221. AMORY LOVINS: THE REAL GENIUS
Among commentators on the peak oil/energy scene, I like Amory Lovins the best. His thinking is the closest to my own.
First of all, he hasn't got a drop of doom in him. This is Amory from a new article in Discover magazine:
When I give talks about energy, the audience already knows about the problems. That's not what they've come to hear. So I don't talk about problems, only solutions. But after a while, during the question period, someone in the back will get up and give a long riff about all the bad things that are happening—most of which are basically true. There's only one way I've found to deal with that. After this person calms down, I gently ask whether feeling that way makes him more effective.Secondly, he's of the opinion (like me) that we don't need oil. His most recent book is called Winning the Oil Endgame, and here's the blurb:
As René Dubos, the famous biologist, once said, "Despair is a sin."
Winning the Oil Endgame offers a strategy for ending US oil dependence, and is applicable worldwide. There are many analyses of the oil problem. This synthesis is the first roadmap of the oil solution -- one led by business for profit.As you can see, Amory thinks we have a bright, capitalist future without oil, and thus qualifies as a genuine peak oil heretic.
Third, he's got this great idea called "End-use/least-cost analysis":
Until then, the energy problem was generally considered to be: Where do we get more energy? People were preoccupied with where we could get more energy of any kind, from any sources, for any price—as if all our needs were the same. I started instead at the other end of the problem: What do we want the energy for?This nicely captures what's wrong with most of the peak oil debate. Too many people (like "Dick Cheney" peak oilers) are hung up on our "need" for oil and gas. (HOW WILL WE MEET THE DEMAND??!!!??) We need to stop obsessing about where to get the stuff, and, instead, think through what the hell we're trying to do with it.
You don't generally want lumps of coal or barrels of sticky black goo. You want comfort, illumination, mobility, baked bread, and so on. And for each of these end uses we should ask: How much energy, of what quality, at what scale, from what source will do the job in the cheapest way? That's now called the end-use/least-cost approach, and a lot of the work we do at Rocky Mountain Institute involves applying it to a wide range of situations.
End-use/least-cost analysis begins with a simple question: What are you really trying to do? If you go to the hardware store looking for a drill, chances are what you really want is not a drill but a hole. And then there's a reason you want the hole. If you ask enough layers of "Why?"—as Taiichi Ohno, the inventor of the Toyota production system, told us—you typically get to the root of the problem.
Amory's Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), located in frigid Aspen, Colorado, is a model of energy efficiency, which even has banana gardens. So why don't we all live in houses like this? Lovins 4,000 square foot home has a monthly electrical bill of $5 with 20-year-old technology. So why exactly do we "need" nuclear and coal power plants?
Amory definitely cuts to the root of our problems, but it's funny how peak oilers respond to him. They don't talk about him much. Some see him as a another deluded soul, dreaming of an optimistic future which will never come. But some respect him. Which is weird, because he is basically Peak Oil Debunker #1.
-- by JD