GM’s Bob Lutz, Climate Denial, My Chevy And Me

GM's Bob Lutz

by KC Golden, via the GRIP blog

I own a 1976 Chevy pickup truck.

It’s okay; I don’t drive it.  I leave it parked on the street.  It stands there – its iconic logo all shiny and golden on the grill and hubcaps – as testimony to my faith in American democracy.

I bought my Chevy in the fall of 2009, after I heard NBC political analyst Chuck Todd say the future of American democracy depended on whether GM emerged from bankruptcy and stayed afloat after the bailout.   It was a Redd Foxx moment for me.

GM’s management had just driven the share price from over $100 to under a buck.  Now Todd says the only hope for restoring faith in democratic institutions is the success of this basket case, this staggering Hummosaurus? GM fought tooth and nail against vehicle emission standards.  Their lawyers ran amok while their engineers went AWOL, raising questions as to whether it was a case of commercial suicide.  GM Vice-President Bob Lutz called global warming “a crock of shit.”  And now we had to save them in order to save ourselves?

So I was desperate.  Only irony could save me.   Instead of having the heart attack, I bought the truck.

Well, we’ve come a long way since 2009.  Last week, the Obama Administration finalized new clean car standards that will double the fuel economy of the passenger vehicle fleet by 2025.  The Democrats held their convention and proved that Chuck Todd was very, very right:  The revival of the auto industry is the centerpiece of the President’s case for re-election – Exhibit 1 for the renewal of trust in American institutions.  (Ahem, it’s the fuel economy standards, more than the bailout, that are saving Detroit.)  And Bob Lutz – climate denier and father of the Chevy Volt! – came to Seattle for the Beyond Oil conference.

I spoke at Beyond Oil just before Lutz.  What an opportunity to bury the hatchet!  Having pioneered the Volt – such a promising and important climate solution – might he reconsider his views on the climate problem?

Cleverly, I offered him a deal:  I would go to the Chevy dealer, trade in my pickup, and buy a new Volt, if he would admit the truth about climate disruption. Having been mortal foes, we would move forward together to a better future.  I would meet him more than half way:  We would drive to this better future in a Volt!

No dice.  He got up there and said “I won’t respond to Mr. Golden,” and then spent about 10 minutes crooning denier standards, like “Some Scientists Say This, and Some Say That,” and “CO2 is A Plant’s Best Friend.”  He didn’t quite say “crock of shit,” but he came about as close as he safely could in front of a Seattle audience.

No Volt for me.

But I’m not giving up. At this same conference, Amory Lovins wisely said that while we may not share the same motives, we can all arrive together at a post-fossil fuel result (Reinventing Fire).   This is an efficient and gracious way to avoid getting wrapped around the axle of denial and drive the discussion back toward solutions.  We’ve all used this maneuver, and Amory’s the master.

Trouble is, it lets the denial stand.  I know, I know, any rational strategist would say:  “Don’t waste your time trying to move hard-core deniers.  Focus on the base and the middle.”  But I can’t take it any more.   I can’t just sit there while accomplished, well-respected, intelligent public figures repeat these insane lies, fertilizing the ecosystem of denial as the climate crisis unfolds before our very eyes.

And particularly when one of the pioneers of a key climate solution stands up on a public stage in Seattle Center – our house – in 2012 and says we don’t have a problem, I refuse to remain all cool and rational and Amory about it.

I’m not done with you Lutz….

KC Golden is the Policy Director of Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based nonprofit. This piece was originally published at the GRIP blog and was reprinted with permission.

19 Responses to GM’s Bob Lutz, Climate Denial, My Chevy And Me

  1. Mark E says:

    You’d think after what the taxpayers did for GM they’d have a climate science friendly CEO with their hand on the tiller.

  2. John McCormick says:

    KC, that is our greatest failure, “I can’t just sit there” but we do, don’t we.

    Luzt is a part of the conspiracy to destroy capitalism and America’s way of life..that is what Amory should have said. Then, he should have challenged Luzt to be specific about all that he knows of global warming. Who are his expert witnesses? Who does he rely upon for his (facts) information?

    President Clinton could take him on and he should. It would take a high ranking public figure to challenge Luzt out in the open and demand that he share his list of advisers on climate change and debate rational people about his views. He has a right to his views but he is telling us the movie theater is not on fire while he quietly locks the exit doors.

    If we all really believe doubling current warming temperature increase will lead to chaos in the environment and release massive amounts of CO2 and CH4, and that taking us into annihilation, then how can we be so complacent (courteous) with the capitalist conspirators who are too old to really care about us?

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    I agree with John more than KC. There is no common ground with right wing deniers like Lutz. When the Volt came out, I even thought it was designed to fail, since its weight and cost make it a niche product, not a people’s car.

    The main reason the deniers still live among us is the media’s treating them with a straight face. They need to be relentlessy fact checked, followed by humiliating them in public. Deniers still thrive because nobody is really fighting them. Considering the horrors they are already bringing upon us, it is our own cowardice and inertia that is the problem.

