Acceptance speech – Amory and Hunter Lovins

The great challenge facing the world is to enable people to feel more safe, valued, empowered, and responsible...


We are deeply honoured to be included in the company of such gallant leaders as High Chief Ibedul, Manfred Max-Neef, and Leopold Kohr. When asked what this Award signifies, we sometimes borrow a line from our friend, the folksinger Kate Wolf, who said: “Find what you really care about, and live a life that shows it.” We are moved to be sharing this Award with people who do that so well. Thank you.

What is it that we care about? The great challenge facing the world is to enable people to feel more safe, valued, empowered, and responsible: in short, to begin building real security through individual and community action. This motive underlay our work on least-cost, nonviolent energy strategies, and on how an economically rational energy policy can help to solve problems as diverse as C02-related climatic change, the lack of affordable energy for economic and cultural development, and the spread of nuclear bombs.

Four years ago we made a pilgrimage to the Peace Museum at Hiroshima. There we saw bones which the fires had fused into roof tiles, and granite steps which the flash of the bomb had changed into a different mineral form–except in one place where a person sitting on the steps had left a shadow in the stone.

Today, the nuclear bombs in the world are equivalent to more than one and a half million Hiroshimas, increasing by dozens per day. A single Poseidon submarine can carry about enough warheads to land the equivalent of three Hiroshimas on each of the 200-odd Soviet cities of over 100 000 people. The United States has 31 such submarines. Yet, apparently thinking these too few, the U.S. is also building bigger submarines with Trident missiles accurate enough to attack Soviet missile silos–and why attack silos whose missiles have already been launched? Having decided that its thousand-odd land-based missiles are becoming more vulnerable to attack, the U.S. is building more of them: MX missiles, which have been trying for some 15 years to find a hole to crawl into. The MX, with ten highly accurate warheads, is also a first-strike weapon, offering a bonus to the side that launches first. Soviet missile designs and policies appear to be moving in the same ominous directions playing catch-up as they have done ever since 1945.

While American officials complain that arms-control treaties are hard to verify, U.S. actions seek to make them impossible to verify– by arming planes, ships, and perhaps pickup trucks with miniature, easily concealed cruise missiles. Similar missiles will doubtless soon appear on Soviet submarines. And while U.S. commentators shudder at the trigger-happiness of the Soviet command that decided, after more than two hours deliberation, to shoot down a Korean airliner, President Reagan presses ahead with European siting of Pershing II missiles which will give that same Soviet command about six minutes to decide whether to blow up the world.

The Soviet government has offered to reduce its SS-20 missiles targeted on Western Europe to a level (some 120-140 missiles) amounting to about half the warheads, with less than a tenth of the explosive power, already targeted on Western Europe for the past two decades. By rejecting this offer, the United States has achieved no such reductions; on the contrary, there will now be hundreds of additional missiles on both sides–all probably on a hairtrigger “launch-on-warning” alert to which a malfunctioning 10-kronor computer chip could undo the evolutionary progress of the past few milliard years. And as a bonus added to this insanity, the Reagan Administration has also achieved in Western Europe what the Soviet Union could never accomplish: the popular delegitimation of NATO.

Since all these things are being done in the name of U.S. national security, it is worth recalling a key insight which Philip Morrison and The Boston Study Group provided in their remarkable book The Price of Defense (New York Times Book Co., 1979). They showed that there is no significant military threat to the United States that can be defended against. By this they meant that, owing to geography, Americans need not be worried about armadas of Soviets or Chinese in rowboats. Both are simply too far away to pose a conventional military threat to the North American landmass. Such threats could exist, and are of three kinds:

    • terrorism – which a free society cannot defend against, though it could make itself less vulnerable and less tense;


    • minor border incursions of the sort that the Coast Guard is designed to cope with; and


  • strategic nuclear attack–against which there is no defense, although if one believes in deterrence one might be able to deter it. (Deterrence requires, among other paradoxical things, that each side be rational enough to be in fact deterred by the threat of mutual annihilation, yet also appear to the other side to be irrational enough to carry out that threat.)

