Well, this is interesting.
‘…Lovins, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has been one of the world’s leading advocates and innovators of energy conservation for 50 years. He wrote his first paper on climate change while at Oxford in 1968, and in 1976 he offered Jimmy Carter’s government a blueprint for how to triple energy efficiency and get off oil and coal within 40 years. In the years since there is barely a major industry or government that he and his Rocky Mountain Institute have not advised.’
1968. The same year, curiously enough, that The Club of Rome was founded. But that is probably just a coincidence.
‘Lovins is arguing for the mass insulation of buildings alongside a vast acceleration of renewables. “We should crank [them] up with wartime urgency. There should be far more emphasis on efficiency,” he says.
Which is almost exactly what ‘Insulate Britain’ is advocating. How curious.
‘He sees Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as an outrage, but possibly also a step towards solving the climate crisis and a way to save trillions of dollars. “He… may inadvertently have put the energy transition and climate solutions into a higher gear. Whether or not we end up in a recession because of the disruption, [Putin’s war] may prove to be a great thing for climate economics.’
Personally, I don’t think there is any ‘inadvertently’ about it. But then I did write about that at the start of the conflict.
As to the possibility of a recession: it’s pretty much inevitable, and has been for some time given that our glorious leaders have been splashing money about like children playing with bubble makers.
However, what should be somewhat chilling is the way Lovins offhandedly dismisses the notion of a recession – and the multitudinous and disastrous effects this will have on so many – and focusses on ‘climate economics’. The dismissal is hardly a surprise from one so wealthy: it won’t really make its presence felt. But the effusiveness over ‘climate economics’ really does give the game away.
‘As it happens, Lovins has family connections to Ukraine: all four of his grandparents were early 20th-century immigrants from small villages between Kyiv and Odesa. He has one relative left there; the rest, as far as he knows, were murdered in the 1941 massacre of Tarashcha, when a Jewish population of nearly 14,000 was slaughtered by the Nazis…’
‘As it happens…’ When it comes to the rich, powerful, and influential, I am not a big believer in such coincidences – though I admit that I could just be a touch cynical and suspicious.
As to the rest, it is a rather touching little family story and undoubtedly a tragedy.
No mention, though, of the possible 40,000 Ukrainians (who were largely not Jewish) who were massacred by the Soviet NKVD over a period of about eight days in the summer of the same year.
A little side note by The Guardian, of those facts, to provide a fuller picture, would have been appropriate and informative. Though it wouldn’t have satisfied certain powerful lobby groups who have long sought to distort the historical record. Again, maybe I am just being cynical.
‘“Solar and wind are now the cheapest bulk power sources in 91% of the world, and the UN’s International Energy Agency (IEA) expects renewables to generate 90% of all new power in the coming years.’
And there it is. Solar panels and wind turbines are cheap. At least to manufacture. Nothing to do with the climate and everything to do economics and increasing profit margins, while conveniently stripping people of their autonomy and placing them back into servitude.
‘Walmart, the world’s largest truck operator, improved its energy efficiency by nearly 40% by rethinking its operation. Other retail and auto firms such as Tesla and BMW have also seen enormous energy savings.’
‘Improving energy efficiency’ sounds very much like reducing overhead bills. A saving that is not being passed along to the end customer.
This is also what has happened during lockdown and the work from home scheme: a significant reduction in overhead costs for employers that has been bumped onto their staff. For those who have had to pay exorbitant commuter costs, that will be a good trade off; but for those that walked to work, not so much.
‘Lovins fears that design has been chopped into little bits and we are losing the bigger energy picture that the Victorians had…’
‘That the Victorians had’. How interesting. I have speculated before about many trends that seem to be taking us backwards.
‘“In our house we save 97% of the pumping energy by properly laying out some pipes. Well, if everyone in the world did that to their pipes and ducts, you would save about a fifth of the world’s electricity, or half the coal-fired electricity. And you get your money back instantly in new-build or in under a year typically in retrofits in buildings and industry.”’
Got to have the money to spare in the first place. Not for the first time, I think that those with plenty have lost touch with the financial tribulations of everyone else.
‘The most energy-inefficient design of all, he says, may be nuclear power, which is heavily subsidised, costly and pushed by a politically powerful lobby. Using it to address shortages of electricity or to counter climate change, he argues, is like offering starving people rice and caviar when it’s far cheaper and easier to give just rice.’
Lovins is not too good with his analogies. Starving people will only starve slower if just given rice.
‘Where nuclear is cheap, renewables are cheaper still and efficiency is cheaper than that’.
Yet that cheapness is not being felt by the consumers. In fact, consumers in countries that have introduced plenty of renewables have seen their bills significantly increase. Again this would suggest that renewables are little more than a ‘for profit’ model.
‘The future must be in the mass retrofitting of buildings with insulation and heat pumps and what he calls “outsolation”. “You can design out the pipes by putting a sort of tea cosy around houses, like the Dutch Energiesprong exterior retrofit. They can superinsulate your house to net zero standard in a single day whilst you’re at work, and meanwhile they’ve dropped in a very efficient heat pump core for mechanicals, and put on a super-insulated solar roof. And when you get back, you pay them rather than your energy companies.”’
Again, we have heard this rhetoric from ‘Insulate Britain’ and it aligns with the UK Government’s proposed legislation due to come into effect in 2028 that will impose tighter environmental health certification restrictions on home owners. Though I suspect it is the UK Government that is aligning itself rather than the other way around.
Of course the biggest question has to be: who is going to pay for these alleged improvements? In his little quote above, it seems as if Lovins is suggesting that the building or home owner should be the ones to pay up.
Given that Lovins is unlikely to pay many of his bills monthly, and certainly doesn’t need to concern himself with energy bills, I have to wonder if he has any idea what he’s talking about.
‘Lovins, now the chair of RMI, teaches at Stanford while his colleagues help redesign the cement and forestry industries, as well as farming, retail and aviation sectors.’
Oh, good. A bunch of largely clueless academics playing with our lives in much the same way that the Greek gods did.
‘Only half jokingly he urges a mass movement to knit millions of cheery yellow and blue woolly hats. That, and people turning down their thermostats by two or three degrees would save billions of cubic metres of gas.’
‘We have a new energy crisis, and efficiency is the largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest and fastest way to address it,” he says.
They are all mad.
Oh, and Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute receives donations from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (among quite a few others).