This weekend’s 12,000-person protest in Washington against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proved that the environmental movement has a strong presence in the coming elections.
But for all that strength, the movement is missing one key ingredient: A tangible plan for our economy without the tar sands pipeline.
Sure, activists have clear demands for greater support of clean energy, effective clean air and water standards, strong local land rights, and national action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the short-term economic arguments in favor of this pipeline — no matter how grossly inflated — may outweigh some of those environmental concerns. No one has yet presented a comprehensive, business-focused vision for the U.S. without the pipeline. Until now.
The Rocky Mountain Institute just released it’s latest book, Reinventing Fire, which provides a “grand synthesis” of decades-long research on how to create a profitable transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to an efficient, clean energy economy by 2050 that is 150% bigger than today — with no major technological breakthroughs and no major act of Congress.
Yes, you read that correctly.
We had a chance to sit down with RMI’s Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, Amory Lovins, to chat about how the plan came together:
It actually came out of the analysis. We simply followed the numbers where they led and found we could get internal rates for turn of say 33 percent in buildings, 21 in industry, 17 in transport without price in carbon. We could meet all of the normal investment expectations in each sector by combining modern efficiency and renewable supply techniques. The policy innovations needed to unlock or speed options by private sector could all be done administratively or at the state level. So it is not a policy-free approach. Quite the contrary, policy innovation is an important component, it just happens not to require any act in congress.
The RMI plan utilizes what Lovins calls “business acupuncture” — finding key pressure points that can potentially unlock large amounts of innovation within the entire energy and transportation system.
In outlining specific sets of actions based upon difficulty of implementation and profitability, the Reinventing Fire plan is designed to give business and policy makers an aggressive-but-realistic blueprint for considering dramatic change in the energy sector.
A realist might scoff at the idea of using no fossil fuels by 2050. But as RMI has proven in its research and implementation over the years, the solutions to our energy problems are often just beneath the surface. In many cases, all it takes is a healthy dose of creativity in thinking about new approaches to deployment, says Lovins.
The main ingredients are awareness of what’s possible, paying attention, and business leadership, clearing away some policy obstacles (administratively or at state level), and going out and making money, which is what business is good at. You require no new inventions, our required are only normal maturation and refinement of existing technologies.
For many in the activist or scientific community, projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline are “game over” or “a line in the sand.” But that’s not necessarily true.
With a strong plan in place to prove that such projects are completely unnecessary, the argument can get beyond “climate morals” and move deeper into the economic and political realm. Opponents of the pipeline would be wise to use this plan to their advantage.
To hear more, listen to this week’s Climate Progress podcast at the top of the page. In this week’s show, we’ll also speak with Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council, about why the building design and construction sector is “never going back.”
You can access previous episodes on our podcast feed. And yes, our feed will be on iTunes soon.