mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
This is your free article this month. A quality publication is not cheap to produce.
Subscribe today and support The American Interest—only $2.99/month!
Already a subscriber? Log in to make this banner go away.
Appeared in: Volume 5, Number 1
Published on: September 1, 2009
It's Easy Being Green

A conversation with Amory Lovins on our energy and environmental challenges.

AI: You’ve been doing path-finding work in energy policy and technology for years, from Soft Energy Paths (1977) to Natural Capitalism (1999) to Small Is Profitable (2002) to Winning the Oil Endgame (2004). Your Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has been around for 27 years, too. Do you find it frustrating that it’s taken four decades for simple and logical ideas to penetrate the political mainstream?

Amory Lovins: You remember Churchill’s alleged remark that you can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else. We must have worked our way well down the list by now. At one level, sure it’s frustrating. It makes us wonder how we could communicate more effectively. After about forty years you say, “Look, we’ve been through this several times already. What is it you didn’t get the first, second or third time around?” On the other hand, we know we’re making half-century-long changes, which requires relentless patience.

Things are different today than when we started, however. When I wrote my first professional paper on climate change in 1968, it was hard to get people to focus much concern on it. Now we have, if anything, the opposite problem: too many people needlessly immobilized by fear. But as Raymond Williams said, “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.” That’s the spirit in which we work, the spirit we call “applied hope.”

AI: What’s there to be hopeful about now? What’s really different from the post-Earth Day era in which the basic ideas were born?

Amory Lovins: I think there are several differences. One is that many people, not just the President, are starting to realize that whether you care most about prosperity and jobs or national security or climate and environment, you should do exactly the same things about energy. So if we focus on outcomes and attributes, not on motives, we can build a very broad consensus. This is not a conventional American political approach, because we tend to insist that people agree with our reason for wanting to do X, not just that X should be done. There are many people in the new Administration who have seen more quickly than their predecessors that we’re in a kind of tradeoff-free zone. Coming as this has in an otherwise factionalized and fractionalized polity, it is an amazing and novel circumstance.

A second major difference is that the technologies and delivery mechanisms for energy efficiency and renewables have also improved radically. Last year, for the first time, worldwide private investment in renewable power was greater than that in fossil-fuel power. And with the rapid growth of more efficiency and renewables, these now more influential and cohesive industries are better able to tell their story.

AI: Why has this taken so long? I know from reading Natural Capitalism your view that it’s in business’s interest to be good environmental stewards. That’s right, at least in theory, and in the long run. Yet the market has not seemed to confirm with any consistency the underlying premise of natural capitalism. After an oil shock, business and society responded effectively—for a while. For example, we made striking progress about thirty years ago in improving the energy intensity of the economy. But then we turned improvident again when fossil fuel prices came down and stayed there. Why can’t we seem to see beyond the latest spot-market price for light Arabian crude? Why haven’t price signals validated the premise of natural capitalism more clearly in recent decades?

Amory Lovins: These things take time, commodity prices tend to vary randomly, and very little of consequence tracks a straight-line evolution. As you suggested, for every dollar of GDP it now takes the United States about half as much energy, less than half as much oil, a third as much directly used natural gas and a third as much water as it did in 1975. That’s not bad. But in the mid-1980s, when efficiency’s success crashed energy prices, we stopped paying attention. The last time we paid attention to oil was the eight-year period from 1977 to 1985. In those eight years GDP grew 27 percent, oil use fell 17 percent, oil imports fell 50 percent, and oil imports from the Persian Gulf fell 87 percent. Oil imports from the Gulf would have been gone altogether in just one more year if the trend had continued. This suggests that even with older technologies, without any of the great stuff we have now, Americans can move fast when they put their minds to it.

AI: What makes us put our minds to it? Is it just that main market signal—price?

Amory Lovins: It’s not only about price. Regardless of how energy prices yo-yo around, we have two other strong motives to keep our eye on the ball: security and climate, neither of which will go away soon. Even if oil prices crash again, the other two motives are more durable and widespread than before. And they encompass different zones of the political spectrum, with environment more a liberal concern and security more a conservative one.

AI: But price still matters, right? And isn’t this where the big news for the future lies?

