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

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.