What was the first
thing you noticed this morning? Was it the bird song or how green London
seems now? It's staggering really how in just two years our city has
been transformed. Can it really only be two years ago in 2008, that
the last combustion engine powered vehicles made their way down Piccadilly?
Having spent the night at the Hilton on Park Lane, I awoke this morning
totally oblivious to the endless commuter traffic making its way around
Hyde Park Corner. I actually thought that I'd gone temporarily deaf,
as I looked out of my window and onto the traffic below there was not
a sound coming from it, the roar had gone. Only the occasional sounding
of a horn, from a few more stressed members of our community indicated
the existence of traffic at all.
The reason for my
stay at the Hilton was to participate with an invited audience in a
live link up with New York. We were to put some questions to the man
who silenced the traffic and who is being honoured later today.
The revolution for
that is essentially what it was, began quietly, with just an idea posted
onto the Internet seventeen years ago in August 1993, by a faculty member
at the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The ethos of the
idea might be viewed by some to originate from the 1992 United Nations
Rio Earth summit on Environment and Development. Others may in turn
say it had its origins in the 1972 Stockholm conference on the Human
Environment, which set out a programme of action for sustainable development
into the 21st Century. However it is clear now in 2010 that it was undoubtedly
the posting onto the Internet of the plans for a Hybrid-electric Vehicle
by Amory Lovins, that really acted as the catalyst for the revolution.
That is why he is being honoured today with the newly created United
Nations' Citizen of the World ' award.
Before we look at
the ramifications of that Internet posting, we need to go back to the
Rio Earth summit to find out what it was trying to achieve.
Rio Earth Summit
The first principle
of the Rio declaration in 1992, known as Agenda 21, was:
are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are
entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."
The summit received
much publicity at the time as 'Green' issues were just entering mainstream
public debate. All the talk was of the Greenhouse effect, global warming,
pollution, CFC's- remember the bad press our fridge's were receiving
- and the climatic effect they were having. The planet was experiencing
increasingly severe weather, leading to the erosion of top soil, which
in turn lead to increased desertification, rising sea levels and the
inundation of coastal areas.
to be done, the Rio Earth summit was the initial response to those global
problems, for it actually acknowledged those problems which was the
critical first step.
Consensus was reached
at the summit that the emission levels of the polluting gasses, which
were causing the temperature rise, needed to be reduced in order to
halt global warming. It was at the summit that mans best friend, the
car, was marked down as one of the prime contributors to the global
emission problem, or more specifically the gasses, which were produced
as an unavoidable by-product of burning fossil fuels which powered the
cars of the day were.
It was initially
felt that by reducing driving numbers we could significantly cut emission
figures. Various schemes were tried, car-pooling in the States to increased
taxation on the motorist in Britain. Romania even introduced a policy
whereby you could only drive on alternate days, the day dependent on
whether your car had an odd or even number plate. Those who could afford
to do so, by-passed this law and bought second cars, others simply made
dummy plates. None of these plans worked, they were purely cosmetic
gestures and came nowhere close to representing responsible environmental
policy. The consequence of which was that the public didn't really appreciate
how close we were to global catastrophe and viewed the measures as an
annoyance rather that a wake up call.
Passing the Buck
realised that measures aimed at attacking the individual driver were
both unpopular and ineffective, so for the first time maximum permitted
emission figures were set, clearly aimed at the manufactures, thereby
forcing the problem onto them, passing the buck as it were. The result
was therefore entirely predictable, rather than tackle the problem head
on and look at ways of significantly reducing car emission levels; they
looked for a quick fix. The result was the introduction of lead free
petrol, the costs of which were passed onto the consumer via higher
pump prices and the costs involved in installing catalytic converters
so that old cars could use the new fuel.
talked green but that was it, just talk. America was a prime offender,
pandering to the industries that supported its government, rather than
cutting it's own emission figures, it bought the rights to poorer nations
emission figures, which did nothing in terms of cutting down global
emission levels, in fact it probably resulted in more pollution. No
one was fooled.
