'Don’t delay, we need you.'
Late last year, Sustainable Industries interviewed Hunter Lovins, and invited you to participate in the conversation. Lovins responds to your questions below, addressing the US military and its energy efficiency advances, divesting from polluting companies, who is winning the solar race, and where to find daily inspiration to continue this work.
Q: I've studied and followed sustainability for years now and am fully on board. It strikes me though that so much of the ideas almost seem common sense, and certainly logical. Why is there such resistance to the idea? Does it require a belief and understanding of our interconnected nature? –Anonymous
As a follow-on, I (and I know thousands of others too), want to work in the sustainability field. I am ready to give up a lucrative and specialized set of knowledge to work in this arena. However, it strikes me that really anyone can do this type of work. From a career perspective, am I looking at this all wrong, is it silly to give up a specialized skill set and get into this field (even if just to see if I like it)?
Hunter Lovins: Yes, much of sustainability is common sense, though as has often been remarked, that is an uncommon commodity.
Why the resistance? Margaret Mead once said that the only person who likes change is a wet baby. And I’d argue that the baby squalls all through the process. Humans delight in change and fear it, all at once.
Change that is painted as a sacrifice, as much of the environmental movement has portrayed the shifts necessary, is particularly unpalatable. The corporate interests, who, as Bill McKibben has pointed out in his excellent Rolling Stone interview, Exxon and the other fossil fuel companies have a business model that rests entirely on roasting the planet. It is very much in their interest to portray any changes that dampen their sales as extremely distasteful, even un-American.
All of us who use their product must make it clear through our behavior that we demand that they change their business model. Companies respond to – and shape –the market through their advertising, lobbyists, and campaign contributions, which totaled more than $150 million in 2012.
How will I change my behavior? My next car will be a plug-in hybrid electric that I will run off the solar panels at my ranch.
Bill McKibben has laid out the math: “To prevent the two-degree Celsius rise in temperature that even the most conservative governments on earth have committed to avoiding, scientists tell us we can burn enough coal and oil and gas to produce 565 gigatons of CO2. Unfortunately, the planet’s fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that operate like fossil-fuel companies (think Venezuela and Kuwait), have five times that much in their reserves. It’s what their share prices are based on; they obviously plan to burn it; indeed, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars daily looking for more. If their business plan is carried out, the planet tanks.”
McKibben calls them “Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.” Can we and can they change in time? This is a testable hypothesis. But a good start would be to capture all of the energy efficiency measures that are profitable now, whose capture increases our quality of life, cuts out costs, and make good business sense.
Those of us who are inadvertent investors in the oil companies (if you are a taxpayer you are one) should put a stop to the unaffordable subsidies we continue to pay to the fossil industries, estimated by the International Energy Agency at over $550 billion every year. The same idiots who wring their hands over unaffordable help for the wind industry and refuse to cut the far greater subsidies to the oil, gas, coal and nuclear lobbies should be ashamed of themselves.
The investment community can make it clear that corporate investments in fossil fuel has a cost. Bill McKibben and 350.org launched a campaign on college campuses to have university endowments divest ownership fossil companies. Students on more than 190 campuses with $400 billion in fossil investments have joined the campaign – the largest student movement in decades. Unity College in Maine and Hampshire College in Massachusetts have already committed to divesting. The Mayor of Seattle and various religious organizations have also directed their financial managers to divest.
Will such a campaign bankrupt the fossil industry? Clearly not. They will continue to make their obscene profits so long as we all buy the gasoline they are selling. Exxon was making $104 million dollars a day in 2012 according to one report.
But no company can long withstand delegitimization. Bishop Desmond Tutu likens the student campaign to the efforts to end racial discrimination, saying "Climate change is the great moral issue since apartheid, and we need the same kind of tools to bring it to people’s attention."
If we can make it sufficiently uncomfortable for the fossil companies, they will begin to make alternative investments. They won’t want to; they will be able to make more money incinerating the planet, but in the end, this is what we as consumers and as voters must achieve.
And c’mon over to this work. For those of you who want formal training, I teach in the MBA program at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle and at Bard MBA in New York City. Natural Capitalism also offers the Sustainable Leadership and Implementation Certificate at the University of Denver.
But you can begin this work wherever you are. Every company, every organization can become more sustainable. Look around you wherever you are, find the ways that your operation is wasting resources and begin fixing that.
Don’t delay, we need you.