Amory Lovins: Price does matter and should be correct, though the ability to respond to price matters even more. That’s why much of RMI’s effort is devoted to “barrier-busting”—turning implementation obstacles (such as the 60–80 market failures in buying energy efficiency) into business opportunities. But there are also many cases where energy prices are neither sufficient nor critically important for the changes we must make. For example, the strongest principle of Natural Capitalism is natural resource productivity. The big headline is that we now know, very systematically, how to achieve expanding, not diminishing, returns to investments in resource productivity. That is, we know how to make big energy savings cheaper than small or no savings. RMI has demonstrated this in the thousand or so buildings we’ve helped design, various land and sea vehicles, and more than $30 billion worth of factories in 29 sectors. Having “tunneled through the cost barrier” in these various cases, we now feel very confident that the design principles of how to achieve astonishingly big energy and resource savings at less than usual cost are well understood and widely replicable. We even have a project to spread this practice very widely by reforming engineering pedagogy and practice. It’s called “10xE”, Factor Ten Engineering. It’s a plot for the non-violent overthrow of bad engineering.

AI: Well, for this facet of natural capitalism to really set roots, won’t it have to move ahead faster to bypass the short-termism now embedded in the thinking of American business culture?

Amory Lovins: I don’t see the problem. If an efficient building or factory is less expensive to build than an inefficient one, it doesn’t matter how short-term your thinking is: The payback period is negative and your discount rate doesn’t matter. What we really need to get over is not just short-termism, but the unfounded assumption that efficient and green must cost more upfront, or, for that matter, that climate protection is costly. The truth is that climate protection is highly profitable because efficiency is cheaper than fuel—it’s much cheaper to save fuel than to buy, store and deliver it. And yet all official policies and politics around climate change assume the opposite of what we know empirically to be so.

AI: It’s certainly true that everyone assumes high front-loaded costs and only eventual savings, if any savings, from going to green energy. People are in a neo-Malthusian frame of mind with regard to energy—and you’re saying this is empirically mistaken?

Amory Lovins: Yes, the economic theorists got the sign wrong. They keep telling us that climate protection is all about costs, burdens and sacrifice: What will it cost and who has to pay it? This makes the politics difficult. But if politicians actually look at the empirical data from practitioners, including most business leaders, they will find that they should be talking about profits, jobs and competitive advantage. Once they understand that, any remaining resistance will melt faster than the glaciers. Politics gets a lot easier when you’re talking about sharing goodies.

One of the underlying reasons for this win-win dynamic has to do with biomimetic design—that is, producing things the way nature does, with closed loops, no waste and no toxicity. If you look at the work of our colleague Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry [see
biomimicry.net], you’ll find astounding examples. Many companies are now achieving stunning competitive advantage by designing the way nature does. Biomimetic design is spreading much faster than most of us realize.

Another principle of Natural Capitalism, the solutions economy, is also starting to ooze up through the cracks all around us. You have the Zipcar model of leasing mobility instead of buying cars and gallons of gas. Much of the chemical industry has quietly switched over from selling tons of chemicals to leasing the services that the chemicals provide, like dissolving. It’s both smarter and cheaper to lease the service and use the same chemicals over and over again than it is to manage a flow from raw materials to hazmat.

And one more principle is spreading, too: reinvesting some of the savings you get from turning waste into profit back into the kind of capital that’s in shortest supply—namely, nature itself. This is showing up first in the sectors whose success depends directly on the health of the nature around them, like farming, fishing and forestry. We don’t see it yet as a general societal trend, but we see some interesting episodes. When New York City spends $1 billion to protect its watershed rather than $6 billion to build a potable water treatment plant to deal with the consequences of not protecting its watershed, you see that someone is paying attention to the principle.

AI: Is this also spreading outside the United States?

Amory Lovins: Yes. For example, some of the world’s leading mining companies are investing in rehabilitating mined lands to produce many forms of value. Some of the CEOs are wondering what took them so long to realize that they were sitting on huge idle assets in the fecundity of nature.

AI: Natural capitalism, as I understand it, does not indulge in market fundamentalism. It doesn’t claim that there’s no role for government, whether in the R&D; function or in other ways. How do you see the proper role of government in bringing about a wise energy system?

Amory Lovins: I think government should steer, not row. I’m happiest when government steers in the right direction, but I am also mindful that there are three main centers of power and action in society. Typically, in order of decreasing effectiveness, these are business, civil society and government. For the past thirty-odd years, my colleagues and I have focused roughly 90 percent on the private sector in its co-evolution with civil society. We do very little with government, especially national government, because we actually want to get things done. We make exceptions, but my institute leaves it to other groups to lobby and litigate, and our policy interventions are very selective.

