.
“We’ll be fine,” Perry said. “As my dad says, it’ll rain. It always does.” Unfortunately, it’s not his father’s weather any more.
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12 September 2011
This is the last in a series of posts on extreme weather events in the United States. Part 1 described the reactions of key political leaders. Part 2 detailed the “perfect storm” of increasing weather extremes combined with decreasing government ability to respond. This post discusses what communities can do to help themselves.
In the United States and much of the rest of the world, a climate-related train wreck is in the making. Extreme weather events are increasing, while weak economies and budget deficits are undermining the capacity of national governments to respond.
In the U.S., the infrastructure we’ve built to protect people from natural disasters is aging. Some of it is proving tragically inadequate to handle weather events now routinely described as biblical, unprecedented, historic, record-breaking and not seen before in our lifetimes.
Given the probability that the severity of today’s weather is a result of global climate change, we must anticipate that weird weather will continue, ranging from the slow strangulation of drought and shifting isotherms to the rapid trauma of floods, hurricanes, tornados and wildfires.
Do communities have any defense? The short answer is yes. There are some things the federal government can do to reduce our risk. There’s also a lot communities can and should do on their own.
At the top of the federal government’s agenda should be the goal to stop digging the hole we need to climb out of. Federal subsidies that promote greenhouse gas emissions should be repealed. So should federal programs that directly or indirectly encourage development in hazard areas. Everyone has ideas for how the billions of dollars of taxpayer oil subsidies should be redirected, but there’s urgency and poetic justice in using the money to help localities protect themselves from the consequences of carbon fuels.
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8 September 2011
This is the second in a three-part post. Part 1 describes how some key political leaders are reacting to today’s extreme weather events. Part 2 lays out some of the factors that are producing a perfect storm of vulnerability.
Whether or not we are ready to conclude that today’s extreme weather events are linked to global climate change, it would be utterly irresponsible for us to ignore the possibility.
Failing to minimize and manage the risk is a dereliction of duty to everyone who is vulnerable. That includes us all in one way or another, as victims or taxpayers. Ironically, our own practices over the last century have made us more vulnerable. For example:
False Security: We have spent billions of dollars on dams, levees and other structures to protect lives and property from floods, the most common natural disaster in the United States. These structures have saved lives, but they’ve also produced a deadly false sense of security.
The plane settles into its cruise altitude and I to writing – three hours to Chicago, swap planes, then eight to the Netherlands. Long night.
I’m bound east to consult for Royal Dutch Shell. No idea what they want from me, but I’ll be most interested to chat with them about their world-view. And to give em a piece of my mind. I would anyway, but now it’s a debt. As is this blog.
Once one of the world’s most progressive companies, the Shell I knew prospered under the able leadership of such Managing Directors as Bobby Reid and Sir Mark Moody Stuart, the last Managing Director for whom I consulted. Under these leaders, Shell was on an arc away from being an oil company to being a diversified energy provider, launching solar, wind, hydrogen, biofuels and efficiency divisions. It didn’t matter, for example, to Sir Mark that Shell did not have the proven reserves to long remain an oil company (and he was well aware that the world as we know it could not long survive Shell’s continuing to extract and enable us to burn fossil fuels.) If you are migrating away from oil, it’s a race to the future in which the first movers have the advantage. Under this vision Shell became the world’s largest company and the darling of the socially responsible investment crowd.
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31 August 2011
The term “perfect storm” is overused now, but it is the perfect metaphor for the violent relationship between people and the environment today. We are experiencing a convergence of factors that are putting us at great risk. For example:
- Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe.
- The big public works projects we built to protect us from natural disasters over the past century may no longer be affordable or the best option.
- The idea that we can bulldozer natural systems into submission and live wherever we wish has put millions of Americans in harms way.
- Weather-related disasters are becoming a clear and present danger to security at home and abroad.
- Our national leaders generally seem oblivious to this mounting danger, or in denial that it is real, allowing politics and flat-earth ideology to prevail over common sense.
- Even if our politicians were willing to unify around a national response to extreme weather, budget problems have greatly diminished governments’ capacity to act.
In this three-part post, I’ll weave together data from a variety of sources and experts to explore whether we are ready to cope with nature’s new norm.
Read more »
Infineon Raceway’s Accelerating Sustainable Performance Summit
click on images for full size
San Rafael Patch “Huffman Hopes to See Electric Vehicles In The Winner’s Circle
“ (by Derek Wilson) 28 August 2011
- Triple Pundit “Hunter Lovins on Green Vehicles: Sustainability is High Performance” (by Steve Puma) 2 September 2011
- GreenBiz “Hunter Lovins Revs Up Sustainability Summit at Infineon Raceway” (by Leslie Guevarra) 25 August 2011
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17 August 2011
The recent squall over SpongeBob SquarePants and his book about global climate change appears to have died down now. That’s a pity. Sometimes, it’s in the public interest to turn a squall into a hurricane…
Here’s the backstory, in case you missed it. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education sponsored an event to encourage kids to read books. One of the books at the event featured Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants on an “earth-friendly adventure.” As E&E reporter Jean Chemnick explained, SpongeBob’s sidekick Mr. Krabs…
…decides to pump enough greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere to bring on “endless summer” so his ocean-front swimming pool will always be full of paying customers. The plot backfires, however, when he and SpongeBob realize they have created an environmental disaster.
Fox News, television’s equivalent of a playground bully, beat up on Nickelodeon, the Education Department and by implication, SpongeBob. Fox commentator Gretchen Carlson complained that SpongeBob should have told kids climate change is “actually a disputed fact.” A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation piled on, saying SpongeBob had given us “an important reminder of why the federal government shouldn’t be involved in school curriculum.”
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8 August 2011
We in the United States are very familiar with energy wars. Our long-time national energy strategy, as former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart points out, is to send our children off to kill and be killed in foreign lands to protect our access to oil.
