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The new climate

Dark predictions about future can be beaten through green profits, energy thinker says

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

The latest in a line of big names to visit Canada and talk climate change will steer clear of the usual doomsday scenarios and tell a Toronto conference on Monday that a global ecological catastrophe can easily be avoided — without wrecking the economy or radically changing our way of life.

Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute consultancy and an adviser to world leaders and CEOs, argues the United States can completely wean itself off oil by 2050 and become more prosperous in the process. In fact, the whole climate-change threat can be headed off, he says, simply by using energy more efficiently, with technology that already exists.

While national governments have been slow to act, he says many companies — he counts Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola among his clients — have figured out how to dramatically reduce energy consumption while boosting profits.

"The whole climate debate has been distorted by a sign error; that is, people are mixing up a plus sign with a minus sign," Mr. Lovins said in a phone interview with The Globe and Mail.

"The political discussion is about cost, burden and sacrifice," he said, despite his experience that "climate protection is not costly, it's profitable, because efficiency is cheaper than fuel. That is, it costs less to save fuel than to buy fuel.

"If these two parallel universes ever meet, the politics will change profoundly. Smart companies understand this, and are already racing to get the profits before their competitors do, while the politicians continue to argue about costs."

Mr. Lovins, author most recently of Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security and nearly 30 other books and hundreds of papers, will outline his mix of optimism and market-based solutions in a keynote speech Monday night for the Toronto Summit, a gathering of 400 business and community leaders.

His speech comes after a succession of climate-change experts have spoken in the city: scientist and activist David Suzuki, British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore.

Mr. Lovins' appearance also comes as the issue has rocketed up the agenda in Ottawa, and about a month before Toronto Mayor David Miller — who made fighting climate change a key plank in his re-election platform — is expected to reveal a draft of his own green strategy.

On Tuesday, the Toronto Summit, in a session led by former mayor David Crombie, will ask what Toronto could do to become "the greenest big city in North America" by 2015.

Mr. Lovins said that in the United States, as well as in Canada and in some European countries, most of the leadership on environmental issues now comes from local and state governments, as well as private corporations.

"Provinces and municipalities are wonderful labs, where the actors are closer to their constituents. . . . You can move a lot faster," said Mr. Lovins, who took part in the development of Toronto's deep-lake water cooling project for downtown buildings some years ago.

While governments anguish over targets to reduce greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol, chemical giant DuPont has already cut its emissions 80 per cent from 1990 levels, and made $3-billion in profit doing so, Mr. Lovins said.

He criticized the current Conservative government in Ottawa for "incoherence" on environmental issues. "Actually, a Conservative government, above all, ought to understand the arguments about profits, jobs, innovations and security."

Mr. Lovins, 59, studied physics and other subjects before dropping out of both Harvard and Oxford. In 1982, he founded the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colo., where his home, heated largely with sunlight, is open for public tours.

He says his team has redesigned $30-billion (U.S.) of facilities across 29 sectors, making factories and buildings more energy efficient. Most of the time, he says, he finds 30- to 60-per-cent savings, and the retrofits pay for themselves in two or three years. New facilities can be built more cheaply from the start, he says, with 40- to 90-per-cent savings in energy costs.

Among his other projects is a design for ultralight hybrid-engine cars, three times as fuel-efficient as current models, because they are made of carbon composite materials and, he says, "heading rapidly toward the market" in as few as five years.

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