The military threats of terrorism, border incursions, and nuclear attack, insofar as they can be handled at all, can be handled (as the Boston Study Group’s analysis showed) with military forces less than 3% the size and cost of present U.S. forces: in essence, by a Coast Guard plus a handful of Poseidon submarines. The other 97% of U.S. military budgets goes for general-purpose forces to project American power into other people’s disputes in other countries where the President of the United States perceives the U.S. has an interest (to put it as neutrally as we can).

For both the announced purpose of defense and the unannounced purpose of bullying, the United States alone is spending about ten thousand dollars per second on more and allegedly better tools for killing people. World military expenditures are several times this level. But what sort of security is such military investment actually buying? In 1945, the United States was militarily all but invulnerable. Today, 30 000 bombs richer, the same nation is entirely exposed to devastation at any moment. Whatever that military budget is buying, it’s not making Americans (or anyone else) really secure.

Indeed, security is being eroded, not only by the multiplication and refinement of weapons, but also by their spread. Nowadays the firepower of a World War II can be packaged to fit neatly beneath your bed. Nuclear delivery vehicles can thus include not just missiles, whose radar tracks mark their origin for retaliation, but also tramp freighters, fishing-boats, ox-carts, rental vans, and parcel services. If the middle of New York disappeared a bright flash at 8:00 tomorrow morning, but nobody said “We did it,” against whom would those “deterrent” missiles be launched? Nuclear attacks can be anonymous and thus undeterrable.
As the seeds of nuclear bombs, sown for decades around the world, begin to germinate–so far in India, Israel, South Africa, Pakistan, and Argentina, and soon in such places as Iraq, Iran, Libya, Taiwan, South Korea, and Brazil–anonymous nuclear attacks become not only possible but likely. Military might cannot prevent such attacks and may even invite them.

The spread of nuclear bombs is motivated by the prestige attached to them and by the domineering capacity derived from them–notably by the United States, which is the only nation to have used them in anger, the only one which refuses to promise not to use them first again, and the main one basing its foreign policy on threats of nuclear violence (such threats having been made, on average, about once a year since 1945). These political ends are so inviting that only one country, Sweden, is known to have abandoned a bomb program already in progress (though she has apparently retained the means to make bombs quickly if she so chose).

Of course, making bombs requires not only motives but also means; and nuclear power programs have exported those means around the world. The materials, knowledge, skills, equipment, and organizations used for nuclear power are so unavoidably usable for bombs that it is impossible to have one without the other–notwithstanding efforts (notably by some distinguished Swedes) towards unachievable -“international safeguards”. In contrast, in a world without nuclear power, the means needed to make bombs by any known method would no longer be items of commerce. They would therefore be hard to get, conspicuous to try to get, and politically very costly to be caught trying to get, because for the first time one’s purpose in wanting them would be unambiguously military. This would make proliferation, not impossible, but extremely difficult.

What stands in the way is the unwillingness of nuclear bureaucracies (and of the governments they often control) to abandon their hope of profit and personal satisfaction–neither of which has materialized-from subsidized exports of nuclear technology, notably to developing countries. In fact, nuclear power is dying of an incurable attack of market forces throughout the world’s market economies. New plants are so uneconomic that even if built, they would cost less to write off (and buy energy efficiency instead) than to operate. Indeed, it can easily cost a nuclear utility more to build the capacity to serve a new, electrically heated building than it costs to construct that entire building!