We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of that tragic policy. Welcome to the age of the Solar Soldier, where a photovoltaic cell is as important as an M-16 rifle.
For those of you who haven’t followed this notable development, here’s an account.
It has been widely reported that the U.S. armed forces are going green. The Department of Defense (DoD) has resolved to cut its energy intensity 30% by 2015, obtain a quarter of its energy from renewable resources by 2020, cut petroleum use 20% by 2015, significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and power jets and ships with biofuels. Each of the four branches of the armed services has set its own green goals, including a push to eliminate waste and achieve net-zero energy and water consumption at Army and Navy installations.
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15 May 2011
A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.
– William G.T. Shedd
Here is a trick question: Now that the 2012 election campaign has begun, should you vote Republican or Democrat?
The correct answer: Neither of the above. In this election, maybe more than ever, it should be courage that counts, not party affiliation.
It’s the tough issues in tough times that are the best tests of courage — and right now, few issues are tougher in American politics than confronting global climate change. It requires that we stand up against godzilla vested interests and say goodbye to a carbon economy which has served us so long that no American alive today remembers life without it.
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
13 May 2011
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13 May 2011
Whatever else we might say about Big Oil in the United States, we have to give the industry credit for one thing: It has mastered the art of scamming us with a perfectly straight face.
The scam has been underway for decades. This year’s example is the debate about repealing $21 billion in federal subsidies for big oil companies over the next decade. To their credit, President Obama and several Democrats in Congress are pushing the idea.
Oil executives have launched a counteroffensive reminiscent of Gordon Gekko’s argument that “greed is good”. Requiring taxpayers to subsidize America’s biggest oil companies is in the best interest of the country, they say, and anyone who disagrees is playing politics.
ExxonMobil, for example, has issued a statement that President Obama and congressional Democrats are engaging in “political theatre” on this issue. Perhaps. But the real plot line is that big oil companies are fighting once again to keep largesse they don’t need and the nation can’t afford. Here are some examples of the time-tested arguments we’re hearing from Big Oil:
Eliminating their subsidies will force oil companies to increase the cost of gasoline. Even some oil executives acknowledge this is not true. Unless the industry uses subsidy reform as an excuse to gouge consumers, reducing its tax breaks will not affect energy prices. The handful of subsidies under scrutiny here are the proverbial drop in the oil barrel. They are a fraction of the special favors oil companies receive from the federal government, usually at taxpayer expense. And oil company revenues are so high, even counting the cyclic nature of the market, that subsidy reform will not make a difference in energy prices.
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
5 May 2011
In response to a lawsuit that argues greenhouse gas emissions are a “public nuisance”, three of Congress’s most active opponents of responsible climate policy filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court last February. Rep. Fred Upton, Rep. Ed Whitfield and Sen. James Inhofe told the Justices it is inappropriate and unnecessary for courts to get involved in America’s climate policy.
Upton chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Whitfield chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power; and Inhofe is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. All three are prominent Republican opponents of climate action, working among other things to scuttle EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
To be fair, it’s not just Republicans who are blocking Congress from acting against climate change. Nineteen Democrats in the House voted for Inhofe’s and Upton’s bill to strip EPA of its regulatory authority. Several Senate Democrats also voted for the bill, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who complains “EPA’s overreach is destroying jobs in my state and all over the country”. (For an excellent report on Congress’s effort to “repeal climate science”, see Remapping Debate.)
If the courts agree to consider the “iMatter” movement’s atmospheric trust lawsuits (see Part 1 of this post), here are some of the arguments we can expect from opponents of climate action, whose delicate phrasing makes inaction sound like action. The italicized portions are direct quotes from the brief that Upton, Whitfield and Inhofe filed in the public nuisance lawsuit, American Power v. Connecticut:
Argument: The courts don’t have to act because members of Congress have been actively involved in the legislative process relating to climate change policies and regulations.
Reality Check: By “actively involved in the legislative process”, the three Republicans mean opponents are using the process to block meaningful action on climate change. So far, they’ve been successful.
|ALSO POSTED BY:
Huffington Post & Think Progress
4 May 2011
Last February, three Republican leaders in Congress filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that when it comes to global climate change, judges and Justices should mind their own business.
The courts are about to get a different message. Starting on May 4, young people in the United States and several other countries will file petitions and lawsuits in an effort to force public officials into protecting us all from climate change.
The international legal intervention – the sponsors call it guerrilla law – is believed to be the first of its kind. It is being organized by Our Children’s Trust in Eugene, Oregon. It’s part of a broader campaign that will include “iMatter” marches by young people around the world May 7-14, the brainchild of 16-year-old Alec Loorz of California.
Dunno how much longer I can do this…. Nashville’s in my taillights, but at this rate it’s not clear that I’ll make Colorado.
Our little Embraer jet’s slamming through the sorts of clouds that eat airplanes. Somewhere over Oklahoma. Can only imagine the violence below.
This is the sort of day that makes one wonder if it’s worth it – this life of going down the road.
I’m tired. It’s been a grueling run. Then the plane was two hours late into Nashville cause storms wracked Chicago. Where I was two days ago. After New York and DC in the two days prior. I’ll be back in Chicago early next week. With Colorado and Seattle in Between. Book launches all.
Great people make it bearable. Ah, the myth of Southern hospitality never left Nashville. Add to that some really exciting work on sustainability: on city design, including spongy landscaping to absorb the increasingly violent storms and flooding – Nashville flooded badly a year or so back and now takes water management seriously. On creating sustainability programs at conservative religious schools. On smart transit planning – the Mayor rides the bus to work several days a week. On LEED certification of buildings – they kept pointing out LEED Platinum, Gold, Silver buildings. On local food production – we dined two nights ago at Tayst, an experience that rivals the finest in New York, San Francisco, London…anywhere. The chef, who sources 90% of the food locally, also volunteers to bring healthy nutrition to local public schools. Nashville also specializes mixed use, mixed race developments bringing neighborliness to once blighted sections of town – waiting for a table in the always popular Burger Up at 9:30 the night after my speech at Lipscomb University, a most scholarly African American gentleman joining his wife already inside regaled our group of students, professionals, and city officials about the history of the neighborhood.
