Sunday, June 18, 2006


There's a lot of overused words in the book reviewing trade but I'm going to use some of them here: inspiring, insightful, courageous, gracious, moving.
Claire Scobie set out to Tibet for the first time in search of a rare flower and, on that adventure into the wilds, she met Ani - a Tibetan nun of unusual character - and they became friends. Thus was Claire drawn back again and again and again to return - to find Ani and to witness, at first hand, the rapid and worrying changes brought about to this sacred land by the Chinese annexation. On each trip, she takes us into a deeper level of her Tibet experience, drawing the reader into temples and brothels, along breathless mountain trails in the high mountains, into a room with the Dalai Lama.
She literally risks life and limb to bring us these stories and insights, coming within a hair's breadth of being arrested and imprisoned by the Chinese Military Police, suffering regular bouts of sickness. She shares her despairs and elations, her misgivings, her love affair, in such an honest and open manner, in an unforced and natural voice, that promotes instant indentification. Her developing friendship with Ani is the thread that holds the narrative together and this also is beautifully rendered. The descriptions of the giant skies, the sheer wonder and beauty of the sacred mountains, is breathtaking. There are some wonderful ancient spiritual thoughts and ideas here alongside some tough, hard-edged contemporary journalism of the classic kind. It is a first-hand account of one of the spiritual centres of the world being overwhelmed by the forces of modern Chinese society, a process accelerated recently by the opening of the China-Tibet railway. This certainly must be one of the best introductory works for a general reader seeking to really understand what is really happening in modern-day Tibet. This book is a considerable and hard-won achievement.
['Last Seen in Lhasa' by Claire Scobie. Rider Books]
Declaring An Interest: It is only fair to say and also important to say that I am a long-time friend of the author and am mentioned in the personal acknowledgements. This, you might be tempted to say, weakens the force of my review. The point is this: it's always difficult when a friend gives you a book of theirs to read. The dread is that it's not going to be very good and that you are going to have to find some polite way of dealing with it. I am relieved and happy to be able to say this book is truly splendid.
Now find out more about what's going on inTIBET here:
Free Tibet Campaign:
Tibet Government in Exile:
Tibet Online:
International Campaign for Tibet:
The Central Tibetan Administration:

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Illustration: Simon Bartram

I wrote this timely article for the 'Connected' supplement of The Daily Telegraph, who published it on June 2rd 1997. 'Connected' was the first British newspaper supplement on digital technologies and I was a regular contributor to it. In our modern era of concern over climate change and increased interest in energy efficiency, this article still makes interesting reading.

Digital Weapons Deployed In War On Waste

Here are some disturbing facts about the world: we are more than 10 times better at wasting resources than using them. Eight per cent of products are discarded after a single use. Ninety-nine per cent of the original materials used in the production of — or contained within — goods in America becomes waste within six weeks of sale.
Seventy per cent of the original fuel energy used by conventional or nuclear power stations is wasted before it gets to an ordinary household light. Similarly, 85 percent of the energy from a car's fuel is wasted in the engine or drivetrain before it gets to the wheels.

In a steadily warming world, such wastage — of heat, resources, time, money, water and air — is both dangerous economically and a contribution to climate change that we can't afford. Fortunately, a solution is at hand.

A new "industrial revolution" is beginning to emerge alongside the digital one — a revolution of resource efficiencies and environmental technologies. Computer-aided design has radically altered design, engineering and architectural practice; micro-electronics has enabled the increasing sophistication of manufacturing processes; telecommunications affects transport.

This revolution will have an equally important impact on all our lives in the next decade, although evidence of it is, as yet, scattered widely. However, the publicatoions last month of a book called 'Factor Four' will not only provide a focus for broader public awareness, but also introduce to a wider readership in Britain one of this revolution's leading evangelists, Amory Lovins.

Lovins, 49, a consultant physicist by training, is an engaging character whose dry wit is combined with an encyclopedic memory and a snappy line in new thinking that has convinced even the most trenchant of critics.

Just as the 19th century industrial revolution brought a massive increase in the productivity of human labour through mechanisa­tion, so, Lovins argues, this new change will achieve an equally remarkable result through the more effective and efficient use of materials and energy.

'Factor Four' is the latest report from the Club of Rome, which, back in 1972, triggered off plane­tary concerns with its first report, 'Limits to Growth', warning of the ecological constraints on human activity.