Simply choosing the cheapest energy options can guarantee a non-nuclear future, regardless of personal preference or ideology. This is already starting to happen. Since 1979, for example, the United States has gotten more than a hundred times as much new energy from savings as from all expansions of energy supply; more new supply from renewable sources than from nonrenewables; and more new electric generating capacity ordered from small hydro plants and windpower than from coal or nuclear plants or both. (No large power plants of any kind have been ordered in the U.S. since late 1981; and the nuclear program, the world’s largest, still delivers only about half as much energy as wood.) Yet successive U.S. Presidents have ignored these market realities and instead propped up tottering nuclear programs abroad by the bad example of their domestic energy policies. By saying that even a rich, skilful nation rich in all sorts of fuels cannot survive without nuclear power and a plutonium economy, the U.S. has reinforced similar arguments in other countries lacking those advantages. If he U.S. were simply to accept the verdict of the market, abstain from heroic measures to resuscitate a failed technology, design an orderly terminal phase for it, help a very imperfect market to work better in choosing cheaper alternatives, and help any other interested country to follow that good example, the world’s remaining nuclear power programs–all in serious trouble–would soon wither.

The Swedish example in pioneering this sensible course is of critical worldwide importance for nonproliferation. A modern, highly industrialized country with no fossil fuels of its own has set out to abandon nuclear power by 2010 in favour of very efficient energy use and appropriate renewable sources: just the options which will save the most oil soonest and cheapest. Sweden’s success in continuing to move in this direction will be a vital beacon showing other countries the way, just as the efficiency of using energy in Sweden today–probably the world’s highest–is the universally cited example of what can be done-by a cost-conscious and practical people. But the global nuclear industry so fears the persuasive power of the Swedish example that it has misrepresented the result of the referendum as a resounding endorsement of the nuclear future. Sweden’s greatest contribution yet to world peace could be simply to proclaim what actually happened–that 78% of Swedish votes were for phasing out nuclear power in favour of alternatives–and to reinforce the national commitment to making that shift a model of smooth and efficient management.

That commitment to an efficient solar Sweden will increase national security, too. Today’s complex, centralized energy system is very easy to turn off, through sabotage, natural disaster, or technical accident. In contrast, a more efficient, diverse, dispersed, renewable energy system could be so resilient that major failures would become impossible. (See A.B.&L.H. Lovins, Brittle Power Energy Strategy for National Security (Andover, Massachusetts, Brick House 1982). FAO has done a broadly similar analysis for Sweden, apparently with parallel conclusions.) And very high energy productivity, in partnership with renewable sources, could guarantee all Swedes an ample, sustainable, stably priced supply of energy, not just in our own generation, but indefinitely.

A secure and affordable supply of energy, however, is just one of the ingredients of a really secure society. Security also requires other necessities–water, food, shelter. It embraces health, a healthy environment, a flexible and sustainable system of production, a legitimate system of self-government, a durable system of shared values. But where can we get these things which so directly touch our lives and let us all feel safe? Most of all from the institutions nearest to us: from our own efforts, our families, our communities, and local governments. Real security comes less from central governments, dispensed from the top down, than we build it ourselves from the bottom up. But we cannot feel secure if we enjoy Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness while others do not; for then at best we will feel uncomfortable, and we may even fear that others may come to take from us what they lack themselves. Thus we build real security above all when we strive to make-our neighbours feel more secure, not less–whether on the scale of the village or the globe.

Real security, too, is not something we can get from armies and missiles. Its roots run deeper and need greater nourishment. It thrives, for example, an a political system so firmly based on a common set of values–honed by diverse and vigorous debate–that it cannot be subverted or taken over. On such foundations could even be built, as some Scandinavian strategists have suggested, a standing Resistance that would make one’s national territory impossibly disagreeable for anyone else to occupy. Such a purely defensive military posture is cheap; threatens nobody; cannot be perverted into an instrument of oppression; and can even guard against tyranny at home. Such nonmilitary approaches to military problems are an idea whose time is coming fast–and are yet another contribution that Swedish thinking is making to world peace.