18 April 2011
[GreenBiz Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of excerpts from “Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change,” by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, just published by Hill and Wang.The first excerpt can be found here.]
Investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy will generate jobs and help build strong companies, communities, and countries. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley concluded, “All states of the union stand to gain in terms of net employment from the implementation of a portfolio of clean energy policies at the federal level.”
The new green energy economy will generate new manufacturing businesses, jobs retrofitting existing buildings, opportunities to build and manage the new decentralized energy system, the ability to revitalize farm income from biofuels, wind farms, etc. Traditional economists who claim that acting to protect the climate is costly should be challenged to show why unleashing the new energy economy will not trigger, as former President Clinton asserts, the greatest economic boom since World War II. Read more »
It’s a thrill to launch a book, and standing room only at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco is not a bad way to do it. That’s the honor that a lively audience gave me Tuesday. With my dear friend Joel Makower, editor of GreenBiz, presiding, Climate Capitalism made its formal debut to sustainability thought leaders like Gil Friend, public servants like Jay Eickenhorst, former Presidio students (and enduring friends), my Madrone colleagues and the bright membership of the Club. Joel introduced me to describe the book’s thesis: Believe in climate change or don’t – it really doesn’t matter if you think the climate crisis is real or not, because acting in ways to solve it is just better business. So let’s stop arguing over the science and get on with making money – oh, and you’ll solve global warming while you’re at it. Panelists Bruce Klafter of Applied Materials, profiled in the book, and David Chen of Equilibrium Capital, backed my claims, describing how their companies are profiting handsomely even in a down economy from rolling out the new energy economy.
To Joel’s probing questions of if all this is true, why isn’t it busting out everywhere, they answered, “It is!” I pointed out that a recent Harris Interactive survey of the Fortune 1,000 found that although corporate executives have a pervasive belief is that no one is implementing sustainability, 88% of the companies answering said that they’re doing it – they just believe they’re an anomaly.
Joel is such a skillful moderator, and from his decisive three raps to open the hour recorded for NPR broadcast til the closing gavel, time sped by. Questions were engaged, the knowledgeable and articulate panel laid out a wealth of content and the Commonwealth Club sold out of books.
11 April 2011
[GreenBiz Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of excerpts from “Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change,” by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, just published by Hill and Wang.]
The CEOs of the companies implementing greater sustainability in their business practices may not recognize it, but they are following the principles set forth a decade ago in this book’s predecessor, Natural Capitalism. These principles have proved to be some of the best guides a company can use as it embraces sustainability in its own operations. They also represent a roadmap to a sustainable economy.
The first principle, buying time by using all resources as efficiently as possible, is cost-effective today and is the best way to address many of the worst problems facing humankind while delivering premium returns on investments. There are many smart companies implementing this principle, from measuring and managing their carbon footprints with the Carbon Disclosure Project, to Mi Rancho Tortilla’s saving $175,000 a year by implementing efficiency measures because it knows it has to do so to meet Walmart’s Sustainability Scorecard. It and the other small businesses participating in Natural Capitalism Solutions’ “Solutions at the Speed of Business” program are enjoying returns on investment ranging from 100 percent to more than 600 percent. Read more »
(by Joel Makower)
11 April 2011
For roughly three decades, L. Hunter Lovins has been a clear and provocative voice on business and sustainability — first at the Rocky Mountain Institute, which she co-founded in 1982 with Amory Lovins, and later through her own organization, Natural Capitalism Solutions.
Along the way, she has been a prolific writer, speaker, educator and a globally recognized consultant on sustainability to companies, governments and others.
On the occasion of the publication of her latest book, “Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change,” coauthored with Boyd Cohen, I recently sat down with Hunter to discuss her book (the first of several excerpts can be found here) and her vision of what’s possible.
Joel Makower: It’s been 11 years since “Natural Capitalism” came out. Why was it time to write another book? Read more »
The first ever copy of Climate Capitalism arrived today. Margo Boteilho, our accountant, came in with the mail. I was giving an interview on my new book Climate Capitalism with Robert Colangelo of Greensense. It was my second interview of the day: this morning my co-author, Dr Boyd Cohen, and I did an hour long webinar for Net Impact on the book, and I was focused on remembering what I’d said two hours before and what this new audience hadn’t yet heard – one of the tricky bits of doing multiple interviews in the same day.
Margo slipped into my office and ceremoniously laid a large brown envelope on my desk.
It didn’t occur to me to open it til she peeked back in after I’d hung up, and pointed at it, grinning. I shrugged – big brown envelopes arrive each day: books people are sharing with me, new reports….
“Open it,” she nudged.
Hmmm, started to feel a bit like a party. Well, OK, the pressing crush of e-mails could wait, I guess….
Then my eyes saw the Hill and Wang logo. Whoa, that’s my publisher….
And there it was. The first ever copy of Climate Capitalism.
OK, this one I’m not going to sell.
Instead I danced about the office like the dern squirrel in Ice Age with his nut.
It snowed in Berkeley last night. Thought I saw some on a car going past. Then there it was, lining the verges of Interstate 80.
OK, it’s still winter for a few more days…
My tired mind didn’t register at first. The evening I’d been going to spend snuggled into the cozy little home in the Marin Headlands where I’m camped this week had disappeared into work. Walking to the kitchen down the hall from our new Madrone Project office in the David Brower Center in Berkeley, I spotted John Knox, Executive Director of Earth Island Institute down in the lobby. John’s an old friend, from the days when Dave was still alive and running Earth Island. So I sauntered down to say howdy and found myself in the midst of an about to happen event honoring Aileen Mioko Smith, and raising money for Green Action, her gallant grassroots group in Japan that has been fighting the nuclear plants there, warning of just the sort of disaster that now threatens her island.