"There are some very powerful new technologies for using all resources — energy, water, materi­als, transport services — more pro­ductively," says Lovins. "These are the technologies of elegant fru­gality, for doing more and better with much, much less. They pre­vent depletion at one end and pol­lution at the other, make a profit on both, and usually provide a much superior service as well."

Factor Four is packed with examples that back up his asser­tions:

• One-fifth of all electricity used in America goes directly into light­ing. However, ordinary incandes­cent light bulbs, which have changed only modestly since the Thirties, emit only 10 per cent of their energy as light. These are now slowly being replaced by com­pact fluorescent lamps, pioneered in Holland and Germany. About 200 million of these lamps are sold every year globally, and this is ris­ing by 15 to 20 per cent a year. Those sold in 1994 alone will save around £5 billion in electricity over their lifetimes.

• Lovins was involved in an $18 million, seven-year project to ret­rofit a dozen experimental build­ings, a project underwritten by US Pacific Gas and Electric, the larg­est investor-owned American util­ity company. The project confirmed that about three-quarters of the electricity used in most situations could be saved, while providing the same or better services.

So what value do the 'Factor Four' concept and Lovins' ideas have for British industry?

Peter Scupholme, manager of environmental relations for BP International, says: "People like Lovins are adding to the debate by challenging the existing mindset." BP had Lovins to one of its seminars last year, on the future of transport. Scupholme says BP is striving for a more energy-efficient process at its refineries. However "in real life", he says, things are changing slowly, "but there is a widespread recognition that we need to move towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns. In this debate 'Factor Four' is a good market to aim for."

Dr Chris Tuppen, the corporate environmental issues manager for BT, sees telecommunications as a key part of the shift towards sustainability, and says telecoms has achieved far more than a factor of four in relation to costs and bandwith. The first transmission cable in Britain, which ran from London to Liverpool in 1914, required 80kg opf copper per kilometre of cable for each telephone circuit. Now fibre optic cables use 0.001g of glass per kilometre per circuit.

A telling example of the interac­tion of the digital and the environ­mental is the case of BT's tele­phone exchanges, which have been switched from electro-mechanical to digital.

"The old exchanges use most energy only when they switch," says Tuppen. "The digital exchanges need to be on all the time, which generates heat. Our immediate reaction to this was to install air-conditioning units — increasing energy use. Now all new BT exchanges use forced natural ventilation, elimi­nating the need for refrigeration. This has cut energy use by 50 per cent. We were able to achieve this by using computer modelling of air flows; each exchange is individually modelled for maximum efficiency. We have also broadened the temperature operating range of the exchanges. Computer manufacturers are now coming to us to see if they can do the same thing for computer systems."

Lovins' most recent battle in England has been to try and change the system - established by the restructuring of the electricity industry - that rewards electricity companies for selling more energy and penalises them for cuitting your electricity bill.

"We have changed it in six or eight of the US states so far, and it has a miraculously beneficial effect on utilities' behaviour and culture if you align their share­holders' interests with the custom­ers'. Just now they are opposite," he says.

Lovins resists calling these new technologies "green". They are "simply the way most technol­ogies are going to be. They work better and cost less than, if you like, the 'brown' technologies that were based on a large throughput of resources from depletion to pol­lution while delivering a rather modest amount of an indifferent service.

"Typically, these [new] technol­ogies have a much higher ratio of intelligence to mass than the old ones. There is not much to them materially — just enough to do the job; but a great deal of intelli­gence, and indeed wisdom, in the design."

If one idea can be said to symbol­ise Lovins's views it is his develop­ment of the hybrid electrically-powered Hypercar. Lovins and his research institute, the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, attempted to re-think the entire concept of the car.

The result was the Hypercar: a lightweight (up to 75 per cent lighter than a conventional car), sleeker (drag reduced by 60 per cent) and more efficient vehicle (road and tyre energy loss slashed by 60 per cent).

It is powered by a hybrid petrol and electric drive, the petrol engine generating the electricity for an electric motor. Petrol stores 100 times the energy per kilogram compared with batteries; such a propulsion system weighs about a quarter as much as a battery-elec­tric car. The Hypercar concept has the backing of the White House, and the big three American car manufacturers.

In Lovins's view, cars had become "incredibly baroque", adding gadget after gadget to solve problems that better design should have prevented in the first place.

