What follows is a chronological list of all blog posts by NCS staff, interns, and associates. Use the menu to the right to search or restrict your results by author, publication or date.
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.
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.
Sustainable Recovery (by Toby Russell)
It’s been a long time in the making. Way back in August of 2013 Natural Capitalism Solutions won the contract to support the creation of the Lyons Environmental Sustainability Action Plan. The vision of the plan was to create a document that would help guide Lyons on a path toward a sustainable future. A future that harnesses the creativity of the dynamic population minimizes their impact on the environment, and spurs innovation.
Just after the project started, a devastating flood tore though Lyons and changed everything. It destroyed and damaged twenty percent of the housing stock, desolated the town’s parks, and displaced 200+ residents. But in true Lyons spirit the community rose up, rallied around those that needed help, and volunteered—over 500 people took part in the recovery planning process. Natural Capitalism was there every step of the way to help guide them through this process keeping resiliency and sustainability at the forefront of the process.
The result was a great Recovery Plan but more had to be done to help the town become as resilient as possible moving forward.
Natural Capitalism and those that initially supported the creation of the Sustainability Plan picked it back up and drove it forward. In order to move beyond recovery Lyons needed a comprehensive strategy to be more resilient and to reduce their impact on the environment. After all, the effects of climate change directly contribute to the soaring increase of natural disasters.
Through a series of guided stakeholder meetings and research into best practices of successful sustainable communities 130 recommendations were identified and refined down to the 60 that were most popular and impactful. The recommendations along with the full Sustainability Action Plan can be found at: www.lyonssustainability.com.
The path for Lyons to a sustainable future is clearer now, in large part because of Natural Capitalism’s work. We applaud the efforts and accomplishments of our neighbors seven miles to the West and look forward to continuing our work with them in implementing this ambitious undertaking.
Where did winter go? My friends in the Northeast are pleased to see it move off, but for me it’s been a blur.
My main priority has been to push forward the creation of a narrative for an economy in service to life—one that works for 100% of humanity, as Bucky Fuller put it.
This is something I cannot do alone, so I have been pulling together a coalition of leaders from across the globe. After pitching the idea at the Club of Rome, I was asked to serve on their Executive Committee and help make it one of their three core-action pillars.
We made progress in February when the DeTao Academy in China invited core members of the coalition to Shanghai, chaired by Dr Robert Costanza, who is the one who got me into all this in the first place. In this meeting on the Future New Economy my colleagues, John Fullerton of Capital Institute, on whose advisory Board I serve, and Dr Robert Eccles, now overseeing the creation of the new Sustainability Accounting Standards Board here in the US, discussed transforming finance, accounting and all aspects of our economy. Today John is releasing the full version of his seminal Regenerative Capitalism paper: livestream at 4:30pm EDT. Follow the #RegenerativeCapitalism hashtag on twitter for real-time updates.
We can do it. Never thought I’d say this, but we’re winning. Whether it’s the news on China’s coal imports in the first three months of 2015 being 42% below a year ago, or talks with utilities trying to figure how to move rapidly toward renewable solutions, I’m more encouraged than I’ve been in years. This is the message I’ll give for my dear friend Anne Butterfield’s “Soiree” this Saturday in Boulder. Join me for a great evening of conversation.
It’s also what I said in March at Maui’s conference on the Future Utility Customer, as I urged the state to commit to 100% renewable energy.And again last week at my dear friend Bob King’s SPEER Summit on energy efficiency in Texas, when I warned that the thinking of the last century is changing fast: Eon and RWE the two biggest, previously fossil-based utilities in Europe, watched profits fall last year respectively 60% and 91% as Germany shifts rapidly to renewable energy. Both Eon and RWE are now divesting of their fossil assets. Citi Group’s Energy Darwinism report warns of the “alarming fall in the price of solar.” Alarming to whom? And Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance wrote last week that Fossil fuel just lost the race against renewables, saying: “…there is going to be a substantial buildout of renewable energy that is likely to be an order of magnitude larger than the buildout of coal and gas.” Congratulate yourselves, all of you have worked so long to bring about this transformation. It’s happening.
