By Thomas L. Friedmam, For NYT Global Edition, 4 Mar 2012
OUR plan was to meet for lunch at noon in Moscow. It was to be just myself and Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. He picked the restaurant. It had been snowing that day, and the Moscow traffic — already nearly impossible because the city, which 15 years ago had 300,000 cars and today hosts nearly four million registered vehicles — was even more impossible than usual. Soon the e-mailing between us started. I was first: “I’m running a few minutes late.” Lukyanov said the same a few minutes later. Then me again: “I am going to be 20 minutes late.” He then saw my 20 minutes and raised me 20. In the end, I was 50 minutes late, and I beat him by two minutes. We sped through an interview about Russian foreign policy in 30 minutes, before I rushed out so as not to be late for my next appointment. As we hurriedly put on our coats, Lukyanov had one piece of advice for me, and it wasn’t that the U.S. should stay out of Syria.
It was: “Take the subway.”
True, Moscow’s gridlock was not as bad as the August 2010 traffic jam on the main north-south highway from Beijing to Inner Mongolia. Said to be the longest in the history of the planet, that baby stretched 60 miles, moved at a speed of 2 miles per day, took 10 days to unsnarl and spawned its own local economy of noodle sellers.
But this is not a column about traffic — per se.
This is a column about energy and environment and why we must not let the poisonous debate about climate change so tie us in knots that we cannot have any energy policy at all, particularly one focused on developing much more efficient use of resources, through better designs and systems. If you are so reckless as to dismiss all climate science as a hoax, and do not accept the data that our planet is getting hotter and the oceans rising, I can’t help you. That’s between you and your beach house — and your kids, whose future you’re imperiling.
But you better believe this: The planet is getting flatter and more crowded. There will be two billion more people here by 2050, and they will all want to live and drive just like us. And when they do, there is going to be one monster traffic jam and pollution cloud, unless we learn how to get more mobility, lighting, heating and cooling from less energy and with less waste — with so many more people. We can’t let the climate wars continue to derail efforts to have an energy policy that puts in place rising efficiency standards, for buildings, windows, traffic, housing, packaging and appliances, that will drive innovation — which is our strength — in what has to be the next great global industry: energy and resource efficiency.
This is the theme of two recent, smart books. The first is called “The Sixth Wave: How to Succeed in a Resource Limited World,” by James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady. Moody, who works at Australia’s national research agency, and Nogrady, a science journalist, argue that, since the industrial revolution, we’ve seen five long waves of innovation — from water power to steam to electrification to mass production and right up to information and communications technologies. They argue the sixth wave will be resource efficiency — because rising populations, with growing appetites, will lead to both increasing scarcity of resources and dangerously high pollution, waste and climate change.
This will force us to decouple consumption from economic growth. In the past, says Moody, “the more we consumed, the more we grew.” And, therefore, there was a tension between green and gold. But that cannot last, says Moody. When you have a global market, with a burgeoning population, that faces rising scarcity of resources and still so much waste in how we make and consume things “there is a great market opportunity for innovation.”
“We are going to go from green versus gold to green equals gold,” says Moody. Because the only way to grow without consuming more resources is through systemic breakthroughs in efficiency — developing new business models to deliver mobility, heating, cooling and lighting with dramatically fewer resources and pollution.
Here is a simple example that the energy expert Hal Harvey uses: “Consider a standard incandescent light bulb, powered by a coal-fired power plant. If the coal plant is 33 percent efficient (the average in the U.S.), and the light bulb is 3 percent efficient, then the net conversion of energy to light is just 1 percent. That is pathetic — and typical. An L.E.D. light, powered by an efficient natural gas turbine, converts 20 percent of the total energy to light— a 20-fold increase.” Run it on renewables and it’s carbon-free to boot.
This is where Amory Lovins, the physicist who is chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, begins in his new book, “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” which is summarized in the current Foreign Affairs. The Rocky Mountain Institute and its business collaborators show how private enterprise — motivated by profit, supported by smart policy — can lead America off both oil and coal by 2050, saving $5 trillion, through innovation emphasizing design and strategy.
“You don’t have to believe in climate change to solve it,” says Lovins. “Everything we do to raise energy efficiency will make money, improve security and health, and stabilize climate.”