    I saw this with the timber wars. Green organizations were just worn down by Weyerhauser and Georgia Pacific, and finally just gave up. Greens began working toward compromise, and talking about deforestation as if it were only a problem in Brazil and Indonesia. Those who didn’t were marginalized or intimidated by violence, as with Bari and Jackson. The deniers and oil companies need to realize that we are going to keep fighting this time.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    KC Golden wrote: “No Volt for me.”

    You can still buy a Ford Focus EV, or a Nissan Leaf, or a Mitsubishi MIEV, or a Honda Fit EV, or for that matter a Toyota Prius Plug-In.

  5. Mark E says:

    Or some decent bike gear…. or a public transit all-you-can-ride card….. or a horse and buggy (there are many Amish in my area…it’s not so weird as most think….)

  6. john atcheson says:

    The problem with thinking we can all arrive at the same destination even if we don’t share the same motives is that it is flat out wrong.

    We need global political action to avert disaster, and we need it now.

    We’re nowhere near getting that in large part because deniers have skillfully kept the “debate” about climate change alive.

    Maybe if we had decades to act, we could follow an outcome strategy — a strategy which allowed each person to arrive at the desperately needed goal as and when they could.

    But we don’t have decades.

    So if we don’t debunk deniers, we won’t arrive where we need to be.

    It’s a prerequisite to the kind of progress needed.

  7. Paul Magnus says:

    Big smile…

    Losing my insanity.

  8. Tami Kennedy says:

    “I’m not done with you Lutz…”

    Perfect! KC

  9. TKPGH says:


    They do. Dan Akerson has been quite public in his acceptance of climate change. I made sure and put my thanks for that up on their FACEBOOOK page, when it existed.
    On the other hand, Bob Lutz has no excuse for not getting together with our best researchers and getting ahold of the best, reputable data. A man of his standing would be let in the door, for sure. And what a coup it would be if he were to change his position. By the way, has anyone considered hitting him the NOAA projections for ocean acidification? That might start to give him something to think about.

  10. john c. wilson says:

    Why is Bob Lutz still employed?

    Why is any of the GM old guard still employed? A more perfectly pure case of rewarding failure could not be found.

    There’s a story out from Reuters this a.m. saying that GM loses $49,000 on each Volt they sell. Don’t expect GM to ever do any better.

  11. Artful Dodger says:

    KC, you will never get an Alpha dog to admit they were wrong. No more than you can teach a dog calculus. Ask yourself why this is important to you, and then let it go. You can not change the nature of the world.

  12. KC, thanks for calling out Lutz. More of us need to do that when opportunity knocks.

    My read on it is that Lutz holds such clearly bogus denier views because they are very beneficial to him:

    1) The cars that emit the most CO2 per mile tend to bring the biggest profits to his company.

    2) He has made his career out of selling high-climate-damaging products. Avoiding personal guilt and maintaining a sense of useful purpose and accomplishment in one’s life are powerful forces.

    3) He is not going to be around to see the worst of the climate disruption.

    It would take a person of high integrity to be in Lutz’s shoes and accept what the climate science is saying. The psychological window of opportunity for public deniers to salvage their reputations is closing further with each extreme weather event. My guess is that people like him will choose to leave the stage rather than accept the science publicly.

  13. Polymerase says:

    I second Artful Dodger.

    I really appreciate your work on climate change, KC. This post, however, would have been more effective if it were focused more on Lutz rather than on your own internal emotional processes. Saying “I refuse to remain all cool and rational and Amory about it” seems a bit self-aggrandizing, as though you’re trying to elevate your personal brand via comparison to Amory Lovins. The remark just seems a bit too insider-ish for me to respond positively to. I also question whether adding more irrationality to your thoughts and actions will be productive.

    I hope you don’t take these comments too personally, KC. Again – I really do appreciate your work.


  14. PeterW says:

    This cool cucumber attitude has gotten us what exactly Polymerase? I’m trying to figure out when it is okay to get mad about the destruction of civilization and the death of billions. Apparently we’re suppose to sit back and watch the world burn, but be content we can input a rational comment every once in a while. It’s about time people got damn mad.

  15. Mark E says:

    Oops, thanks for the catch.

  16. Mark E says:

    Is the outcome of a peaceful, secure, sustainable world more likely to result from

    (A) being angry and in-their-face, or

    (B) actively trying to win their hearts by taking actions where the main one to suffer from your choices is yourself?

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Now, now-that’s not how ‘free enterprise’ works. You’re talking socialism, which is anathema.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s one of the Right’s advantages, that have enabled them to control the fate of humanity. They are unscrupulous, whereas the human beings are encumbered with moral and ethical scruples.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Nearly all Green groups that I know of have, in the end, sold out. That gets rid of the principled and morally scrupulous, who are slandered as éxtremists’, while the collaborators and ‘Green’ sonderkommandoes, many of whom were entryist opportunists from the beginning, get thirty or so pieces of silver and the praise of the MSM lie and hate apparatus, for their ‘çompromise’. Capitalism not only allows ‘bad’ money to drive out the ‘good’, but also drives out good people and rewards the other type.