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21 Apr 2014
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Reinventing Fire

Reinventing Fire:
Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era
Author: Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Price: £27.50

Reinventing FireClimate change is arguably the biggest issue we collectively face this century, negating the impact of fossil fuels vital to solving it. For all the environmental campaigning and government summits, we seem to be coming up short. The need for a credible solution has never been greater and Reinventing Fire represents an ambitious attempt to provide such a blueprint.

In this book, the renowned environmental thinker Amory Lovins and his team set out the business case for decarbonising the US economy, though the principles equally apply to the UK. The startling and meticulously argued claim they make is that transition to an economy that by 2050 uses no oil, coal, nuclear energy and substantially less gas, would cost $5 trillion less than the business as usual scenario, while delivering economic growth. Impressively, they make this case referring only to existing technology.

Reinventing Fire begins by analysing spending on fossil fuels, but doesn’t hang around to factor in the price of any externalities as it’s more concerned with the alternatives. It tackles the main areas of activity involving energy: transport; buildings; industrial production; electricity generation. Each analysis is detailed and illuminating, spliced with excellent examples and diagrams, as well as references for further reading. Throughout, the emphasis is on how rethinking our transport, buildings, et cetera, is financially better for us.

Although the issues are complex, the book is constructed upon three foundation principles: reduce use, modulate demand and optimise supply. At base level, all three are little more than common sense, i.e. do more with less, manage when and how we consume, and then adjust supply to fit where and when it’s needed in light of the other two principles.

At the end of each chapter there are recommendations for action, for a range of key sectors. So for instance, in the transport chapter, vehicle makers and suppliers, fuel providers, fleet and private vehicle owners and operators, and government and NGOs, are presented with specific suggestions. These in turn are broken into three types of recommendation: no regrets, opportunistic, and innovative. Each reflects the scale of the challenge that following them entails, from easy wins to early adoption and finally pioneering initiatives. Those embracing all three, the authors contend, will reap financial rewards in the long run.

As a handbook for decarbonising our economy, environmentalists might be surprised to learn that the case in Reinventing Fire does not put a price on carbon emissions, nor does the argument rely on moral imperatives like preserving biodiversity. However, this book is not written primarily for environmentalists, or even policy makers, though there are recommendations for them. Rather, it is aimed at those leading businesses and organisations, showing how they can solve the big problems when politicians fail us.

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