With the benefit
of hindsight, this stance had a quite inadvertently positive effect
on society at large. It forced environmentally concerned and aware individuals
to make a stand. The environment and the protection of it, passed into
the public domain. Non Governmental Organisations (N.G.O's) such as
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth were suddenly perceived in a much
more positive light. Where its leaders had once been portrayed as belonging
to the lunatic fringe, they suddenly became mainstream players, so much
so that by the late 1990's the leader of Greenpeace was noted as being
in the top 10 of the most influential people in the United Kingdom.
Amory Lovins, whose
achievements we are all celebrating today, made a stand, although not
an activist, he is truly a man of vision; he foresaw two important things.
Firstly, that the car itself was not the problem, but rather the problem
lay in how the car was being powered. Secondly that if we stopped demonizing
the car and applied some ' out of the box ' thinking to borrow his words
and explored the notion of what a car actually does or perhaps more
importantly what it could do. We could gain a benefit and become genuinely
greener in the process, by actually utilizing our cars. Where others
ranted and raved, protested and lobbied in the attempt to have their
voices heard, he quietly but stunningly provided a solution to the problem
of pollution caused by car emissions. He had provided a 'Vehicle' that
represented the turn from rhetoric to reality.
One of the questions
asked of Amory Lovins in the interview broadcast live on the Internet
by the Microsoft-Sky News Network last night was: "Why did you decide
to tackle the problems of car emissions, when the car industry seemed
so reluctant to do so itself?"
His reply was as
follows: "Actually the problems arising from the car and its emissions,
were merely a stepping stone we encountered en-route to reaching our
ultimate goal. We wanted to show that a product such as the car, which
had traditionally been based and powered on burning fossil fuels, could
be run on a cleaner energy source. It was our ultimate goal and still
is to move industry away from an economy based on polluting, unsustainable
carbon-based fuels to one based on solar hydrogen.
"We felt that
by utilising the basic notion of what a car is, but radically altering
its components and capabilities we may be able to best demonstrate the
concept of what we were talking about. In effect showcasing our ideas,
ethos and what could be achieved, in the hope that others would recognise
the possibilities and opportunities that lay ahead and assimilate them
into their own industries.
"The car after
all is one of the 20th Century's major success stories - it helped make
America Great - but it is also one of the 20th Century's prime causes
of pollution. We felt it was important to prove that we didn't need
to discard a wanted and in many cases needed product, but clearly it
had to evolve in order to survive. The problem was not so much the car
itself, but the way in which it was powered. Car manufacturing and its
ancillary businesses employed one-seventh of the U.S. workforce and
in some European countries up to two-fifths of theirs."
In the late 1990's
David Morris, co-founder for Local Self-Reliance, observed: "The
production of automobiles is the world's number 1 industry. The number
two industry supplies their fuel. Six of America's ten largest industrial
corporations are either oil or auto companies. I recall a British estimate
at that time concluded that half the world's earnings may be auto or
truck related. The brutal reality was that as much as the environment
was being choked by the output from cars and trucks, the world's economy
breathed life from these industries."
One can see from
those words that it was not a giant leap for a man of such vision to
co-author one of the best selling books of all time - certainly the
most downloaded. Which is exactly what he did in association with Paul
Hawken and L. Hunter Lovins, when they wrote Natural Capitalism
at the back end of the nineties. Natural Capitalism provided the template
for a new Industrial Revolution, which was explained most succinctly
in the book's forward as follows:
still operate according to a world view that hasn't changed since the
start of the Industrial Revolution. Then, natural resources were abundant
and labour was the limiting factor of production, But now, there's a
surplus of people, while natural capital, natural resources and the
ecological systems that provide vital life-support services, is in decline
and relatively expensive. The next Industrial Revolution, like the first
one, will be a response to changing patterns of scarcity. It will create
upheaval, but more importantly, it will create opportunities. Business
must adjust to these new realities. Innovative companies are already
doing just that. They're profiting and gaining decisive competitive
advantage, and their leaders and employees are feeling better about
what they do, too. They're in the vanguard of a new business model:
When Bill Clinton
recommended in January 2000 that all American businessmen read the book,
it was a swipe at the oil-producing lobby of the U.S.A. who had emasculated
his response at Rio back in 1992.