"The Hypercar is heading rap­idly to market. We are expecting it late this decade. It does not, of course, solve the problems of too many people driving too many ki­lometres in too many cars, and may make them worse by making driving even cheaper and more attractive. But, I think I would rather run out of roads and patience than out of air and oil first. And we ought not to run out of either because we ought to have real competition among all ways of getting around or not needing to."

['Factor Four' by Amory Lovins and Ernst von Weizsacker is pub­lished by Earthscan]

BOX: Efficiency of A Genius
Educated at Harvard and Oxford, where he became one of the youngest-ever dons at 21, Lovins also holds six US honorary doctorates and is the author of 22 books and hundreds of scientific papers.

He won a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship in 1993 and the Onassis Foundation's first Delphi prize — one of the world's two top environmental awards. He was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the 28 people worldwide "most likely to change the course of business in the Nineties".

He has briefed nine heads of state and given expert testimony in eight countries and more than 20 American states. He has advised companies ranging from BP to Xerox; public-sector clients include 13 state governments and the US Congress.

A key mentor was Dave Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, in the US, Lovins later helped found the organisation in Britain. He lived here between 1971 and 1981, and wrote the first case study of British National Parks Policy. The book was held up for a year by RTZ, which had planned to mine for copper and dredge for gold in Snowdonia.

Lovins says: "I may have saved RTZ going bust because, just as they would have been at the maximum outstretch of their cash flow, the copper market went south. In the curious way of life's ironies, I'm now working cordially with the Copper Development Association, because almost everything one does to save electricity happens to use more copper."

Much of his work is in collaboration with his wife, Hunter — a lawyer, sociologist, political scientist and forester. Together they founded the Rocky Mountain Institute in 1982, an independent, non-profit policy centre that fosters resource efficiency and global security.

The institute's 40 staff explore the links between energy, water, agriculture, transport, security and development. Its annual budget comes from grants, donations and enterprises, including E Source, a database and news service on advanced electrical efficiency.


Rocky Mountain Institute:
Natural Capitalism:
Winning The Oil End Game:
Business Week:


This is a never-before-published interview I conducted with Amory Lovins on the 4th July 1996. We met in the lobby of the Shell building in London on one of his whirlwind tours of the UK, a schedule crammed with meetings and appointments. A cross-town cab ride in torrential rain, in company with one of Lovin's aides, took us to Paddington Station for the train to Oxford which we both caught and on which I recorded this conversation.

JM: We use the term 'environmental technologies' as a umbrella concept to cover a wide range of tools and techniques. What do you think of the term?

AL: 'Environmental technology’ for many people means cleaning up what comes out of a pipe. In the new generation of environmental technologies, there is no pipe. Or as the architect Bill McDonough says, you take the filters out of the pipe and put them where they belong - in the designer's head so as to eliminate from the process everything you don't want to have to deal with and that shouldn't have been there in the first place. Another importance class of environmental technologies [are ones] that 1 think perhaps we oughtn't to call that - the very powerful new technologies for using all resources more productively; energy, water, materials, transport services. Technologies for elegant frugality, for doing more and better with much, much less.These are environmental in the sense that they prevent depletion at one end and pollution at the other and make a profit on both, and they usually provide a much superior service as well.But I am not sure that a hypercar with those qualities would be called an environmental technology; it has environmental benefits, but it's just a better car.

JM: What is the generic term you would use then?

AL: Well they might be called Green technologies but I think they are simply the way most technologies are going to be because they work better and cost less than, if you like, the 'brown' technologies that were based on a large throughput of resources from depletion to pollution whilst delivering a rather modest amount of an indifferent service. Typically, the technologies I have in mind have a much higher ratio of intelligence to mass than the old ones. There is not much to them materially - just enough to do the job -but a great deal of intelligence, and indeed wisdom, in the design. Typically [this is] learnt from nature, using nature as model and mentor rather than as a nuisance to be evaded. These technologies are not necessarily physical artefacts. They may be ways of designing a business. They may be ways of doing farming and forestry. They can be technique or concept or structure, not simply an object.