AI: I think history bears out your approach. When you look at times of economic difficulty in American history, we tend to have outgrown and out-entrepreneured our problems. We haven’t managed ourselves out of them through government policies. Government policies usually follow; they rarely lead.

Amory Lovins: Exactly right in most cases (though not all, such as the New Deal). I gave a talk last August at the annual Traverse City meeting of the leaders of the car industry. Apparently my speech was considered startling, because it grabbed the front page of the Automotive News special on the conference. I said that customer demand and competitive pressures would far outpace regulation as a driver of automotive efficiency. But that’s exactly what’s starting to happen.

AI: You were opposed to nuclear power back in the 1970s and 1980s. Are you still?

Amory Lovins: You don’t go back far enough. I actually thought nuclear power was a good idea through the mid-1960s, when I got a number of national prizes from the industry. What I knew about it was what they told me. Then I did my homework and concluded that it was an economic turkey that had other serious drawbacks (among which proliferation tops the list). It still is. It is grossly uneconomical to build any more nuclear plants. This is illustrated by the fact that in the three years starting in August 2005, when the next six U.S. reactors to be built (if any) would get new subsidies (on top of the old ones) that approximate or exceed their construction costs, not a penny of private equity capital was offered for any of the 29 proposed projects.

Worldwide in 2006—the most recent year of full global data we have—nuclear power did add 1.44 billion watts of net capacity worldwide, roughly one big plant’s worth. However, that was less than what photovoltaics added, a tenth of what windpower added, and thirty to 41 times less than what micropower added. (Micropower is distributed renewables, that is, renewables other than big hydro, plus co-generating electricity and useful heat in buildings or factories.) In 2007, the gap widened: The United States, China or Spain singly added more windpower capacity than the world added nuclear power. In 2008, the world added no new nuclear units, but distributed renewables alone added forty billion watts and received more than $100 billion in private investment. What part of this story does anyone who takes markets seriously not understand?

AI: So you think the folks at Areva, and the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese are headed down the wrong road in trying to expand their commercial nuclear technologies?

Amory Lovins: Not necessarily for them, because economic efficiency isn’t their only goal. Notice that all the new orders are in centrally planned electricity systems. Nuclear has never been bid into a competitive procurement process for a new reactor because there’s no chance it could compete. In the United States, for example, it costs three times as much per kilowatt-hour as firmed windpower. Other countries go the nuclear route because it matches their political complexion: They can control the political process, and they or their customers can force taxpayers to foot the costs that private investors are unwilling to pay.

AI: Will political factors continue to override economic ones?

Amory Lovins: It’s hard to say. Even in China, a centrally planned system, at the end of 2006 their nuclear program, though the most ambitious in the world, had only a seventh as much capacity as their distributed renewables, and it was growing seven times slower. The vibrant wind and other renewable sectors, which they’ve been building on a largely capitalist model, are outpacing and outscoring their centrally planned nuclear program. Indeed, China busted through its 2010 windpower target in 2007 and now looks set to beat its 2020 windpower target in 2010!

I expect governments will gradually realize that new nuclear plants are an ineffective way to save carbon emissions. They do save some carbon, but about two to twenty times less, and twenty to forty times slower, than if you spent the same money buying efficiency and micropower instead. That’s what the market is doing, and I think nuclear technology will slowly die of an incurable attack of market forces. Its death will be slowed thanks to expansionist rhetoric and wildly extravagant new subsidies. But die it must. I can’t think of any previous technology that we’ve had to pay people to haul away. The subsidy mania for nuclear power, which continues to expand in Congress, will have roughly the same effect as defibrillating a corpse: It will jump, but it will not revive.

AI: Let’s turn now to cars, including the Hypercar. How practical is a hydrogen-powered car as opposed to, say, plug-in electrics or gas/electric hybrids? How does the cost-benefit analysis among technologically feasible alternatives pan out?

Amory Lovins: You’re asking the wrong question. Let’s go right to the Hypercar. A Hypercar is an ultralight, ultra-low-drag car with advanced propulsion. It is software-rich, radically simplified, and has a highly integrated design. The one we designed with industrial partners back in the year 2000 was a 114-mpg mid-size SUV designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells, but it could just as well have been a 67-mpg Prius-like gasoline hybrid. The key point is that if you have very efficient cars that take about three times less energy to move because they’re light and slippery, then hydrogen-fuel cell cars, battery-electric cars and plug-in hybrids can all make sense and make money for their buyers and producers. If you have efficient cars ready for an advanced and threefold-smaller power train, it’s a big horserace and no one knows who will win. There will probably be multiple winners in different markets. These are all viable alternatives once the cars themselves become efficient.