When Amory Lovins
posted his designs for the Hypercar onto the Internet in August 1993,
it was clear that he had not merely re-designed the car for the new
millenium, he'd re-defined what a car could be. At first glance the
plans merely looked like the plans for a futuristic looking vehicle,
but this disguised the fact that a quantum leap had taken place. It
was almost too subtle for a society obsessed with outer appearance and
packaging to get excited about.
Old Dog - New
The quantum leap
was an application not an invention. At the heart of the Hypercar is
its hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen fuel cells were initially developed
in the 1960's for the space programme; it would be another 30 years
before technology could reduce their bulk sufficiently in order to make
them viable as a car power source. Fuel cells flamelessly combine stored
hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce an electrical current.
The fuel cell therefore operates in effect as a reverse of Michael Faraday's
experiment of electrolysis, of course those of you who actually paid
attention in your physics lessons at school will know that Faraday by
introducing an electrical current to acidified water was able to produce
Hydrogen and Oxygen. The fuel cell combines these two elements to produce
electricity and pure water. The electricity produced is used to power
the Hypercar"!; it is this onboard production of electricity that makes
it radically different and cleaner than a battery powered car.
Literally over night
the world had been given a template for a product that would act as
the stepping stone from an unsustainable carbon-fossil burning and polluting
society to one that could utilise hydrogen. If that wasn't enough the
bigger prize was that the Hypercar in one stroke provided the blueprint
to mark the end of the philosophical war between the green movement
and the worlds most polluting industry. The challenge was to see if
both parents would accept the child.
Adoption or Resistance
One would have assumed
that the idea Amory Lovins gave birth to would have been snatched up
the moment it appeared on the web. In reality it sat there for some
considerable time like an unwanted orphan. Initially the car industry
didn't want to know because it was just developing battery powered cars,
which required minimal change to the production lines already in existence.
Minimal change equated to continued profits!
Another r eason
for the slow response was that Amory Lovins had deliberately posted
his designs for the Hypercar onto the Internet free of any patents,
in the hope that one of the major manufacturers would take up the challenge
to produce the car. Not an unreasonable assumption to make, after all
manufacturers pump millions if not billions into concept car designs
every year, yet initially not one of them took the bait - why - because
they were tied into the oil industry.
A coalition of some
of the world's largest corporations including Chrysler and Shell even
launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in the 1990's meant to stop
the Clinton Administration from negotiating a treaty to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions and slow global warming.
The coalition including
leading oil, coal and automobile producers called itself the "Global
Climate Information Project". It was believed to have spent $13 million,
(according to the Financial Times) on TV, radio, and print ads to confuse
the public about climate change. Thereby diverting attention from their
industries' contribution to the problem in the same way that tobacco
companies tried to deny evidence that smoking caused health problems.
The Greens had become
so entrenched with fighting against the pollution by cars and misinformation
campaigns like the one mentioned above, that they got stuck in the trap
of believing all cars were evil, and forgot that it was the pollution
that they wanted to stop. Both sides were so familiar with being in
opposition with each other that it was inconceivable to either side
that they could actually fulfil their goals by sitting at the same table,
let alone on the same side of that table.
been slow on the uptake of the idea as well, for purely financial reasons.
Massive amounts of taxes were being accrued from both the oil industries
directly and also indirectly from drivers filling up at the pumps. Many
governments either owned or were heavily funded by the oil companies
as the Elf scandal involving the French and German governments of the
late 1990's proved. The French government used Elf, which was state
owned at the time to help underwrite Chancellor Kohl's election campaign
in order to further foster its aims of European integration, which it
believed stood more chance of success if Kohl was at the helm in Germany.
I mention this only to highlight exactly how much influence and power
the oil companies had at the time and to help explain why it took so
long for the Hypercar to actually reach the market .
A Man ahead of
Amory Lovins was
and probably still is ahead of the times. None-the-less back then few
were prepared to listen and even less truly grasped what he had achieved.
If one could level criticism at him, it would be this; he simply did
not promote his plans loudly enough. Perhaps though he recognised that
we would need to get closer to the edge of the abyss before we were
ready to take the cureś and so it proved.
