America's Best Leaders: Amory Lovins, Energy Scientist

For this bright light in the field of alternative energy, it's all about efficiency.

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Amory Lovins

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Part of Lovins's appeal, supporters say, is his genuine interest in building consensus. In 2002, he was disheartened by Washington's conventional approach to energy policy, which he once likened to "a bunch of hogs at a trough, jostling to gobble their fill." So, he summoned to Colorado about two dozen disparate energy experts from the public and private sectors and told them to come up with a comprehensive energy plan based on their areas of agreement. Their blueprint, which focuses on increasing energy efficiency, has been endorsed by oil companies, top climate-change scientists, and many senior lawmakers—though Congress, as a whole, still remains stubbornly gridlocked.

Over the years, Lovins has accumulated a fair share of critics, particularly those who say that his heavy emphasis on energy efficiency is shortsighted, because energy savings from efficiency tend to be outpaced by increases in consumption. Lovins, however, prefers the perspective of Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter, who coined the phrase "creative destruction." Old innovations, he wrote, are "destroyed" by newer, more efficient ones, in a self-repeating process. Lovins clearly sees himself at the front of the latest creative wave.

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