From the analysts at SIPRI, to the grassroots activists (such as C.E. Lennart Daléus) who conceived and carried forward the nuclear phaseout referendum, to such courageous advocates of disarmament as Inga Thorsson, many Swedes are contributing to the global ferment of fresh ideas on how to unspread the bomb. Here is a sampling of the wide range of new ideas from around the world on nuclear disarmament:

  • Since merely reversing the arms race (i.e. decreasing, instead of increasing, the number of bombs by 4-5%/y) would take 100-200-years to get rid of them, destroy them instead at a rate which increases exponentially. President Reagan, having a flair for the dramatic, could take a Mark 12A warhead to the Nevada Test Site and, on world television, pulverize it with a big sledgehammer–then invite President Andropov  (or perhaps a more robust substitute such as Chief of Staff Ogarkov) to do the same with two Soviet warheads, then four American, eight Soviet, etc. The past six U.S. Administrations (until this one) have been committed to a Comprehensive Test Ban, but this has always been vetoed by the weapons laboratories. That is because most modern bombs are perishable–they contain tritium and plutonium which decay–so that in time they can no longer be assured of working, unless each vintage has from time to time been taken off the shelf and proof-tested. The U.S. (and perhaps also the Soviet) arsenal is therefore, we are told, to be gradually shifted to all-uranium designs which have an indefinite shelf life and thus need no testing. But we prefer a Comprehensive Test Ban and perishable bombs (on both sides). As the bombs gradually rotted, they would still deter–one could not be sure they would not work–but they would become less and less likely actually to work, so everyone would become safer. A “let ’em rot” policy–coupled, of course, with a comprehensive bilateral freeze so that replacement bombs could not be built–would especially deter a first strike because it would greatly reduce the attacker’s confidence of success.
  • Our friend and colleague Dr. Donald Westervelt, who for many years ran the bomb-testing program at Los Alamos National Laboratory, points out that it is, and will remain, very difficult to get Superpower agreement about “bean-counting” types of nuclear disarmament (who has how many of what). He therefore proposes building on the existing consensus that short launch times and short warning times are dangerously destabilizing. In nontechnical form, Dr. Westervelt’s creative proposal for lengthening launch times would be, for example, to take missiles out of their silos, unbolt the wings from bombers, withdraw all missiles and other nuclear bombs from forward bases (e.g. in Europe), build no means of communicating with submarines much faster than floating them messages in bottles, etc.–and do all of this bilaterally and verifiably. This approach has substantial military support (the generals are very scared by launch-on-warning too), but no political leader has yet picked up the idea.
  • Visits and exchanges by private citizens could be supplemented by a formal revival of the mediaeval concept of mutual hostages: members of the Congress and of the Politburo could send their children to live and study in the other country’s main cities.
  • The biologist Lewis Thomas proposes that large numbers of U.S. and Soviet troops be given tickets to ride around all the time on each others’ railway systems. Because of the well-known imperfections of railway timetables, nobody would ever know quite where they were. And as these roving hostages looked out the windows, and discovered that Nebraska and the Ukraine are quite alike, they would recall–as their commanders might have forgotten –that there are people out there.
  • In a similar vein of rehumanizing the so-called “enemy”, there is a new program which arranges for each American family to keep on the mantelpiece of its house the photographs of a Soviet family, and vice versa. There is also a “sister-cities” program. The Brandt Commission proposed, and Sweden could unilaterally start paying a rising international tax on arms expenditures. How about a rising megatonnage tax too, to be paid in an annually televised ritual of penance (preferably in Hiroshima or Nagasaki) and distributed to countries without nuclear bombs, as a symbolic (if wholly inadequate) gesture of compensation for the risks imposed on them?
  • Better still, every August, each incoming head of state taking office during the previous year, and each head of state of a country having nuclear bombs, should be invited to make a public pilgrimage to the Peace Museum at Hiroshima as guests of the Japanese people. The visitors could see the exhibits, lay wreaths, condemn bombs as a matter for shame rather than pride, and perhaps slip away for a private meeting of Bombaholics Anonymous.

