Vail Valley Voices: Looking forward to birth of fossil-free future |

Vail Valley Voices: Looking forward to birth of fossil-free future

Cassie Pence
Vail, CO, Colorado

Immediately after hearing Amory Lovins speak recently at a Vail Symposium event, I called my husband and told him: “Well, honey, it’s safe to have kids.”

Admittedly, it was a strange reaction to a speech given by a modern-day genius. Lovins talked about how he and his team of brainiacs at the Rocky Mountain Institute , a regional think tank in Snowmass, have been diligently working to solve the earth’s problems through mind-blowing innovations that will make our world “richer, fairer, cooler and safer,” as Lovins puts it.

See, in my darkest hours, the environmental problems we all face weigh heavy on my mind and heart — currently, I have the oil spill blues — and I think I couldn’t possibly bring someone else into this world to inherit the debt.

But after hearing Lovins, my thoughts on procreating are looking up.

As Lovins stood next to his Mac, looking a bit like Einstein with disheveled hair and a mustache, he calmly explained that along with 88 institute staff, a global network of colleagues and supporters, and new advisers and partners from the private and public sectors — he has pretty much solved all of the problems I worry about in their newest initiative, Reinventing Fire.

Reinventing Fire, the culmination of 27 years of work, aims to change the way most people have been getting and using energy since the Industrial Revolution.

It’s a bold energy plan that achieves its goal of completely transitioning the world from oil and coal to cleaner energy using “practical imagination” and “abundance by design.”

Lovins spoke a lot about energy and fuel, but he didn’t talk about conserving energy in the mainstream sense we’re all used to hearing about lately — like carpooling, turning off computers, shutting down lights, unplugging electronics.

This is good news for people who like their beer cold and to take long drives on Sundays.

Lovins’ ideas about energy efficiency have much less to do with using less and much more to do with not wasting the energy we do capture — and capturing types of energy that aren’t wasteful, like renewable sun and wind.

His ideas are about “wringing far more work from our energy” through better, smarter, more imaginative design of everyday energy consumers, like cars and buildings and power plants. Because, as he says, it’s much cheaper to save fuel and substitute fossil fuels than it is to keep buying it, making climate protection actually profitable — not costly — a contradiction to popular belief.

Reshaping the design of cars was a prominent example Lovins used to explain what he means by smart design and making the most out of the energy and fuel that we burn.

Lovins says, “You have to take the obesity out of the car because a car uses 100 times its weight in ancient plants.” Less than 1 percent of the fuel energy used by a car actually moves the driver, Lovins says. The key is to make cars “light and slippery.”

So by manufacturing cars out of lighter material, like carbon-fiber composits, similar to what sporting goods are made out of, companies can continue to make cars bigger, which are more protective but lighter, saving fuel and energy and cutting down on carbon emissions.

The question isn’t whether car companies will step up and begin using more efficient materials to produce cars and save fossil fuels. China is already doing it, Lovins says. The question is if America will keep importing fuel-efficient cars to replace importing foreign oil or will American car companies manufacture fuel-efficient cars and then import neither foreign oil or fuel-efficient cars.

Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute will introduce this new technology to show the world just how much energy and fossil fuels you can save with smart design.

America’s electrical system is another target for Reinventing Fire’s design overhauls. Waste heat in the system is the biggest single U.S. energy use, accounting for 28 percent of primary energy consumption and nearly half its growth.

According to Lovins, our power plants discard as waste heat more energy than Japan uses. So if Lovins were king (and he should be), America would use that wasted energy, as Europe does, for profit, or we would design it out completely by using renewable energy, which makes no waste heat. As Lovins pointed out: “There are no solar spills.”

According to Solutions Journal, and institute’s trade journal, every 70 minutes or so the sun supplies Earth with enough energy to run global civilization for a year.

“The world’s electricity use could in theory,” writes Lovins, “be provided 20 times over just by modern, 20 percent-efficient solar cells on the rooftops of buildings in the 1 percent of land area that dense cities already cover.” Wow, it sounds pretty euphoric.

After hearing Lovins’ ideas, I too can visualize a world free of fossil fuels happily enjoyed by my own children.

As the government is fumbling around with the old guard oil companies, I’m glad there are people like Lovins in academia and his supporters in the private sector who see a real profit to be made and new jobs to be created with innovative design and renewable, clean energy.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence can be reached at

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