On finding me standing in their lobby, the various activists asked if I would speak at the event, describing how Japan, and the U.S. could craft a future free of nuclear power that still heads off the climate crisis.
Wow. Sure. That is part of the magic of the Brower Center – a LEED Platinum building full of organizations working for a future for all living things. Such events happen here most every day.
It’s a long way from Des Moines to Colorado. We rose early – time-zone scrambled circadian rhythms being useful for something – and headed west.
The morning started grimly though, as logging on to check the status of the crippled nuke in Japan brought the breaking news of the explosion.
Dammit, why have humans persisted in such stupidity? Nuclear is an exceedingly expensive way to boil water, and as this week’s nasty news has shown, remains vulnerable to the caprice of nature. My tweet querying this brought a reply of “Greed.” My friend April wrote, “Some expect the radiation to reach the Western U.S. Coast in 3 days from when it exploded. …Exploding nuke plants, oil spills… Onsite solar and wind are explosion- and spill-free. They’re healthier for humans, our earth, workers and our economy. This is why you should support renewable energy. Your kids would.” Martina added, “The shortsighted focus on immediate profits supporting the so called growth combined with a faulty sense of security in the face of unpredictable and a lack of understanding/acceptance of possible consequences.” Michael summed it up, “There is no justification for the construction of new nuclear facilities of any kind. Radiation, the gift that keeps on giving.” Good time to remember the stalwart folks at Nuclear Information and Resource Service, www.nirs.org. Even when most of the rest of us forgot that the industry continues to lobby congress for more of your and my tax dollars to support a technology that can no longer even compete with solar. What? Check out last July’s article in the New York Times, “Nuclear Energy Loses Cost Advantage.”
At least e-mail posts to the Balaton list-serve (the global network of sustainability experts founded years ago by Dana and Dennis Meadows, and now one of the best collection of experts anywhere) brought news that our Japanese colleagues are all accounted for. My heart goes out to those cold and alone, who’ve lost it all. Note to self: time on returning home to make yet another donation.
With nothing we could do about it, Steve Wilton, Robbie Noiles and I headed west. Swapping stories and strategies for our work training companies, communities and citizens to profiting from sustainability, we ate down the states. There’s something soothing in hours of companionable silence and farmland rolling by, til Rob exclaimed, “Whoa look at that!”
The sky was chevroned by thousands, hundreds of thousands of birds. They littered pastures, graying the Nebraska cornfields and crowding the ponds.
Cranes. Sandhill cranes. We’d blundered into the spring migration of these creatures who since prehistoric times have gathered here, half a million of em, the State website explained on my i-Pad.
We had to stop and marvel at the sound and sight of this ancient ritual, a sky alive with the chattering, gabbing, whirring of these and millions of geese, ducks, and other feathered fellow migrants.
Just as the birds gather there to fatten themselves for their onward travels, we stopped into Ole’s Big Game Bar in Paxton, Nebraska. A bit of graffiti in the restroom whimpered that the author was hiding out in there cause it was the only place that didn’t have stuffed animal heads staring at her.
Today’s frontline is Iowa. Natural Capitalism has been working with various communities here to enhance the profitability of their small businesses through a for-profit venture that some folk in California has asked us to help create a year or so ago. It’s done OK, that little business, running half a dozen “sustainability learning circles,” with small business leaders in California, Colorado and Iowa. On paper, it stands to make a great deal of money.
But last fall I began to question whether this was the best model. Nothing wrong with the circles but I became concerned that the model wouldn’t scale. Our people can’t be in every little community across the country, let alone around the world. That’s the reason we created the S@SB tool in the first place: take the knowledge that’s in the heads of the NCS staff who work with the Walmart’s of the world, and make it affordably available to mainstreet. A labor of love by NCS and the Scottish-based, digital learning company, Cogbooks, S@SB works. The companies that are using it are cutting their use of energy, their waste, engaging their employees, and perhaps most important, driving their profitability. Why most important? Because this is what will get mainstreet to drive the implementation of sustainability. For too long, sustainability has been sold as a moral imperative, as an environmentalist agenda. Now, I’ve nothing against morality, but if we want this to sweep the world, it’s got to appeal across the political spectrum, and be something that people of all points of view want to do because it meets their own needs, not the pleasure of some activist.
A block from Paddington Station in London is the Frontline Club, a haven for journalists and NGO activists who work on the front lines around the world. In its chic restaurant hang photos from wars its founders covered. And the original of the solitary man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square.
I belong, having worked on front lines, times past, in places like Afghanistan, and stay there whenever in London, curling into the club room upstairs, with its rickety chairs, delicious whisky and the best mutton pie anywhere.
Wars proliferate and the club was packed the other night for a presentation on the revolutions raging in the Middle East. But these days my frontlines are the global battlegrounds for whether there’s a future – the boardrooms and city halls where companies and communities are implementing more sustainable practices. I was in London keynoting a conference on corporate sustainability. And en route in service to the U.S. Ambassador to Finland, a dear friend and energy activist from Boulder. We delighted last night in his new WindStream installation whirring furiously away on the parapet of the US embassy overlooking the Baltic, as we discussed his work to green U.S. embassies around the globe.
Because these are the real frontlines today. Winging west now to begin a spring’s worth of speeches, consulting, teaching, and burning carbon to save the climate, I grin at the lovely evenings spent in London with my friend, Dr. Jim Thompson munching mutton pie at the club. We’ve built the Solutions@theSpeedofBusiness tool to enable mainstreet businesses to cut their carbon emissions profitably. And another evening downstairs with Jim and another friend, Tom Rivett Carnac of the Carbon Disclosure Project, as he revealed how much opportunity exists: the average sized companies who report to CDP can capture $30 to 40 million in savings profitably! Or meeting with the Mayor of Lahti, advising his staff on how to make this old Finnish industrial town a green city. Or lecturing with my partner Gregory Miller at the Ministry of Education on how our Madrone Project can bring affordable digital sustainability education to scale globally.