The anthropologist Nary Catherine Bateson offers the parable of a man who has the habit of drinking himself nightly into oblivion and who, perhaps once a year, gets out his revolver and plays solo Russian roulette. He is killing himself in three ways: the annual gamble with instant death, the slow death of cirrhosis, and the daily rejection of the reality of his being. But these three modes of death feed on each other. When the revolver clicks on an empty cylinder, he thinks he is all right and continues to drink himself to death. He doesn’t think too much about what the alcohol is doing to his body because of his overwhelming fear that the Russian roulette will kill him first. The daily oblivion that this fear compels him to seek keeps him from noticing the creeping cirrhosis or resisting the temptation of the revolver. And so the three go round and round, despair reinforcing itself. In our own world, perhaps once a year, various nuclear alerts are proven false and the nuclear gun doesn’t quite go off. We kill ourselves slowly with chronic privations and pollutions, to which we deaden ourselves with the electronic oblivion and “entertainment” to which our fears drive us. These too feed on each other, and the steady revolving of the insane merry-go-round can be jammed only by minute particulars of work and hope. But first, like the alcoholic, we must face the depth of our addictive predicament. Breaking the numbed silence of dread will require new rituals, new symbolisms, and above all new actions by millions of ordinary people.

This is not to deny the deep divisions in the world–least of all those between Soviet and American leaders, who seem to deny their common humanity and to share only a preference for their own people alive to the others people dead. But these hostile, suspicious, fearful leaders will have to live together whether or not they trust each other. If, after all, they could trust each other, there would be no need for arms control, because there would be no “need” for arms. And our leaders, like all of us, had better start getting used to the idea that nuclear bombs are not the problem; they are only a symptom. The problem is war: and, underlying war, the legacy of tribalism, human aggression, injustice, power without purpose, the psychic premises of eons of homocentric, patriarchal, imperial culture. If we as a species do not squarely address these problems, nuclear disarmament will only buy time before we find some other ingenious way of killing each other.

The transformation of human values that can alone provide lasting within security can only come from whithin each of us. It begins with you and me as we talk to each other and then to others. That is exactly how, for example, the Zen poet Gary Snyder stopped the war in Vietnam. In the mid-1960s, Gary was sitting in a bar in Tokyo and fell into conversation with a fellow American who was on his way to Saigon to do a government study of the war. The stranger was so surprised and fascinated to find that Gary thought the war a bad idea that he postponed his trip to Saigon and they talked for three days about the war, about values and philosophy. When they parted, Gary didn’t think much would come of it. But some years later, having moved back to California and lived in several places, Gary got word on the grapevine that someone on a motorcycle had been looking for him, chasing him from one old address to the next. The searcher had finally sent forward a message to Gary, saying: “I’m the guy you met in that bar in Tokyo. That conversation changed my life. Watch your newspapers.” A few weeks later, the Pentagon Papers’ story broke. The guy was Dan Ellsberg.

(*These voluminous secret papers, “leaked” by RPJID Corporation researcher Dr. Ellsberg, revealed to the American people for the first time how their government had systematically lied to them about the war in Vietnam. Publication in major newspapers, over the government’s objections, was crucial in creating the political concerns to end the war.)

It matters whom you talk to. It matters that you care. Peace will break out when enough of us have peace in our hearts. Peace will blossom when enough of us ask ourselves each night, “What have I done today to help my neighbour feel more secure–and when we like the answer. We shall have peace–when we each take personal responsibility for it.

Within your genes and mine is the legacy of thousands of millions of years of biological wisdom, evolving unbroken to this day. Within your genes and mine is the heritage of all children yet unborn, their potential for all time entrusted to our stewardship. Let us, in their name, choose life.


Amory Lovins
Rocky Mountain Institute
1739 Snowmass Creek Road, Snowmass
CO 81654-9199
Hunter Lovins
Natural Capitalism, Inc.
11823 N. 75th St., Longmont
CO 80503