As to hydrogen, its relative efficiency will depend on how we produce the hydrogen. If we make hydrogen from electricity made in typical thermal power plants, a car will emit two to six times less carbon per mile than a current gasoline-powered car, but the hydrogen will be expensive. It would be more sensible to make hydrogen in the cheaper way we already make 96 percent of it, which is out of natural gas. However, it is likely that a mature, large-scale wind industry would make enough cheap electricity to justify electrolyzing water to produce hydrogen to run cars.

AI: While we’re talking about alternatives to oil and gas, what do you make of ethanol? Some say it has been a useful way to dampen imports and hence to exert some downward pressure on price. Others say it’s a thermodynamic fraud and a corporate rip-off for agribusiness—as well as bad for the soil and our water-economy. What’s your read?

Amory Lovins: The case against corn ethanol is often exaggerated, but it’s not a method I’ve advocated. The big problem lies not with the ethanol but with the way we usually grow the corn. In general, we shouldn’t connect the energy and food systems any more than they already are. So I prefer to make the cars, trucks and planes three times more efficient in the first place. There are biofuels that would then make sense and not mess up the food system or the climate. These typically use byproducts or waste products of the food and forest systems, or woody and weedy plants grown on land not currently cultivated. For example, we could run the entire road transportation system (if it’s efficient) just with perennial polyculture of things like switchgrass grown on Conservation Reserve land, without needing to use any farmland.

AI: I wonder how much energy we could get out of all that damn kudzu vine.

Amory Lovins: Something must eat kudzu or we’d really be up to our necks in it. I think there are people trying to figure that out.

I also suspect we will find, as many of the smarter biofuels companies are concluding, that there is no economic or strategic logic in highly centralized production of biofuels. A better approach would be converters that are versatile foraging herbivores and that live on the back of a truck. I think we’ll end up with a diverse palette of fuel sources, but again the often-neglected key is to make the vehicles properly efficient in the first place. We should do this anyway for many reasons, including safety, as well as cost, climate and security.

AI: That leads me to a specific question about lightweight materials: Why do we still make cars and trucks mainly out of metal? Can’t we fabricate a synthetic material that is much lighter but also stable, flexible and moldable—in other words, one that’s reasonably cheap to make and safe to drive?

Amory Lovins: There are legitimate lightweighting solutions that use ultralight steels and metals like aluminum. I drive a 64-mile-per-gallon aluminum hybrid, for example. However, the stiffest and strongest solution competing with metal—the market will sort out who wins—is advanced polymer composites such as those reinforced with carbon fiber. I agree with the gist of your question: The evidence is clear that lightweighting is the most important thing we can do to improve both the efficiency and the safety of a car. When you use light, strong materials that decouple size from weight, you can make the car big, which is protective and comfortable, without also making it heavy, which is hostile and inefficient. You can thus save lives, oil and money simultaneously. The SUV design we did in 2000 can, according to the simulations, run into a wall at 35 miles per hour without any damage to the passenger compartment. It can also run head-on into a steel SUV twice its weight, each going thirty miles per hour, and still protect passengers from serious injury.

Such cars may be closer to the market than you think, too. There are some very interesting concept and market-intent vehicles already in existence that reinforce your point. Most astonishing is the 1/X from Toyota, shown in autumn 2007 at the Tokyo Motor Show. They call it 1/X because it has the interior volume of a Prius hybrid with half the fuel use and a third the weight. It’s made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic and weighs 420 kilograms, twenty of which is extra batteries to make it a plug-in hybrid. If it were an ordinary hybrid it would weigh 400 kilograms, or 880 pounds. (Coincidentally, that’s just what I said back in 1991 a good carbon car should weigh—to much mirth from the industry, as I’m sure you can imagine.) Most concept cars don’t get to market, so this 1/X concept car might be dismissed as a brag. But the day before it was shown, Toray, the world’s biggest maker of carbon fiber, announced a factory in Nagoya to mass-produce carbon-fiber car parts for Toyota. The two announcements together are clearly a statement of strategic intent. Honda and Nissan now have similar deals with Toray, so it’s safe to assume the next leapfrog development in automotive engineering is off and running.