(by Victoria Stephens & Dena Zocher)
6 March 2011
Hunter Lovins, the president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, works with businesses, communities and governments to help them adopt sustainability principles and practices to deliver better value to their stakeholders. Lovins will give a keynote presentation at the 2011 Sustainable Opportunities Summit in Denver, April 11-12. Her new book,Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change, will be released in April.
Here are a few excerpts from a conversation with Lovins that will continue at the Summit.
Green Convene Strategies: Do you see organizations engaging with Natural Capitalism Solutions more because of market pressures or because it’s the “right thing” to do?
Hunter Lovins: It depends on the company. If you had told me five years ago that Wal-Mart would be the entity on the planet doing the most to drive sustainability, I would have bet eating my hat against it. But here we are. Wal-Mart sustainability scorecard is driving thousands of companies in its supply chain to come to organizations like Natural Capitalism and ask “What do we have to do to be considered a sustainable company?” Read more »
New York Times
(by Jim Witkin)
2 February 2011
Centuries of burning fossil fuels to power our modern lifestyles is warming our planet and changing our climate. Or not. So goes the debate. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, making your business more environmentally friendly is just good business, according to L. Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions and co-author of “Climate Capitalism” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), which is set for release in April.
“You don’t have to believe in the problem to believe in the solution,” said Ms. Lovins, who advises businesses, governments and civil organizations on the merits of sustainability — that is, adopting practices to use less energy, produce less waste and reduce their environmental footprints.
Natural Capitalism Solutions recently began a series of workshops and online tools aimed at small businesses to help them carry out green business practices. Ms. Lovins promises to return their money if the program doesn’t pay for itself in cost savings in the first year. A condensed version of a conversation with Ms. Lovins follows.
Jim Witkin: What do you say to the business owner who tells you the bottom line is a higher priority right now than going green?
Hunter Lovins: The bottom line should be the highest priority for small businesses — or you go out of business. But if you are not eliminating waste and implementing energy-efficiency measures; if you are not engaging your employees in the sustainability efforts that will motivate, excite, and inspire them; if you are not capturing the brand equity of operating as a responsible business; then you are just not doing good business.
JW: Does that convince them? Read more »
(no slides used)
- TreeHugger Michelle Kaufmann video interview with Hunter Lovins
- Just Means‘ Kevin Long video interview with Hunter Lovins
- Triple Pundit “Madrone League: Open Source Sustainability Education” (by Erica Frye) 4 October 2010
- Triple Pundit “A Look at Women’s Leadership in Sustainability” (by Erica Frye) 14 October 2010
By L. Hunter Lovins, Emily A. Evans, Bonnie Nixon and Catherine Greener
This paper was adapted an expanded for a global audience from a paper written for the UNIDO International Conference on Green Industry in Asia, September 2009.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. The World Needs Sustainable Production……….. 6
Why Business-as-Usual is Changing: The Drivers of Change……. 7
Rethinking Industry to Achieve Sustainability: Solutions and Opportunities……. 9
How to Change Industry: Radically Sustainable Manufacturing and Tools for Change……. 11
Rethinking Development: Lifting People Out of Poverty……. 12
Chapter 2. Business As Usual Is Changing……….. 14
The Drivers of Change: Challenges Facing Industry……. 14
Economic Collapse—How Environmental Unsustainability Drove Financial Collapse… 15
Loss of Ecosystems and Services Provided by Ecosystems… 17
Climate Change… 22
Growing Food and Water Scarcity… 33
Oil Supply Constraints… 41
Shifting Demographics… 44
Globalization and Localization… 48
Growth and Impact… 50
Sustainability Imperative… 52
Sustainability: the Foundation of Prosperity and Development……. 56
Chapter 3. Rethinking Industry to Achieve Sustainability……….. 59
Natural Capitalism……. 59
Natural Capitalism Principle One: Buy Time By Using Resources More Productively… 61
Whole Systems Design for Efficiency……….. 67
Efficiency Throughout the Supply Chain……….. 69
Efficiency for Smaller Companies……….. 71
Efficiency in Buildings……….. 74
Manufacturing efficiency……….. 77
Natural Capitalism Principle Two: Redesign Everything… 79
Cleaner Production……….. 91
Cradle to Cradle……….. 93
Natural Capitalism Principle Three: Restore Human and Natural Capital by Managing All Institutions for Sustainability… 111
Green New Deal……….. 113
Zero Waste Eco Towns……….. 114
Achieving Sustainability Through the Principles of Natural Capitalism……. 118
Chapter 4. Integrating the Three Principles……….. 121
Truly Transforming Industry……. 121
Radically Sustainable Manufacturing… 121
Understanding the system……….. 122
Implementing Radically Sustainable Manufacturing: Industrial Ecology… 123
Kalundborg, 30 years of Industrial Ecology… 125
Tools for Change……. 128
Tools for Private Industries… 129
Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)……….. 129
Design for Environment……….. 133
Scenario Planning……….. 137
Sustainable Operating Systems……….. 138
Wheel of Change……….. 139
The Sustainability Advantage……….. 140
Solutions at the Speed of Business……….. 142
Managing a Company with the Sustainability Helix……….. 143
The Helix as a Management Tool……….. 147
Sustainability Helix Activity Threads……….. 148
Existing efforts to introduce sustainability, transparency and accountability into the supply chain……….. 154
Global Reporting Initiative……….. 161
Value Chain Ecosystems… 161
Government’s Role… 162
Innovative Government Mechanisms to Implement Sustainability……….. 163
Overcoming Barriers of Change……….. 164
Eliminate Perverse Subsidies……….. 167
Tax Shifting……….. 170
Creative Ways to Provide Capital……….. 170
Tools for Community Action… 172
LASER—Local Action for Sustainable Economic Renewal……….. 172
Transforming the Production Model……. 173
Chapter 5. Rethinking Development……….. 175
Redefining Aid……. 175
Lessons in Development……. 189
The Best Choice for Developing Countries: Investing in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy… 193
Working with Developed Countries……. 203
Organic Food Markets… 204
Fair Trade Markets… 206
Changing Consumer Behavior… 210
Achieving Genuine Sustainable Development… 211
Chapter 6. The Role of The Economy……….. 214
Redesigning the Gross Domestic Product……. 214
Appendix: The Business Case……….. 219
Author Biographies……….. 222
The United States—indeed, the global community—is at a crossroads. We have a choice between two futures.
