COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | DANIEL COFFEY

Get the carbon out and 'Reinventing Fire'

On April 11, 2012, Amory Lovins, lead co-author along with 60 other co-authors of “Reinventing Fire Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” spoke eloquently as he briefly summarized an overarching energy strategy for “running a 158 percent bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal and no nuclear energy.”

He advocates that nothing new needs to be invented and only current technology need be adequately deployed to accomplish this result.

Mr. Lovins’ concept is set forth in great detail in an elegant printed book.

Mr. Lovins, inter alia, is the author of 30 other books and is the co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colo., near Aspen. His Snowmass home was completed in 1984 but has been continually upgraded to take advantage of greater efficiencies. As an aside, the picture of his large and attractive Snowmass home might be exhibit A in the case for living well while doing good.

The speaking and book-signing event held at the must-see SDG&E Energy Innovation Center at 4760 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., in San Diego, was co-hosted by CleanTech San Diego, the Center for Sustainable Energy California, and Xconomy. Supporting organizations included San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., University of San Diego, Connect, UC San Diego, and the Procopio law firm.

To get the full story, as presented in brief by Mr. Lovins in his extraordinarily smooth and professional presentation, one must read the book. His overarching ideas reach into the heart of modern society, and his view is that transportation, buildings, industry and electricity production must and will change via efficiencies built into deploying technologies and approaches now available.

Central to his thinking is the premise that an adequate supply of energy technology will be deployed, and that technology will not burn carbon-based fuels and hence will not produce greenhouse gas emissions. Deployment requires hard work!

Indeed, a great deal of grueling work is being done by many organizations in San Diego County in an effort to rapidly transform energy production, quickly deploy new technology and get the carbon out.

This effort is not unlike an earlier successful struggle to “get the lead out” of gasoline in order to prevent inhalation of millions of pounds of neurotoxic lead released annually by burning lead-based automobile fuel additives. Frankly, getting the carbon out is even more important.

Contrast Lovins’ bright future with the paradoxically dim reality that the county of San Diego is actually shaping by seeking to adopt public policies which will prevent wind power and large scale solar projects from ever being built or deployed. Sadly, a book of great ideas, few of which can actually be constructed, is only interesting.

This conundrum is brought to us by a small but vocal group of “concerned citizens” and their political allies who want San Diego County to pass laws which will make construction of new generations of carbon-free energy systems impossible. Their shrill yelling has all but drowned out the planetary alarm sounding to announce the effects of global warming.

For all of the valiant efforts of various organizations who are seeking to shape a better, carbon-free future in San Diego County, it seems that grand public pronouncements and poison-pill fine print will condemn businesses to ultimately go elsewhere. Maybe San Diego County’s new energy technology motto should be: “Welcome to San Diego; nice try; now go away.”

For example, it seems that in San Diego County only carbon-free wind farms which make no sound capable of being heard by any human will be allowed. Surely San Diego County will stand out nationally as a place where energy continues to be primarily based on oil, coal and natural gas and greenhouse gases continue to be emitted due to a lack of effective alternatives. San Diego will be a shining example to the fossil fuel industry of how to prevent construction of effective local alternatives by slow-walking the solutions into economic oblivion.

In the meantime, long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide released today join those released decades ago. Together they continue to accumulate excessive amounts of the sun’s heat energy into Earth’s environment, oceans, ice and atmosphere, leading to ever intensifying droughts, massive floods, crop losses and social instability. The sun never rests and the net energy accumulation can’t be switched off. Preventing the release of greenhouse gases is the only answer.

Note: The concentration of long-lived CO2 and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere recently crossed the threshold where any current actions we take will not meaningfully change anything over the next century – we’re “locked in.” This is the price of delay.

If current greenhouse gas emissions continue for only another two decades, the pattern of planetary energy accumulation will be locked in for 250 years. Such a trajectory of accumulating energy will exhaust the protective buffers of the ocean and ice, a prescription for colossal disaster.

Dear San Diego County: get the carbon out.

Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at daniel.coffey@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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