Weekend Wonk: Amory Lovins on Re-inventing Fire

October 15, 2011

Lovins will be a keynote speaker for this year’s Bioneers conference, saturday. The main event is held in San Rafael, CA, but broadcasts a number of the key speakers to satellite locations around the country.

I gave a well attended presentation at the Traverse City Michigan location on Friday, and hope to watch some of the national speakers on saturday.  I almost always hear something that surprises, delights, and/or informs me, often from a speaker I had not heard before.

Lovins talk will be kind of a launch pad for his new book, Reinventing Fire. If you’ve seen Lovins talk in the last few years, the first half of the video above will be review – in the second half he has some more recent information, especially on electrical production.

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9 Responses to “Weekend Wonk: Amory Lovins on Re-inventing Fire”

  1. Jean Mcmahon Says:

    What happens to a light weight car in a strong wind?

  2. sinchiroca Says:

    Jean, a light weight car going down the freeway is already dealing with a 70 mph wind. Of course, a side wind is another matter; yes, side winds have a greater impact on light cars than on heavy cars. But don’t forget that strong side winds also shove around big tractor-trailers, because their sideways surface area is huge compared to their weight. Moreover, the effects of side winds depend critically upon the shape and overall size of the vehicle. Accordingly, it’s very difficult to assess the effects of side winds upon the overall safety of a vehicle. We know that HMVs have serious problems in strong side winds, and many SUVs share these problems, because they are tall and have large side surface areas. I don’t think that there’s a strong safety case against light weight cars.

    I have mixed feelings about Amory Lovins. On the one hand, he is definitely a pioneer who has added enormously to the discussion of energy options. His “Soft Energy Paths” was revolutionary; I still have my copy of the book. He has introduced a great many innovative ideas and has shown how to move forward.

    However, I do have one qualm about the man: he’s a bit cavalier about the numbers he uses. I once attended a small seminar he gave; about halfway through he quoted some numbers that I happened to be quite familiar with, and his numbers were at the extreme end of the range of values that I had seen. I questioned him about this, and his answer really chilled me: he said that, given the political antipathy towards his ideas, it was appropriate for him to present the strongest case he could.

    Amory Lovins is brilliant; he deserves a great deal of respect for his many contributions to the problems of energy supplies; his comments always deserve careful consideration; but his numbers should never be taken at face value.

  3. daveburton Says:

    HMV… do you mean these HMVs?

    Re: “…[Lovins’] numbers were at the extreme end of the range of values… he said that, given the political antipathy towards his ideas, it was appropriate for him to present the strongest case he could.”

    I believe this is Standard Operating Procedure in the “green community.” That’s why there’s all this talk about “tipping points” and ice sheet melting, and why Peltier’s standard GIA adjustments adjust sea level rise upward for an hypothesized subsidence in the ocean floor, and why Al Gore’s book has has photos showing half of Florida under water, despite the fact that 3/4 century of anthropogenic CO2 has produced no increase at all in the rate of sea level rise so far.

    It is called scaremongering, and I consider it unethical, but it is strategically useful for scaring up grant money. In the computer biz something similar is called FUD.

    • toddinnorway Says:

      The climate system is highly non-linear with multiple positive feed-backs. It has tipping points, and any claim that it does not have tipping points ruins any credibility in the rest of your post.

      If you want to better understand the role of “scaremongering” regarding climate change, I suggest you examine the evolving heat, drought and water crisis in Texas, Oklahoma and more. Or perhaps some of the 1000-year flooding events registered the last 2 years at several places, e.g. Thailand, Pakistan, Tennessee, Virginia… And we must not forget the 2 100-year heat/drought events experienced in the Amazon rain forest the last 6 years…. oh and please remember the observations of increasing release of methane from shallow, warming arctic seas…

      And regarding sea level change: last year sea level dropped a very noticeable few millimeters! What in the world was that? Easy-rising sea surface temperatures are increasing ocean evaporation on a biblical scale…and what goes up, at least most of it comes down…Let’s see where and when the next 1000-year flooding events occur next!

      And after a series of 1000-year events occur at the same place in a 5-15 year time-span, by the way, we then “rebrand them” as 5-15 year events, i.e. something close to “normal”. Won’t that help our failing agricultural output!

      What was your claim about tipping points and scare-mongering again?

  4. sinchiroca Says:

    “HMV… do you mean these HMVs?”

    No, I meant High Mobility Vehicles: Humvees. They have lousy sidewind performance.

    “I believe this is Standard Operating Procedure in the “green community.” ”

    I disagree. I pointed out Mr. Lovins’ sins in this regard because they are both uncharacteristic and unacceptable. Let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of spin being applied to a lot of numbers, by both sides. My overall impression is that the deniers as a group go much further than spin — they flat out lie. The only way to sort this out is to go over all the numbers and form a judicious assessment of the median range. Sometimes this is impossible — I came across a delightful aggregation of various predictions for oil supply over the next century and it looked for all the world like spaghetti. That doesn’t mean that everybody is lying, nor does it mean that we just throw up our hands and declare the answer unknown. We have to go through all the numbers from all the sources and figure out the more reliable ones and the less reliable ones. That’s a lot of busywork, but I have found that it yields consistent results.

    The concept of a tipping point is by no means an exaggeration. There are at least three positive feedbacks that will certainly produce strong effects: the melting of Arctic sea ice, the thawing of the arctic permafrost, and the release of methyl clathrates. There are some countervailing negative feedbacks as well, but so far the positive feedbacks look more powerful to me.

    I agree that Mr. Gore’s sensationalism goes beyond sober scientific analysis, but let us not forget that Mr. Gore’s role is as a popularizer, not a scientific analyst. He is certainly correct that, if we fail to take any action to constrain carbon emissions, at some point in the future Florida will be under water. That will likely take several centuries, but it is not a lie.

    As to the question of scaremongering, again we see the same phenomenon on both sides. How often do we see deniers claiming that any attempt to reduce carbon emissions will cost trillions of dollars, destroy the economy, reduce our lifestyle to that of the third world, etc, etc? Again, my perception is that the most extreme and least justified scaremongering is coming from the denialist side. However, rather than argue over who is the biggest sinner, I suggest that we worry about how all of us can avoid sin — specifically, what we can do to establish firm conclusions regarding ACC. I believe that the IPCC has done the best overall job on this with its two working group reports. Sure, there are some flaws, but taken in its entirety, I consider it the best overall document available to us.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Lovins is famous because, qualitatively, he’s been right ahead of a lot of other people. you can argue the details, but his 1976 analysis was prophetic, and he continues to see the path ahead more clearly than most.

      • sinchiroca Says:

        Yes, I must confess to some angst at criticizing one of the icons of progress; but I’m pretty hardnosed about intellectual integrity and I cannot forgive anybody, even Amory Lovins, for playing games with the numbers. There’s lots of room for subjectivity in assessing complicated sets of numbers, but the subjectivity should be confined to the assessment, not the reporting. I hope that was an isolated incident.


  5. […] conservation. (And a fossil fuel tax would certainly encourage more in that direction.) See, e.g., this lecture by Amory Lovins of RMI. Many of the posters in this thread (you, not included) remind me of the […]


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