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A Stroll Through the Mind of a Genius

By Ken Brower  Posted by Daniel Geery (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Reprinted from The Wildness Within: Remembering David Brower, c. 2012 by Kenneth Brower. Used with Permission of the Publisher, Heyday, and author Ken Brower, in a book of interviews about his father and founder of the modern environmental movement, according to many.

ALMOST EVERY YEAR Amory Lovins leaves his Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, or departs whatever continent, island group, corporation, government, or military high command he is advising at the moment, and he travels to Northern California to teach a workshop at Esalen Institute on the Big Sur coast. At the most recent of these workshops, in a break between sessions, Lovins and I sat at a bench that looked down the rows of Esalen's large vegetable garden, out past cliffside cypresses, and across inshore kelp beds to the Pacific horizon.

The dark cypresses stood in lovely Maxfield Parrish light. Against the shine of the sea, the kelp stipes, fronds, and flotation bladders showed in sharp Edward Weston resolution. We talked about Lovins's youth, about his most influential mentor, and about the range of miniature yet haunting mountains where his life path took the turn that led to where he is today.

The miniature mountains are called Eryri, which derives from the Welsh for "eagle," or perhaps just "highlands." They make a landscape out of Tolkien. A shepherd in Eryri once spoke to Lovins of "mynyddoedd yn llawn hiraeth," mountains full of longing. The young Lovins understood this in two ways: the peaks feel a sorrow for things gone, but longing is also what you feel for these mountains whenever you are somewhere else.

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Where Lovins is today, after following that path diverging in enchanted mountains, is securely positioned as the planet's foremost expert on energy efficiency.

He is the winner of MacArthur and Ashoka Fellowships, the Mitchell Prize, the Right Livelihood Award, the Lindbergh Award, Time magazine's Hero for the Planet Award, the World Technology Award, the Heinz Award, the National Design Award, the Happold Medal, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Blue Planet Prize, the Volvo Environment Prize, the Zayed Prize, the first Aspen Institute/National Geographic Energy and Environment Award, the first Delphi Prize awarded by the Onassis Foundation, and the Nissan Prize, awarded for his invention of superefficient ultralight-hybrid automobiles. He has taught as lecturer or visiting professor at the universities of California, Stanford, British Columbia, Colorado, Dartmouth, Oklahoma, St. Gallen, and Peking. He is the author of 31 books and more than 450 articles.

In 1982, he cofounded the Rocky Mountain Institute, which he describes as an independent, entrepreneurial think-and-do tank. The mission of RMI is "the efficient and restorative use of resources to help create a world thriving, verdant, and secure, for all, for ever." RMI has offices in Snowmass and Boulder, Colorado, with a staff of around eighty and an annual budget of thirteen million dollars.

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Lovins's clients at RMI have included Accenture, Allstate, AMD, Anglo American, Anheuser-Busch, Bank of America, Baxter, BorgWarner, BP, HP Bulmer, Carrier, Chevron, Ciba-Geigy, CLSA, Coca-Cola, ConocoPhillips, Corning, Dow, Equitable, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Interface, Invensys, Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi, Monsanto, Motorola, Norsk Hydro, Petrobras, Prudential, Rio Tinto, Royal Ahold, Royal Dutch Shell, Shearson Lehman/American Express, STMicroelectronics, Sun Oil, Suncor, Texas Instruments, UBS, Unilever, Walmart, Westinghouse, Xerox, and more than one hundred energy utilities. His public-sector clients have included the Australian, Canadian, Dutch, German, and Italian governments, the US Congress, the US energy and defense departments, and the United Nations. In 2009, Time named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world, and Foreign Policy named him one of the one hundred top global thinkers.

Amory Lovins is, in other words, a force of Nature. "I've recycled I don't know how many hundreds of his lines," Lovins told me, on the garden bench at Esalen, as we spoke of his mentor David Brower. "And probably some vice versa."

Definitely some vice versa. Lovins was the protege at the start, perhaps, but afterward the two men would continually swap that role, even as they recycled each other's lines.

"In the absence of a hierarchical command, leaders developed faster," my father once wrote, in musing on his experience in nurturing leadership. "I finally put my philosophy in words I spoke gently to myself: find good people, delegate authority and responsibility, talk things over if serious mistakes are made, and try to make fewer yourself. This is not a commercial, nor is it an objective view. Check it out with the victims. Try Amory Lovins first, and see if he can remember my directing him to do anything when he was Friends of the Earth's United Kingdom representative. I spent most of my time listening and marveling."

AT SIXTEEN I started at Harvard, and then halfway through my undergraduate course I transferred to Magdalen College, Oxford. Harvard wanted me to specialize too much. They had not only plugged all the loopholes behind me, but they were plugging loopholes ahead of me, trying to get me to concentrate on something. So I became a grad student at Magdalen, pronounced "Maudlin."

Meanwhile, to help strengthen defective knees, I'd been starting to hike a lot and do some guiding in New Hampshire in the White Mountains. I had written a monograph on wilderness safety, which I needed to photocopy. Photocopiers were rare in those days. This was 1968. At Oxford there was one of these precious machines in the physics department. I was nominally a physics grad student, because they didn't know what else to do with me. The photocopier kept breaking down and had to be operated by a technician. Philip Evans was the guy, the technician at the Oxford physics lab. He happened also to be probably the top color landscape photographer in Britain, but was essentially unknown. Philip and I got to talking, because the copier was so slow we got to read each page as it went through. We talked about mountains. He wanted to introduce me to his mountains, in northern Wales. Really? In Wales? How tall are they? Well, the tallest is just 3560 feet. But they really look and act like real mountains.

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There was a cabin in Wales that belonged to the Oxford University Mountaineering Club, a stone hut in the Ogwen Valley, so we started going up there. Philip and I were hiking and scrambling and photographing. He'd been doing photography much of his life, and I had done very little photography, but he got me started and taught me some things. After a while, when we had photographed quite a lot, mostly separately, sometimes together, we began talking about the need to cover our film costs. Kodachrome and processing it were fairly expensive, and we were both running out of money. I thought we should send our chromes to the National Geographic, because I heard they pay well. The Geographic courteously responded, one of their senior editors. "This is beautiful work," he said, "but it's really too atmospheric for us. It's not representational enough. We want pictures that are more in the style we publish, not so much like fine art. But you might send it to Dave Brower, he likes this sort of thing."

Of course, Philip and I had always been in awe of Dave's Exhibit Format books, and thought, well, there's no harm in sending in some chromes. Maybe he'll have some advice about where we can make some money off them and pay for our film. We sent a bunch of them to him at Friends of the Earth in San Francisco. We didn't hear anything for a long time. Eventually, I contacted Dave again. I didn't think they'd been lost in the mail, or anything, but I just wanted to check. Dave said, "Well, as it happens, I'm coming to London next week. Can you meet me in London?"

So we did. It turned out to be the organizing meeting to set up Friends of the Earth in the United Kingdom. In a sidebar to that big organizational conversation, Dave asked Philip and me if we could photograph in more seasons, because we didn't have much winter. He also asked if I could write something about the area. I was a fairly novice writer at that point. So we said, "Okay, we'll do that. And we'll send you some more chromes." Dave said he liked our photography. He gave us some hints about what to do more of or less of, including teaching us Brower's Sky Rule: "Everybody knows the sky is there. So don't show it unless it's doing something interesting, and then show a lot of it." In other words, point the camera somewhat down or somewhat up, but not horizontally. Good rule.

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