What is another principle you are espousing?
Ten years ago, the second principle was about biomimicry—design everything in the way in which nature does. I’ve redefined that principle to be: Redesign the way we make and deliver everything, using several approaches, like biomimicry or cradle-to-cradle [which involves designing products so that their waste can be recycled into material for another product].
Can you give me an example of a really good cradle-to-cradle redesign process?
How do we make cement right now? We dig up limestone, we calcine it at enormous use of energy, and as a result making cement is one of the most carbon-intensive activities in the economy. There’s a company in California called Calera. They have a much smarter approach, which is: How does nature make a cementlike product? Who in nature makes something like cement? Well, coral reefs do. Marine shelled creatures do, making hard casings in seawater. So let’s mimic that. To nature, carbon is the building block of life. Nature has ways of using the carbon to make the sorts of things it needs.
But how do you get to the point of cutting millions or billions of tons of carbon emissions?
We need entrepreneurs who will say, what are the productive uses of this [carbon] resource so that we can soak it up and put the system back in balance? So there’s Geoff Coates up at Cornell, who is using carbon dioxide to make plastic. Or all of the people who are making biochar, taking woody material that has already trapped carbon but that in many cases would rot [and emit the carbon]. By converting it to biochar in simple stoves that people in Africa can cheaply obtain, you use part of it as fuel and part of it goes into the soil, enhancing the fertility while trapping the carbon.
Do you think electric vehicles are a primary solution to the climate crisis?
I personally do, and that is a big difference between Amory and me. Amory is a huge fan of what he calls the hypercar [lightweight vehicles that run on hydrogen]. I don’t think the hypercar makes a lot of sense. I don’t think we’re going to have a hydrogen economy. I think it’s going to go to the electric vehicles and to some extent the flex-fuel hybrid.
What are the ramifications of not having a carbon tax or a carbon price in the United States anytime soon?
That’s the point of the book. That we can solve the carbon crisis at a profit regardless. The entities that are taking charge of solving the climate crisis are businesses large and small, and for very good economic reasons. However, we are swimming upstream against subsidies to the incumbent fossil industries. The International Energy Agency reckons that $550 billion per year is going to the fossil industries around the world, something like 10 times the subsidies that go to renewables and efficiency. That’s lunacy.
But I think when Walmart announces it is going to be 100 percent renewably powered, and it starts driving that down through the supply chain, that’s doing a great deal more for climate protection than anything the feds are doing.