Ready to Work: New CEO to Help Create an Energy Revolution

Only a week ago, I made a last trip to the beach, about ten minutes from my house in the Netherlands. Living in a country in which 26% of our land is below sea level (but a total of 55% is at risk of flooding if you include rivers*), you get used to the idea that our dunes and dikes are a crucial defense against the sea. In fact, recent work by a blue-ribbon commission advised the Dutch government to spend more than €1 billion ($1.3 billion) a year to ensure the ongoing safety of our sea defenses in the face of rising sea levels. A daunting challenge even for a rich country like the Netherlands, but what is the similar implication for Bangladesh?

Traveling to Boulder to join the leadership team of Rocky Mountain Institute, I flew into Denver where, according to the Denver Post, “Coloradans continued to sweat through one of the hottest Septembers on record Saturday as Denver tied its record-high temperature.”

A late season heat wave is no proof of climate change, nor are the forest fires that have raged through Colorado earlier this summer or through Yosemite more recently. But they sure are an indication, just like the pine beetle infested forests that stretch for miles and miles in my new home state.

Over the next two months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which will provide an update of knowledge on the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change. Leaked drafts of the report indicate more confidence in climate science and virtual certainty that climate change is largely caused by humans. In my mind, there is no doubt that climate change, and the energy transition that we must carry out to solve it, are the most daunting global issues that mankind faces.

It is therefore a privilege as well as a huge challenge to join the team at Rocky Mountain Institute that has been working on this energy transition for over thirty years. RMI’s message is one of hope and opportunity; we must seize it and not hide from it. Reinventing Fire lays out a pathway towards a thriving, sustainable, and secure world for future generations, based on the rapid transition from coal and oil to efficiency and renewables.

The framing ideas behind such a transition were identified in RMI’s book Natural Capitalism: creating the next industrial revolution; a dramatic increase in the productivity of natural resources, a shift towards a circular economy, business models based on offering solutions rather than products, and finally reinvestments in our planet’s ecosystem.

Together these shifts will indeed create a revolution, and the early signs of the transition are increasingly visible across the private sector and civil society. The challenge is that early signs and step-by-step moves are not in step with the urgency of the challenge.

It is inspiring and exciting to join Rocky Mountain Institute at a time where the early insights of the institute in these shifts are becoming a reality. RMI’s leading edge thinking will continue to help unlock economic value, jobs, and global wellbeing. Together with the team, I will be looking for ways to accelerate impact and spread the reach of the institution.

My wife, Searl, and I are blessed with four amazing children. Thinking about the challenges and opportunities of the future, these four kids and their generation inspire me every day. Without a doubt, we have a moral obligation to get on with the job, to start the revolution, to reinvent fire!

* The IPCC found this difference is due to the fine distinction between salt and fresh water flooding, and was one of the reported errors in the AR4 report.