The next couple months will be spent on an airplane. You can follow me on twitter @hlovins as I jet to Stockholm for my economy work and to London to work with the Guardian, for whom I am now writing: see my latest two “Life after divestment: how to spend the money saved from fossil fuel investments,” and “The climate denier’s guide to getting rich from fossil fuel divestment.”
Then back to NY to teach at Bard—finishing my class in political economy and overseeing student capstone projects, several of which will truly make a difference. Any of you who ever thought about taking an MBA in sustainable management with me, we’re forming up our class for next fall. Contact Katie Van Sant: email@example.com if you want to come play.
After a quick run to Morocco to keynote a conference for the King of Morocco on Doing Well and Doing Good, I’ll return to Colorado to keynote a summit on divesting from ownership of fossil fuels, and why, if you’ve just divested you should be moving your money from harm to healing (I have…have you?) I’m working on this with the new investment advisory service, Principium to build a set of portfolios that are genuinely fossil fuel free, focused on the best new economy companies as well as the blue-chips, like Unilever, that have embedded sustainability into the core of their operations.
So welcome to spring. That said, last week, on a five campus tour, crossing the Berkshires to keynote the “Strengthening Ties for Collective Impact: Campus Sustainability in the Northeast Region” conference at U Mass, it snowed on us. And tonight there’s 5 inches predicted for the ranch.
Not whining—we need the moisture. This was the hottest 3-month start of any year on record and will likely be the hottest year ever. As always, there’s more work to be done! And as always I cannot do it without you. Thanks for making it possible.
NCS Interns: Where Are They Now Series
My internship at Nat Cap was the first step in turning a passion for environmental stewardship into a new career. The very talented Nat Cap staff worked side by side with interns, treating us as colleagues, to produce their research and many consulting and education projects. I’ve often referred to the interns as a machine; they are an integral part of the engine that is Natural Capitalism Solutions. Being an intern from spring through fall, meant an enormously enriching experience, working with many different interns, all from diverse backgrounds. I was also involved with Hunter’s first Sustainability Leadership and Implementation Course at Denver University, which provided further experiential learning and indoctrination on the business case for sustainability. What this experience grew into was the inspiration to turn an idea into a reality. Upon leaving Nat Cap I launched my business, Commute Matters.
The business case for sustainability, so thoroughly ingrained in Nat Cap’s mission, is now the primary tenet on which Commute Matters markets its Employee Commute Optimization System. The seed was planted many years ago when I commuted from Denver to Boulder, always thinking “someone on the other side of the highway is doing the same job in Denver and making the opposite commute; couldn’t we just swap jobs?” For years I thought about this. While at Nat Cap I started talking about the idea and with the encouragement I received, finally started doing something about it. I took an MBA class – Business Planning for Social Entrepreneurs, and there I realized where job swapping was both possible and made the greatest impact: in chain stores, in retail, food service, banking and hospitality, where the majority of the employees drive past two or three company stores getting to the one where they work. By relocating workers to closer stores, the workers save time, money, and stress. They arrive more often, on time, and happier. And they quit less, saving the company substantially on turnover costs. Best of all, the community sees less traffic and emissions, which leads to a better quality of life. Government has worked long and hard on solutions to traffic congestion and environmental issues, yet these problems persist. Using commute optimization puts control in the hands of business to solve not only a major talent management issue but to take a leading role in solving major transportation and environmental issues. One retailer in a city can reduce traffic by 6 million miles and CO2 by 7 million lbs in just one year. What if they all did? That’s the mission we’re on.
I’m forever grateful for the great experience and education, incredible colleagues, and unforgettable inspiration I developed through my work with Natural Capitalism Solutions. Thank You!