The first is business as usual. In an effort to continue economic growth in the conventional sense (growing Gross Domestic Product with little concern for distribution of wealth), we exacerbate all of the problems that GDP growth is increasingly causing. We fail to recognize that such growth in the developed countries is not improving human well-being. We fail to recognize that distributing our wealth more fairly would actually improve overall well-being. We do not address the growing climate and other environmental problems and continue to damage the ecological life-support systems on which we all depend, particularly the poor. We fail to anticipate and deal with the constraints inherent in our dependence on finite resources such as fossil fuels. It is a future that is not sustainable and also not desirable to the vast majority of humans.
The second future is much brighter: Extreme poverty is eradicated. Our energy economy in the United States and worldwide shifts to clean, renewable resources. Ecological design becomes business as usual, and humankind finally accepts its role as an integral participant in and steward of the environmental systems upon which true prosperity depends.
In short, we have a choice to become victims of the future or its architects. Read more »
Bard Center for Environmental Policy’s National Climate Seminar
- Triple Pundit “Hunter Lovins Speaks On Climate Change Action and Revamping the Economy” (By Gina-Marie Cheeseman) 29 October 2009
By L. Hunter Lovins, Emily A. Evans, Bonnie Nixon and Catherine Greener
Written for the UNIDO International Conference on Green Industry in Asia, September 2009.
This paper was also expanded and adopted for a global audience in July 2010 (read more here).
In November 2008, Hunter Lovins was engaged by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to write a paper on sustainable production for Asia. The paper addresses how resource-efficient and low carbon manufacturing lifts people out of poverty. Hunter and Emily Evans presented the paper at the October 2009 U.N. sponsored, International Green Industry Conference in Asia, in Manila, Philippines. Emily Evans led the project and associate Catherine Greener helped author. Several interns and other staff also provided research and editing support.
In preparation for the final presentation in Manila, Hunter and Emily travelled to the United Nations headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand in March 2009 to present the first formal draft of the paper’s outline. The audience included various departments within the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, international research and academic institutions, and various Asian ministers. The outline was very well received and the Natural Capitalism group began writing the paper in mid-spring.
Using the feedback from the conference, the principles of Natural Capitalism, and Natural Capitalism’s roadmap for sustainable production, the commissioned paper provides Asian businesses with the tools necessary to shift their operations toward more sustainable modes of production. Once these challenges are met, industry will flourish, helping communities address chronic poverty.
Table of Contents Read more »
West Coast Green 2008
Keynote speech “Drivers of Change”
Plenary speech “The Business Case for Green Buildings”
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Xcel Playing dirty on coal plant plan: It wants us to bear cost now for plant that might never materialize
30 April 2006
A Brief Proposal for a Comprehensive Strategy to Develop a Competitive and Sustainable Afghanistan
Afghanistan faces enormous challenges. After almost 30 years of war, much of its infrastructure is in ruins, or was never completed. In the wake of 9-11, the international community, recognizing the threat to world peace of a devastated Afghanistan, pledged billions of dollars to rebuild the country. This has created a unique, but narrow window of opportunity to rebuild the country using the growing body of best practice in sustainable technologies. Every donor agency has wording in its charter pledging adherence to this approach, but few are implementing it. Natural Capitalism Solutions, an American non-profit with expertise in sustainable economic development, proposes to work with Afghan companies and officials, with the donor agencies, as well as with leading international practitioners of sustainable development to set forth a strategy that will ensure that donor money leverages the creation of viable, locally-owned private businesses, able to sustainably meet the needs of Afghans even after the International eye has moved on.
Around the world, aid money tends to create perverse versions of a welfare society, dependent on big western contractors and foreign NGO’s. When the money runs out and the westerners leave, the country struggles on in poverty. In Afghanistan, where success is not only important to the Afghans but a matter of global security, it is urgent that Afghan reconstruction create a robust infrastructure that delivers profitable and stable businesses as it rebuilds the entire economy. The Green Afghanistan strategy, proposed here, will not only describe how to implement international best practice in sustainability, but could also serve as a model for development funding around the world. Read more »
Corporate Environmental Strategy
In this article, the Lovins’2 explain what is meant by Natural Capitalism, four principles that enable business to behave responsibly towards both nature and people while increasing profits, inspiring their workforce and gaining competitive advantage. It combines radically increased resource productivity; closed-loop, zero-waste, nontoxic production; a business model that rewards both; and reinvestment in natural capital. The article describes how, even today, when nature and people are typically valued at zero, protecting and restoring nature, culture and community can be far more profitable than liquidating them.
Also in The Aspen Institute’s 50th Anniversary Symposium “Globalization and Culture”
The Impact of Globalization
Many people watched the recent protests against globalization in Prague, Melbourne, Washington, and Seattle, and wondered what all the fuss was about. Few would dispute that globalization has become a source of dissension, but fewer can describe the issues, and fewer still know what to do about them. Once an academic topic for policy analysts, globalization is now inciting demonstrations on a scale unseen since the Vietnam War.
Part of the problem is that the world as we know it is changing rapidly, and increasingly no one is in charge. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent triumph of capitalism worldwide, and the spread of communications and information technology bringing the ability to move capital around the world at stroke of a computer key, have fundamentally changed the way the world works. Increasingly such changes are affecting not only Wall Street and Main Street, but even rural villages in the developing world.
