To Rise With the Challenge of Our Time

L. Hunter Lovins

L. Hunter Lovins

Legendary leader and honored pioneer of the sustainability movement Hunter Lovins fights for “a finer future”

Hunter Lovins is a force of nature. A lawyer, professor, author, policy advisor, activist, and founder and president of several organizations dedicated to sustainability, she has been at the forefront of the sustainable development movement for over 40 years. Her lifelong work in the field garnered her such accolades as being named a “green business icon” by Newsweek and a millennium “Hero of the Planet” by Time Magazine. Among other honors, she has also received the Right Livelihood Award and the Leadership in Business Award.

Lovins’ groundbreaking achievements include founding the Rocky Mountain Institute in 1982, a non-profit research center with the mission to “transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future.” She is also the current president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, another nonprofit internationally recognized and revered for its groundbreaking insights in the field of sustainable development. She has also co-authored 14 books, including “A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life.”

When we sat down to talk, she had just arrived by plane to teach a class at Bard College’s MBA in sustainability program. On her flight, she acted as a first responder when a passenger began experiencing heart attack symptoms. “Wow,” I say. “Are there any other qualifications we don’t know about? You seem to have so many.”

“I don’t know,” she responds. “I was a firefighter for over 15 years.” She started fighting fire at her Colorado high school. Most rural fire departments are members of the ambulance, she explains, so she wore both hats. She recalls one instance when she saved a man from choking. “I did the Heimlich and he popped the piece of steak, breathing again,” she retells. “I patted him on the back, told him to eat a little more carefully, went back to my whisky.”

“The earth has a fever”

When she finds herself in situations where medical attention is needed, she knows when to act based on the symptoms in front of her. I ask her what symptoms she sees in the sustainability world that crucially need acting upon. “Climate change,” she responds immediately. “We’re warming. The earth has a fever. And fevers that get too high are fatal. Climate change will destroy life as we know it on this planet if left untreated.”

It can be overwhelming to hear such daunting words, which we do so often hear. But the key word is “if.” She continues: “We [do] have all medical interventions to resolve the crisis: i.e., stop putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by shifting to renewable energy; take the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by using regenerative agriculture. In both cases, it’s profitable. So, let’s go. We have all the technologies we need; let’s implement them.”

The sustainable investment philosophy of holistic management

So, how does this happen? Beyond being an expert in the field of sustainability, Lovins has been especially monumental as a leader in sustainable business. Her model is that these sustainable solutions that we have access to make financial sense. So why are more companies not getting on board? “Apathy, inertia, inattention,” she says. “A lack of responsibility.” Companies thinking, “’climate change is not my problem.’” The thought that “the government ought to do something about it, not [the company].” But a growing number of companies are realizing that implementing climate protection measures is, in fact, better business; that they’ll actually make more money that way. That’s the most important leverage point – the economic factor – to creating a behavioral change. And once the behavioral change happens, morality follows. “Making money is awfully good proof of concept.”

What can everyday people do?

When I ask her this question, she advocates education and proactivity.  “Google the science of climate change, and then DOT – Do One Thing.” Burning fossil fuels is 60-70% of what’s driving climate change, but refrigerants are also contributors. So if you have a leaky air conditioner, change it, she says. As an individual, how we engage with agriculture is important. “Industrial agriculture is a driver of climate change, and climate change is threatening agriculture as we know it: increasing droughts and heatwaves. “ She calls it “Global weirding. Farmers can’t rely on normal climate patterns they could before; there are incredible heatwaves, fires, and floods. The more we can localize agriculture and the more we can shift to organic, and better regenerative, now, rather than being a contributor to climate change, you’re a part of the solution.” Taking carbon out of the air and putting it back in the soil, profitably. So to the extent that it’s profitable, this stuff can go to scale.

So, yes: eating locally, learning about farmers markets, and supporting your local agricultural sector really is important.

These are a few operations she suggests buying from: Brown’s Ranch, White Oak Pastures, Polyface farm, or whatever local producer you have in your area that is managing the land holistically, regeneratively. By buying from them, “you are keeping money in the local economy, you’re making their holistic, regenerative practices more profitable, more viable, and the food will taste better.”

One thought on “To Rise With the Challenge of Our Time

  1. Fantastic article with lots of good information. Thank you, Laurence and Hunter! I agree there is so much we can do to address the climate crisis. Carbon emissions (or the appliances we use—and throw away) are a huge threat to our air, water and future communities.

    Visiting the farmers market not only helps for ‘a finer future’ but also takes my mind off the state of emergency we all find ourselves!
    Thanks again!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *