The skyrocketing price of petroleum has put America and most of the world in a tight spot right now, with global warming as a parallel and greater problem that must also be addressed. Bush's prescription for fuel-pump woes -- drilling in environmentally sensitive areas -- will fatten Big Oil profits but won't save consumers more than a penny or two, or help reduce our greenhouse-gas output. And his heavily subsidized ethanol-from-corn program has had minimal impact, except to add to the world food crisis and make farmers happy in the Midwest. Bold action is needed, steps that should have been taken decades ago. Whoever wins in November, Barack Obama or John McCain, needs to make radical moves to reduce our oil addiction. Our next president could help safeguard America's future by inviting energy guru Amory Lovins to be Secretary of Energy, rather than giving the job to a political ally.
The appointment of Lovins, an energy-efficiency genius, would make more of a difference to our country's economic future than all the oil in Iraq and Venezuela. Furthermore, it would be a non-partisan cabinet pick hailed by forward-thinking Democrats and Republicans alike. Lovins is a physicist and environmentalist who defies boundaries; he has advised Fortune 500 corporations, twenty American states, the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, and nineteen other countries. He has received nine honorary doctorates, a MacArthur Fellowship and numerous other prizes, and authored or co-authored acclaimed books on renewable energy and energy efficiency (including Winning the Oil Endgame and Natural Capitalism).
Lovins advocates a "soft energy path" built on energy conservation, the use of renewable sources of energy, and local or on-site generation of energy. He knows how to make buildings, cars and cities greener. The November, 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics described Lovins as:
"a pragmatic, pliers-in-hand visionary with a penchant for physics who spends his time engineering a future in which Americans stop burning fossil fuels, yet improve their standard of living. Getting there, he's certain, is mainly a matter of tapping a nearly limitless resource -- corporate pressure to cut costs and improve the bottom line."
Lovins came to prominence with his 1976 essay "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" for Foreign Affairs magazine. He is the co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org), a nonprofit "think-and-do tank" established in 1982 in Colorado. RMI's motto is "abundance through design" and it seeks to "foster the efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, just, prosperous, and life-sustaining." Its mission statement adds:
"Our staff shows businesses, communities, individuals, and governments how to create more wealth and employment, protect and enhance natural and human capital, increase profit and competitive advantage, and enjoy many other benefits -- largely by doing what they do far more efficiently."
RMI's "Built Environment Team" (BET) focuses on the "green building" industry and serves as consultants and as a conceptual think-tank. They reduce energy costs, and show businesses or landlords how to lower operating costs. In one project, RMI helped Texas Instruments reduce its energy costs by 20% and water use by 35% in a semiconductor facility built in 2004. RMI's own headquarters, built at 7200 feet in Snowmass, is a model of energy self-sufficiency with ridiculously low fuel bills even during brutally cold winters.
RMI also researches mass transit and vehicle design. Currently, RMI is advising Wal-Mart, which plans to double the fuel efficiency of its fleet of 6800 trucks by 2015. And RMI's "Hypercar" research, begun in 1999, seeks to capture synergies of ultra-light construction, low-drag design, hybrid-electric drives and fuel cells to ultimately create a mid-priced vehicle that would get more than 100mpg.
Lovins has the know-how for creating green buildings, developing ultra-efficient cars, reducing energy waste and developing alternative sources of power. These are strategies the federal government needs to encourage and subsidize on a massive scale to achieve energy independence and the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. Doing so would strengthen our economy and also spread vital energy-efficiency technologies to other countries. And it just might save the planet.
I'm hoping Amory Lovins is on both Obama and McCain's short list.