ISSP Conference | Wisdom Panel
13 November 2014
During the ISSP Conference Wisdom Panel last Thursday, November 13th, if your pen wasn’t flying fast enough you might have missed some of the books, videos, ideas and leaders Hunter thinks worth checking out. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
- Charlie Rose interviews Jeremy Grantham
long version on hulu: http://www.hulu.com/watch/466390
youtube version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llSP61r-pfE
- Russell Brand vs. Jeremy Paxman
- Winning the Story Wars: Jonah Sachs
- Creating Climate Wealth: Jigar Shah
- The Spirit Level: Kate Pickett & Richard Wilkinson
- Limits to Growth: Donella H. Meadows
- Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB): http://www.sasb.org/
By 2014 NCS Intern
“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” -Steve Jobs
People often think that it takes extraordinary genius, luck, or serendipity to make big things happen. That corporations are untouchable behemoths that rule the world. I had grown up with the preconception that only the ‘big’ could produce big. At Natural Capitalism Solutions, I’ve seen the truth first hand: that businesses everywhere run off of the work of individuals, whose passion and dedication can make change and can influence the world. It is real people, not governments and corporations, who build the things that make up the world around us. While interning at NCS, I felt like a contributing member of a small team making an indisputably large impact. It has always been a dream of mine to make a dent in this world for the better and this experience has made me feel that not only is this dream worth striving for, but it is actually very attainable –an exciting paradigm shift that already changed my approach to work and life. Read more »
5 February 2014
In 1934 when the FBI asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he reportedly answered, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Today, if you ask an investor in the fossil energy sector to be candid about why he is robbing our children’s future, he would give the same response: That’s where the money is.
Whether we’re talking about government subsidies, or buying stock, or wildcatting for oil, or shoveling coal, or destroying a wetland for economic development, we are investing in things that degrade the future, squander natural capital, and spend our children’s inheritance.
That needs to change not only for moral reasons, but also because investments in things that hurt us tend to become bad bets. The increasing risk of investing in companies that help create climate change or whose profits are threatened by it is the reason the Securities and Exchange Commission wants companies to publicly report their climate risks each year and why most companies apparently don’t want to. Read more »
by L. Hunter Lovins
17 October 2013
Commissioned by the United Nations
The global economy rests on a knife-edge. It is based on unsustainable assumptions and business practices that are driving societies and ecosystems into successive collapses. There are many palliative “fixes” that can prop the system up – but only for a time.
What is needed is a new development paradigm, one based on recognizing that the economy depends wholly on preserving healthy ecosystems. The current paradigm, based on what Randy Hayes calls Cheater Capitalism,[i] in which individuals are told to make their own way in a dog-eat-dog “free” market, while incumbent technologies and corporate profits are subsidized, losses are socialized, the commons are privatized and the too-big-to-fail are bailed out. Yet we believe the shared story that in capitalism the smartest win, everyone has equal opportunity to get rich, techno-geniuses like Bill Gates have the money, so they will save the world. The unspoken option is to stand with out hands out.[ii]
We need a new strategy of change. Read more »
By 2013 NCS Intern
Q: Do you believe in climate disruption?
A: It Depends on the Weather
Human caused climate disruption is real and happening all around us. According to some, however, the conviction that climate disruption is indeed happening, well, depends on the weather.
As Professor Ed Maibach at George Mason University stated in an interview this past May, “People’s assessments of climate change are very susceptible to what they’ve recently experienced in the weather.”[i] It shouldn’t be this way. We ought to be smart enough to know that weather does not equal climate, but Professor Maibach is not alone in his assertion. Numerous studies conducted by the scientific community show that public opinion of human-caused climate disruption changes after recent extreme weather events.[ii]
Unless you live in a cave, you noticed the extreme weather variability between Spring 2012 and Spring 2013. Figure 1 shows the extreme dryness in Colorado in April 2012. In April 2013, however, residents experienced a completely different story as depicted in Figure 2. In 2012, most states in the country were gripped by drought, many experienced severe to anomalous levels of dryness.[iii] The drought, of course, contributed to the active fire season last year and such megafires as the High Park Fire near Fort Collins, Colorado and the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs.[iv] Read more »