What’s the Fight About?
Advocates of globalization argue that trade must be the preeminent objective of international agreements, and that other concerns are legitimate only to the extent that they don’t inhibit the free movement of goods and financial capital. This view holds that free trade will expand economic opportunities and “lift all boats.” Opponents, they argue, are protectionists or Marxists. Read more »
By L. Hunter Lovins and Amory B. Lovins
Also in Green@Work May/June 2000.
Twenty-three years ago, claims that energy efficiency would shift United States energy use patterns, reducing overall consumption far below official forecasts, were laughed at. Today, total U.S. energy use is below the level suggested in the “soft energy path” (see figure). In all but five of the intervening years the amount of energy consumed per dollar of GDP fell—a total drop of more than 35 percent since 1973. Renewable energy sources, delayed by 90-percent cuts in research and development budgets and suppression of public information are now slowly regaining momentum. Improvements in technology, designs that integrate wholesystems, and greater competitive pressures are creating a “third wave” of energy efficiency, reversing the stagnation from 1986 to 1996.
This article provides an overview of some of the issues and innovations that are likely to alter the global energy sector in the early 21st century.
(TO READ THE REST OF PART I, DOWNLOAD THE FULL ARTICLE)
In “Energy Surprises” (May/June 00 issue of green@work) we described some of the issues and innovations that will drive energy policy in the early 21st century. From superefficient energy use to the emergence of new forms of electric utilities, from whole system design to climate change, the energy world as we know it is undergoing dramatic change. This article will build on that information, describing how more efficient vehicles will lead to a hydrogen economy, how energy efficiency can promote development around the world, and finally how the lessons learned from this have given rise to a new form of economics called Natural Capitalism.
(TO READ THE REST OF PART II, DOWNLOAD THE FULL ARTICLE)
Also in Conservation Biology, Volume 16 #2, 2000.
H. L. Menchen said that for every problem there is an answer that is short, simple, and wrong. David Orr is one of the few thinkers who seeks to understand the broad-reaching interconnections among problems, and their relationships to biological diversity, conservation issues, and the creation of a decent and healthy world. Such a vision across boundaries enables him to see root causes and to offer answers based on whole-system understanding.
He is correct that our current vulnerability–economic, ecological, food, security–is not so much a result of too little military, as it is of too little design intelligence. Our energy systems are a prime example. The attacks of 9-11 made it clear that dependence on Mideast oil and fragile domestic infrastructure threaten national energy security. Replacing Mideast oil is essential, but increasing our reliance on equally or more vulnerable domestic sources only trades one form of vulnerability for another.
This is because we have a national energy infrastructure that is brittle by design.
Concentrated energy infrastructure and supplies invite devastating attack. Two decades ago, Amory Lovins and I authored a study for the Pentagon that was later published as the book Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security (see www.brittlepower.org). That 500-page, 1,200-reference study found that a handful of people could shut down three-quarters of the oil and gas supplies to the eastern United States in one evening and without leaving Louisiana, cut the power to any major city, or kill millions of people by crashing an airliner into a nuclear power plant. Little has changed in nearly two decades. Read more »
By L. Hunter Lovins & Amory Lovins
Also in The World and I
[download .pdf of full article]
Pioneering companies in sectors ranging from wire to plastic films and planned residential communities have already demonstrated that today’s environmental challenges hold many profit-enhancing opportunities.
The late twentieth century witnessed two great intellectual shifts: the fall of communism, with the apparent triumph of market economics; and the emergence, in a rapidly growing number of businesses, of the end of the war against the earth, and the emergence of a new form of economics we call natural capitalism.
This term implies that capitalism as practiced is an aberration; not because it is capitalist but because it is defying its own logic. It does not value, but rather liquidates, the most important form of capital:natural capital, in other words the natural resources and, more importantly, the ecosystem services upon which all life depends.
Deficient logic of this sort can’t be corrected simply by placing a monetary value on natural capital. Many key ecosystem services have no known substitutes at any price. For example, the $200 million Biosphere II project, despite a great deal of impressive science, was unable to provide breathable air for eight people. Biosphere I, our planet, performs this task daily at no charge for six billion of us. Ecosystem services give us tens of trillions of dollars’ worth of benefits each year, or more than the global economy. But none of this is reflected on anyone’s balance sheets. Read more »
By L Hunter Lovins & Amory Lovins
This article served as a basis for the U.S. negotiating position at Kyoto …
[download .pdf of full article]
Arguments that protecting the earth’s climate will cost a lot rest on theoretical economic assumptions flatly contradicted by business experience. Most climate/economics models assume that almost all energy-efficiency investments cost-effective at present prices have already been made. Actually, huge opportunities to save money by saving energy exist, but are being blocked by dozens of specific obstacles at the level of the firm, locality, or society. Even if climate change were not a concern, it would be worth clearing these barriers in order to capture energy-efficiency investments with rates of return that often approach and can even exceed 100% per year. Focusing private and public policy on barrier-busting can permit businesses to buy energy savings that are large enough to protect the climate, intelligent enough to improve living standards, and profitable enough to strengthen economic vitality, employment, and competitiveness.
Eight classes of regulatory, organizational, and informational failures, perverse incentives, distorted prices and investment patterns, and similar barriers are costing the American economy about $300 billion every year. This waste pervades even well known and well-managed companies that have been saving energy for decades. Some alert corporate leaders, however, are now starting to break through these barriers to enrich their shareholders by combining careful attention with powerful innovations in design and technology. Many examples illustrate how each of the obstacles to such energy-saving practices can be turned into a lucrative business opportunity, making climate protection a boon for enterprise, innovation, and competitive advantage.
Energy price does matter, but ability to respond to price matters even more. The last time the United States saved energy very quickly—expanding GDP 19% while shrinking energy use 6% during 1979–86—the main motivator was costly energy. Yet similar success can now be achieved by substituting high skill and attention for high prices. In the 1990s, Seattle, with the lowest electricity prices of any major U.S. city, has been saving electricity far faster than Chicago, where rates are twice as high. The key difference: Seattle is starting to create an efficient, effective, and informed market in energy productivity.
