Reinventing Fire: How to Get America Off Oil and Coal by 2050

The Rocky Mountain Institute's new book shows how existing technologies and ideas could get America off fossil fuels by 2050.

It’s hard to call Reinventing Fire a book—it’s also a policy paper, a road map, and a manifesto. Written by the energy expert Amory Lovins and his staff at the Rocky Mountain Institute, it begins by asserting that, by 2050, Americans can live free of oil and coal. It also lays out a plan to reach that goal by relying on technologies and ideas that already exist.

In the world RMI envisions, the “new fire” of renewable energy will replace the “old fire” of coal and oil, cost less, and continue to drive economic growth. The book examines transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity, the four economic sectors it identifies as major consumers of fossil fuels. In each area, the authors ferret out energy savings in existing models and suggest revolutionary re-thinkings of how that sector does business. Although government and policy changes play a role in these plans, Lovins and his team present primarily a business case for their ideas. Everything they suggest eventually pays for itself, and all of it costs $5 trillion less than forging ahead on the country’s current path. Here are a few key takeaways from Reinventing Fire, which comes out today.

America is buying more energy than it needs to. Sustainability advocates often talk about saving energy by doing less: turning off the lights, giving up meat, living in smaller spaces. Reinventing Fire argues that it’s possible to do more, with less energy. Whether the energy is going to cars, houses, offices, or industrial processes, RMI finds ways to minimize downstream energy use. Cars could weigh less. Buildings could require less energy to heat and cool their interiors. In factories, shorter pipes with fewer twists and turns could move liquids more efficiently. In every sector, it’s possible to design the machines that eat up energy to need less of it, while accomplishing the same tasks.

There’s “no miracle required.” Opponents of renewable energy tend to temper praise of wind and solar with caveats about how the sector isn't ready to take over from fossil fuels. Reinventing Fire shows that’s not true: the plan does not “rely on breakthrough technologies or new inventions,” the authors write. Moving away from coal and oil requires “not miracles or magic but on purposeful application of what’s already proven.” (They’re not the only energy analysts who’ve come to this conclusion, either.)

Government has a role to play. The ideas presented in the book make business sense, but they won’t happen automatically. Business executives need to show leadership in this area, but so does government. In each sector, government policies can speed adoption of new ideas: building codes can make efficiency the default; “feebates” can charge customers a premium for buying inefficient cars and use that money to reward those that choose efficient vehicles, speeding the turnover to cars less hungry for gas; regulations can incentivize utilities to help customers save energy.

Abandoning coal and oil makes sense independently of climate worries. (But it will also help fix climate change) Lovins and his team hardly mention the impact their proposed changes will have on the country’s carbon emissions, and Reinventing Fire stresses that there are plenty of good reasons other than climate change to adopt this strategy. International policy could focus on areas other than oil security. Blackouts could cease to exist. The air would be cleaner. That $5 trillion could be invested in something other than gas.

But taken together, the plans laid out in the book draw down carbon dioxide by slightly more than 80 percent between 2000 and 2050. Conveniently, that’s just beyond the emissions target set in 1992 by the international community. Although there are plenty of other reasons to push for RMI's ideas, that's a pretty good one.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user vxla

Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less