AI: Are any American companies onto this yet?

Amory Lovins: It took them a while to realize what Toray and Toyota had just told them, because these were announced on two different days in two different places. There was a complete failure of corporate intelligence to connect the dots. But now they’ve noticed.

AI: I’m shocked…shocked.

Amory Lovins: Well, I was shocked, too, but not surprised. Full disclosure: I’ve been an adviser to Ford for the past few years, and I’ve seen some exciting work going on there and elsewhere. Some new synergies are in the offing. For example, as a car gets lighter the powertrain can get smaller and still produce the same acceleration; then costs saved by downsizing the powertrain can help for the lightweighting. Ford, Nissan, Audi and the Chinese auto industry are already leading a lightweighting revolution.

AI: That will have an impact of a whole range of issues, won’t it?

Amory Lovins: Sure. For example, if you make cars out of the ultralight materials now used for things like airplane seats and helmets and backpack frames, half the weight and half the fuel use of the car go away, it’s safer (because these materials can absorb 12 times as much crash energy per pound as steel), and the car costs the same to make. Why? Because you pay more for the ultralight material, but you save 99 percent of the tooling costs, 100 percent of the body shop and, if you wish, the paint shop (which are the two costliest parts of making the car), and two-thirds of the powertrain goes away too. It’s almost incidental that these uncompromised cars will get roughly a hundred miles per gallon of gasoline.

If you’re talking about a plug-in hybrid, a light and slippery car will eliminate half the batteries we need. You hear a lot about how batteries are too expensive for battery and hybrid cars to work. One way to make batteries cheaper is not to need so many of them. If you’re an automaker, it’s smarter to spend your money making the car lighter and more slippery rather than trying to make your fuel cells and batteries and so on cheaper and your hydrogen tanks smaller. You’ll get the same result with less cost, time and risk. I wish Detroit had understood this, because they wasted a decade not understanding it. But RMI’s fifth spinoff, Bright Automotive, has shown a driving prototype of its IDEA one-ton delivery/utility van—a hundred mile per gallon (city) plug-in hybrid that needs no subsidy because it’s so light and slippery that it eliminates more than half of the costly batteries.

AI: Let’s talk a little about electricity. Your idea that biofuel production should not be centralized but distributed for the sake of efficiency tracks with your ideas about electricity generation, right? Is that because we waste so much electrical energy transmitting it over long distances?

Amory Lovins: Well, only three percent of U.S. electricity is lost in transmission, plus another four percent in distribution. Those numbers double on the hottest days of the year, when the wires and transformers are hot and so exhibit higher resistance. So if we can decentralize electricity production and distribution, there will be savings in both the losses and the capacity of the grid, which nowadays often costs more than the power plants. But end-use efficiency is the real game in town. It’s enormously important in both buildings and industry, which use, respectively, about 70 percent and 30 percent of our electricity. We now know how to save three-fourths of U.S. electricity cheaper than just operating a coal or nuclear power plant, even if that plant and the grid were free. Indeed, if the United States used electricity only as productively as the top ten states do now (adjusting for each state’s economic mix and climate), then 62 percent of coal-fired electricity would become unnecessary.

AI: That leads me to a final question: Between the President’s vision and Congress’s predilections, what do you think the next big energy bill will look like?

Amory Lovins: I have no idea. It will probably look like a sausage, or a camel, which was a horse designed by committee. There are lots of cooks in this kitchen, and they all want different outcomes. I would suggest that a promising direction for the President to consider might be to smoke out the corporate socialists in free-marketeer’s clothing. Namely, set a national energy policy whose basic framework is to allow and require all ways to save or produce energy to compete fairly at honest prices, regardless of their type, technology, size, location or ownership. Let’s see who’s not in favor of that.

AI: Subsidies in the sausage are like most chemical additives to actual food. Both are toxic.

Amory Lovins: And our energy system is incredibly subsidized. When RMI first analyzed the Federal subsidies in detail for fiscal year 1984, there was more than $50 billion in subsidies from the Federal treasury to the energy system, and they varied more than 200-fold in subsidy per unit of energy between the more and the less favored technologies. Today, nobody really knows whether the total is bigger or smaller. I suspect that with recent actions it may well be bigger, and even more lopsided.