Saving fuel typically costs less than burning fuel, and the gap is widening as efficiency costs continue to fall faster than fuel prices. Engineering economics has made climatic protection not costly but profitable. Therefore, debates about climate science, who should save energy first, and how to share the alleged pain of the savings are all misconceived and irrelevant. Just as the American economy has succeeded in displacing leaded gasoline, chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur emissions, and many toxic chemicals—all at costs far lower than initially expected—so modern technologies and market understanding can profitably displace carbon fuels too, yielding both a stable climate and a vibrant economy.
(TO READ THIS FULL ARTICLE, DOWNLOAD THE .PDF)
By L. Hunter Lovins & Michael Kinsley
Residents of many growing towns and cities are learning the hard way that growth is not the solution to their economic woes. While they enjoy the benefits of growth, they also are vexed by the problems it causes: traffic congestion, crime, long commutes, air pollution, increasing
intolerance, disrespect for traditional leadership, and increasingly cutthroat competition in local business. Rapid growth often causes higher rents, housing shortages, spiraling costs, and demands for higher wages to meet the higher cost of living.
Communities tolerate these side effects in hopes of capturing growth benefits. But some perceived benefits are illusory. For instance, most people believe that growth will give them an increased tax base that would relieve their tax burden and improve public services. But several
studies have discovered the contrary. Read more »
The environmental consciousness of recent years taught us many things, but one of the lessons we have yet to take to heart is that many of the challenges facing us are connected. Most of us live our lives as though this were not true. Governments and corporations, in particular, often manage their resources as if interconnections didn’t exist. A parable from Borneo illustrates why little understood connections are important.
In the early 1950s, the Dayak people in Borneo suffered from malaria. The World Health Organization had a solution: they sprayed large amounts of DDT to kill the mosquitoes that carried the malaria. The mosquitoes died, the malaria declined; so far, so good. But there were side-effects. Among the first was that the roofs of people’s houses began to fall down on their heads. It seemed that the DDT was killing a parasitic wasp that had previously controlled thatch-eating caterpillars. Worse, the DDT- poisoned insects were eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The cats died, the rats flourished, and people were threatened by outbreaks of sylvatic plague and typhus. To cope with these problems, which it had itself created, the World Health Organization was obliged to parachute 14,000 live cats into Borneo.
The Challenges Facing Us
If we do not understand interconnections, often the cause of problems is solutions. This is especially true in the management of such global resources as ea, air, climate, and the genepool, and more localized resources as soil, food, minerals, groundwater, and energy. Read more »
A recent survey paper  on modern techniques for preventing anthropogenic climatic change concludes:
Global warming is not a natural result of normal, optimal economic activity. Rather, it is an artifact of the economically inefficient use of resources, especially energy. Advanced technologies for resource efficiency, and new ways to implement them, can now support present or greatly expanded worldwide economic activity while stabilizing global climate – and saving money. New resource-saving techniques- chiefly in energy, farming, and forestry – generally work better and cost less than present methods that destabilize the earth’s climate.
Thus “most of the best ways known today to abate climatic change are not costly but profitable; not hostile but vital to global equity, development, prosperity, and security; and reliant not on dirigiste regulatory intervention but on the intelligent application of market forces.”
Jesse Ausubel’s review (Ausubel, 1982) of our recent joint analysis (Lovins et al., 1982) stimulates us to suggest, in the same friendly spirit, a few respects in which he missed the mark.
In considering how little energy could be used, and how little fossil fuel burned, if people used energy in a way that saved money, we do not feel we were being ‘extremely optimistic’, but rather soberly realistic. Perhaps Ausubel means by ‘optimistic’ something like James Branch Cabell’s remark that “The optimist proclaims we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true.” But the word implies that he thinks we are extrapolating unique, best-case results as if they could be achieved everywhere.
Someone not acquainted with the extraordinarily rapid recent progress in technologies for wringing more work from each unit of energy might easily jump to this conclusion. But the empirical cost and performance data which we document in considerable (some would say tedious) detail tell quite the opposite story. Verifying the references will confirm that we have consistently assumed less-than-best-case technologies, slowly and unevenly applied, with robust rather than arguable cost advantages.
If all the climatologists in the world were laid end to end, they might never reach a conclusion about the seriousness of the COi problem. But they have been led to accept one assumption about it: that increases in the rate of burning fossil fuel are inevitable (and essential for global development). Elaborate analyses of the climatic consequences of releasing carbon from fossil fuel have been built on that assumption. But the ingenuity and skill devoted to those analyses have been disproportionate to the quality of their most basic assumption: the future rate of burning fossil fuel. That rate is usually assumed, in a cursory opening paragraph, to increase by several percent per year, continuously and indefinitely. How many is ‘several’ matters little; all values lead to the same place sometime in the next century, and it is a place where only the webfooted would want to be.
Recent development in the energy marketplace, however, should give us pause. The United States since 1979 has gotten about a hundred times as much new energy from energy savings as from all expansions of energy supply combined. Moreover, of those expansions, more new energy has come from renewable sources than from any or all of the nonrenewables. OPEC is selling a third less oil than it did on the eve of the 1973 Arab oil embargo; there is a glut of coal-mining capacity; oil companies and utilities are being severely discomfited by flat or falling demand in place of the rapid growth that had been forecast; and nuclear power is commercially dead, having achieved in thirty years, after $40 billion in direct Federal subsidies, about half the rate of energy delivery that wood has achieved in five years with no subsidies.
These startling developments are often blamed on the current recession, and indeed changes in economic activity, by sector and in total, must be carefully taken into account. But what emerges from such an accounting is that the energy sector is undergoing a profound and historic structural change – driven largely by price (along with expectation of future price, perceived insecurity of supply, and many other psychological factors).