Lovins, Amory Bloch (1947 – ) American Physicist and Energy Conservationist

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Amory Bloch Lovins (1947 )
American physicist and energy conservationist

Amory Lovins is a physicist specializing in environmentally safe and sustainable energy sources. Born in 1947 in Washington, D.C., Lovins attended Harvard and Oxford universities. He has had a distinguished career as an educator and scientist. After resigning his academic post at Oxford in 1971, Lovins became the British representative of Friends of the Earth .He has been Regents' Lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley and has served as a consultant to the United Nations and other international and environmental organizations. Lovins is a leading critic of hard energy paths and an outspoken proponent of soft alternatives.

According to Lovins, an energy path is "hard" if the route from source to use is complex and circuitous requires extensive, expensive, and highly complex technological means and centralized power to produce, transmit, and store the energy produces toxic wastes or other unwanted side effects has hazardous social uses or implications and tends over time to harden even more, as other options are foreclosed or precluded as the populace becomes ever more dependent on energy from a particular source. A hard energy path can be seen in the case of fossil fuel energy. Once readily abundant and cheap, petroleum fueled the internal combustion engines and other machines on which humans have come to depend, but as that energy source becomes scarcer, oil companies must go farther afield to find it, potentially causing more environmental damage. As oil supplies run low and become more expensive, the temptation is to sustain the level of energy use by turning to another, and even harder, energy pathnuclear energy.

With its complex technology, its hazards, its long-lived and highly toxic wastes, its myriad military uses, and the possibility of its falling into the hands of dictators or terrorists, nuclear power is perhaps the hardest energy path. No less important are the social and political implications of this hard path: radioactive wastes will have to be stored somewhere nuclear power plants and plutonium transport routes must be guarded we must make trade-offs between the ease, convenience, and affluence of people presently living and the health and well-being of future generations and so on. A hard energy path is also one that, once taken, forecloses other options because, among other considerations, the initial investment and costs of entry are so high as to render the decision, once made, nearly irreversible. The longer term economic and social costs of taking the hard path, Lovins argues, are astronomically high and incalculable.

Soft energy paths, by contrast, are shorter, more direct, less complex, cheaper (at least over the long run), are inexhaustible and renewable, have few if any unwanted side-effects, have minimal military uses, and are compatible with decentralized local forms of community control and decision-making. The old windmill on the family farm offers an early example of such a soft energy source newer versions of the windmill, adapted to the generation of electricity, supply a more modern example. Other soft technologies include solar energy , biomass furnaces burning peat, dung or wood chips, and methane from the rotting of vegetable matter, manure, and other cheap, plentiful, and readily available organic material.

Much of Lovins's work has dealt with the technical and economic aspects, as well as the very different social impacts and implications, of these two competing energy paths. A resource consultant agency, The Rocky Mountain Institute , was founded by Lovins and his wife, Hunter in 1982. In 1989, Lovins and his wife won the Onassis Foundation's first Delphi Prize for their "essential contribution towards finding alternative solutions to energy problems."

[Terence Ball ]



Nash, H., ed. The Energy Controversy: Amory B. Lovins and His Critics. San Francisco: Friends of the Earth, 1979.

Lovins, A. B. Soft Energy Paths. San Francisco: Friends of the Earth, 1977.

, and L. H. Lovins. Energy Unbound: Your Invitation to Energy Abundance. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1986.


Louma, J. R. "Generate 'Nega-Watts' Says Fossil Fuel Foe." New York Times (April 2, 1993): B5, B8.