The More You Think About Rocky Mountain Institute, The Better It Gets

Editors’ note: We were honored when Dr. Charles Babbs, a professor at Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, offered to share the motivation behind his enduring support of RMI.

Climate change caused by human activity is the defining challenge of our time, and Rocky Mountain Institute, led by visionary thinkers such as Amory Lovins, Jules Kortenhorst, and many others, is actually doing something about it—something practical; something achievable; something scalable from home, to neighborhood, to village, to city, to nations rich and poor, east and west; something that works with today’s off-the-shelf technology; something compatible with human nature; something acceptable to persons of all political persuasions; something that produces short-term wins rather than deferred gratification; something that requires no future miracles or scientific breakthroughs; something that makes money starting now.

It is not too grandiose to imagine that those of us who support RMI just might be contributing to the salvation of our species, because the energy problem is so pivotal to the grand challenges of the 21st century. If we have abundant, low-carbon, renewable energy, we can solve critical global problems that threaten our species. And the more you think about it, the better it gets. We can solve fresh water insecurity anywhere near a seacoast by turning seawater into fresh water through distillation powered by renewable energy. We can solve food insecurity by building multilevel urban farms, like high-rise organic car parks, with 24-hour broad-spectrum LED lighting powered by renewable energy. We can generate nitrogen-containing fertilizer for global agriculture from the limitless nitrogen in air using the methane steam reforming process to produce ammonia, also powered by renewable energy. We can solve urban pollution and bring down cancer deaths by converting to all electric vehicles. We might even generate portable hydrogen-oxygen fuel for transportation by electrolysis of water, created with clean electricity. We can solve national insecurity to a large degree by eliminating oil wars and national competition for scarce energy resources. We can solve the threat of massive coastal flooding and the displacement of hundreds of millions of people due to sea level rise by minimizing present and future carbon emissions. We can adapt to predictable sea level rise from greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere by creating Dutch-style lowlands pumped dry using renewable energy.

With abundant renewable electricity it is even possible that in the future we will be able to attack the major culprit of global warming itself through electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction that transforms CO2 into useful end products, such as methanol, aldehydes, ketones, and hydrocarbons. Or perhaps more elegantly, we could leverage biology and evolution to convert atmospheric CO2 into useful complex carbohydrates using fast-growing algae under 24-hour artificial light.

And solving our energy and climate challenges the RMI way need not mean reducing wealth or living standards. What must be reduced instead are unnecessary and uneconomic throughputs from resources to waste. Fortunately, the global economy is so wasteful that there is tremendous potential to reduce such throughputs while raising everyone’s quality of life. This reframing of larger environmental issues as technological rather than political problems allows humans to do what they do best: invent and solve technical problems with tools available today, rather than what they do worst: act collectively in large numbers to solve political problems. RMI’s whole-system, visionary designs are modular and scalable. They can work on local, national, and global levels and tend to be profitable at each step, from the very beginning.

I believe that even our most daunting, despair-invoking global challenges can be met by creative application of smarter design approaches and systems integration of the kind inspired and demonstrated by Rocky Mountain Institute since its founding. We who support RMI at this critical time in world history are lucky and blessed to have found a way, through this amazing organization, to make the world a better place for our having lived in it. And the more you think about the potential downstream benefits, the better they get.

For a great example of RMI’s breakthrough, common-sense thinking that is applicable today watch RMI’s video “The Storage Necessity Myth: How to Choreograph High-Renewables Electricity Systems.”