Worse than the subsidies, in a way, is the lack of creativity in national energy policy. When we published Winning the Oil Endgame five years ago, we put forward a detailed and transparent roadmap for getting the United States completely off oil by the 2040s at an average cost of $15 per barrel, led by business for profit. We suggested many innovative policy instruments, almost none of which are yet under political discussion. Today’s political discussion is all about the old policy instruments of taxes, subsidies and mandates, as if that’s all we can do. That’s a very impoverished slate of policies. We suggested others that are more attractive and effective. We found that we could accelerate and ensure the success of the journey beyond oil without any new Federal taxes, subsidies, mandates or even laws. They could all be executed administratively, or at the state level. For example, “feebates” for buying new cars—a fee on inefficient models recycled into rebates for efficient models within each size class—were tried in 2008 in France. In the first year, sales went down 42 percent for inefficient cars and up 50 percent for efficient cars. Any state could do this today, and some are considering it.

AI: But it’s hard to be optimistic about government creativity, given the record. As you mentioned earlier, it’s much easier to be hopeful about business and civil society.

Amory Lovins: That’s how I feel. I don’t think that public policy, important as it is and promising though it now looks, is the biggest key to the locks we need to open for the economy, the environment and national security. I think there is equal or greater leverage available from innovation in technology, design and business strategy. The best example of what I mean by that is the Boeing story.

In 1997, Boeing was in as much trouble as Detroit was a decade later. So they got their costs under control with wrenching changes like the Toyota production system. But they still had thin innovation in the pipeline. The Sonic Cruiser, which was their main innovation, died of an incurable attack of oil prices. Meanwhile, Airbus was starting to pull ahead to such an extent that some observers questioned Boeing’s future. Well, in 2004, Boeing’s bold riposte was the 787 Dreamliner, which saved a fifth of the fuel at the same price and cut the final assembly time from 11 days to three. With 850 firm orders, this plane is sold out into 2018. That’s the fastest order take-off of any jet in history. Now Boeing is rolling out that suite of innovations to every airplane it makes, before Airbus can steer itself out of its current ditch.

Boeing did not respond to a law or a policy. It just made a smart business decision to leapfrog platform technology, then turned that into a breakthrough competitive strategy by doubling down on it, rolling it into every plane Boeing makes and accelerating work on even more efficient models, so it’s even harder for Airbus to catch up. With their new momentum and cash flow, Airbus will probably never catch up.

In Winning the Oil Endgame, which I wrote just as the Boeing strategy was emerging, I suggested that Detroit try the same thing.

AI: They didn’t take your advice, then.

Amory Lovins: But they are now. For example, two years after our recommendation, Ford hired the head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes as its own CEO. You’ll have noticed that Ford no longer looks like GM and Chrysler. The tsunami of creative destruction that, as we foresaw, is washing over Detroit is changing the managers or their minds—whichever comes first. I think this is going very satisfactorily, even though it’s painful. But we’ve been calling this one for 19 years now, and it has finally come to a head. I think Boeing’s strategy is a very important harbinger of where Detroit could go.

AI: Any specific recommendations on how to get there faster?

Amory Lovins: Yes. It turns out that it’s worth paying automakers to help us get off oil faster. I’m talking about forgiving their loans—or even compensating them directly if, like Ford, they don’t have loans—according to a formula based on how many super-efficient cars they sell, how fast they sell them, and how much more efficient those cars are than required by the new standards. If you did that, to a level richly justified by even the most conservative estimates of the “hidden” external costs of buying and burning oil, that would be enough to forgive the GM and Chrysler loans. This could help make those companies reorganize as boldly as they did in 1942–43, when it took them just six months to switch over from making cars to making one-fifth of all the materiel that won the war and laid the foundation for Detroit’s industrial dominance for the next half-century.

AI: I’m a beneficiary of that shift, since I own a 1952 Cadillac. That Cadillac benefited greatly from technology shifts that GM undertook during and after World War II.

Amory Lovins: Exactly right. So it seems to me that holding out in front of the automakers not just sticks painted orange but real fat carrots would alter the balance of their internal debate between those who think incrementalism is the low-risk approach and those who understand that transformational design is really the low-risk approach.

AI: This has been fascinating—much appreciated.

Amory Lovins: You’re welcome, and thanks for asking.

Amory Lovins, co-founder of Rocky Mountain Institute and a pioneer of “soft energy paths”, spoke with AI editor Adam Garfinkle on June 11 about his vision of America’s energy future.
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service