Last night I was
able to ask Amory Lovins what he felt was the key moment in history
that had enabled him to get the car off the web and into production.
"I don't believe
there was a key moment as such, rather a series of moments, each of
which filtered bit by bit into the public's imagination and eventually
forced the manufacturers to act. The key moments in my belief are these:
introduced a policy in the mid1990's that demanded cars produce zero-emission
from 2004, I believe the message began to sink home that something was
up. It was also the perfect opportunity to promote the Hypercar because
everyone at the time was thinking that battery powered cars were going
to be the solution. In reality although California demanded zero-emission
from the tailpipe of a car, the electricity required to charge and power
the battery was being made elsewhere, namely at coal, oil and nuclear
powerplants. These plants would have needed to be working overtime and
moreover new ones would have needed to be built in order to meet the
increased demand for electricity. As a consequence the overall pollution
levels wouldn't necessarily fall but merely be relocated from the car
back to those powerplants. Clearly a fuel cell that produces and has
the capacity to store electricity within the vehicle itself, is both
cleaner and more efficient.
directive of January 2000, which placed the responsibility from 2006
onto manufactures to recycle every car they had ever produced since
the 19th Century that had not already been scrapped. This was perhaps
the strongest indicator that the Western world realised that the natural
world was near crisis point.
caused by global warming, which occurred seemingly around the World
throughout 1999 and 2000 finally registered in the public consciousness
as being a global community problem.
"In many ways
the small straw which broke the camel's back came in late 2000 and early
2001 in a Health Authority directive that no new junior schools would
be built in Britain, unless they could provide a shaded playground area
for the children. It was the admission by the senior health development
officer for London, that Skin Cancer, caused by ozone depletion was
their number one health action priority. Children were not allowed to
go outside on sunny days unless there was a shaded area and they were
wearing sun block. If there was no shaded area available then they had
to remain indoors. Children all over the country were even provided
with free desert sun hats.
became aware that their children were in real danger from skin cancer,
combined with the realisation that they could not enjoy a full childhood
by playing outdoors, all financial arguments went out the window.
those less socially conscious, could also see that once our economy
made the switch from Carbon to Hydrogen that this new power source would
be as profitable as it was clean. There is less waste because any excess
electricity produced can be stored and fed back into the grid or even
sold back! As soon as people started seeing the potential for the Hypercar
to be not only a mode of transport but also a mobile power station -
albeit a small one - the car industry became very excited.
The enabling factor
in all this though was probably OPEC's acceptance that they faced being
put out of business and their surprisingly rapid move into the hydrogen
business. The uncompromising legislation against the burning of fossil
fuels by all governments driven by the power of the NGO'S made the switch
absolutely inevitable. This switch of course was funded by the war chest
they amassed when oil reached $50 a barrel. Those Sheiks are certainly
shrewd; I visited the Middle East recently with a certain degree of
apprehension and was surprised at the warmth of the reception I received.
"'It doesn't matter
what we are selling, just as long as we are doing the selling. It makes
no difference whether it was oil then or hydrogen and electricity now'
was a typical response."
So due to the ultimate
power of the people's will, the parents did adopt the child. The result
is a global people's car fuelled by the people's fuel. When Amory Lovins
receives his ' Citizen of the World' award tonight, he can be proud
that the world today is a cleaner, quieter, safer place than it was
10 years ago. For the first time in two hundred years we have experienced
a drop in CO2 levels.
The question posed
in the year 2000 by every agency across the world was how to chose between
respect for the environment or regeneration of communities. The answer
provided by the technology of 2010 is that we can do both, if business
will change its culture to embrace the new opportunities towards equity.
We have in truth
though with the help of Amory Lovins merely taken the first step on
the path to achieving the transition from Fossil fuel to Solar Hydrogen
energy. It will be up to you the people to decide how far we ultimately
go down this path. The revolution won't be over until every household
is powered by a fuel cell and then we can finally say goodbye to our
coal and nuclear power plants and once again enjoy watching our children
play outside, without worry.
© DAVID RUTHERFORD