Let me give a few examples regarding ways of designing a business. Ray Anderson, chairman of Interface, a carpet company with about 2/5 ths of the commercial broadloom carpet market in the United States, had the nice idea that rather than selling rolls of carpet, he would lease floor covering services. Now currently if you maintain an office, you probably have to shut it down about every seven years to take up the carpet because it has got worn spots, stains or whatever. You take it out, take it to the landfill, put down a new one, get poisoned by the carpet glue in the air and then move back into the office - well, move back in and then get poisoned. What happens instead with his evergreen lease concept is that you lay down carpet tiles, which look the same, but 80 or 90 per cent of the wear is on only 10 or 20per cent of the tiles. So twice a year, little elves come in at night change the worn tiles to fresh ones. You therefore always maintain a fresh-looking carpet but you need not tear up the office to do it or disrupt your operations. Nothing goes to the landfill because the old carpet tiles are taken back to the works and remade into new ones. So the throughput of resources goes down close to a hundred fold, when you are through closing that loop, and not a drop a oil will end up getting used in the process, except initially for transport. Yet it is a much cheaper service to provide and to purchase, everybody makes more money on it and it looks better and works better.

Bill McDonough who I mentioned earlier, was asked by Steelcase, the largest US maker of office furniture, to design a textile to go on the backs of office chairs. He said: 'Alright, I'll design it, if you'll allow me also to design the production process.' They innocently agreed. So he started digging into the chemistry of dying cloth because he found that the present way they made the textiles in Switzerland, ended up with edge-trimmings treated as hazardous waste. Well what does that tell you about the middle of the cloth that you're sitting on. The first couple of dozen dye-stuff companies wouldn't let him in the door, but finally the chairman of Ciba-Geigy said 'Ok, you can come look at our dye-stuff chemistry.' He looked at three or four thousand dying chemicals and screened out any that caused cancer, mutation, birth defects, or were persistently toxic or bio-accumulative, or endocrine disruptors. Out of those six screens emerged 37 chemicals out of which he could make every colour except, initially, black. It would look better, the cloth would last longer and feel better because it wasn't being damaged by the harsh chemicals, and it turned out to be cheaper to produce with these safe chemicals because you needn't worry about poisoning either the workers or the environment.
So very costly processes of environmental and work­place health and safety compliance, toxic waste disposal and so on, simply disappear by putting the filters in the designer's head. Now this must give the companies that make dying chemicals a great deal to think about.

We are seeing this shift to inherently safe ingredients, processes and products. To things that last longer. To things that can be made with little or no wasted material, with closed materials loops, with re-cycling, re-manufacturing and repair. Shifting from selling products to leasing services. We're seeing all of these rapidly emerge in a wide range of fields. Carrier, the world's largest maker of air-conditioning equipment, is shifting from selling 'chillers' to leasing cooling services. Schindler, a Swiss lift company [Ed: Currently the world's second largest], makes most of it's money not from selling lifts but from leasing vertical transportation services. The list goes on like this. We have many companies now that don't sell industrial solvents, which then become a very costly hazardous waste disposal issue, but rather they lease dissolving services.When you're through using the solvent you give it back to them. They own it all the time. They are responsible for it. They purify it and lease it out to the next customer.

Now that's therefore a set of examples, and there are many more, of a 'green revolution' in the design of businesses. This goes well beyond the usual concepts of say waste reduction, for example. Ray Anderson again has the concept, which is fairly conventional, of defining waste as any measurable input which does not contribute to customer value. He then, however, goes a step further and sets a zero-base waste budget- every measurable input is presumed waste until shown otherwise. That's a much stronger discipline in figuring out why are we using this stuff? Do we really need it to do the job right?'

Similarly there are new ways of designing farming and forestry systems. At present, a lot of chemicalised farming treats soil like dirt rather than like a biotic community, and seeks to substitute rather costly mechanical and chemical inputs for free ecological services, that actually are much more effective - as well as free - if properly looked after. We are finding that organic techniques are: at least as profitable, often more consistently profitable; more resilient in the face of weather, market and other surprises; more atention intensive - you need more eyes per acre to make it work right; much more supportive of family and community; less hazardous to people, animals, water, soil; and produce more healthy and nourishing food.
Similarly sustainable forestry practices are emerging as a good deal more profitable than the conventional extractive techniques where you can't see the forest for the board- feet. They offer astounding economic leverage because only a tiny fraction of the value of the forest is in the wood. Most of it is in other services provided, such as watersheds, well stabilisation, bio-diversity, recreation and so on, even aesthetic and spritual values.

Now, it is in the realm of technical devices and artefacts that the technological revolution becomes so dramatic in its economic and social as well as its environmental values. The Hypercar [is an] example. [This] is our term for ultra-light hybrid-electric cars. They can be sportier, safer, more refined, more beautiful, adorable and comfortable than present cars. [They] probably cost less to produce, use about 80 to 95 per cent less fuel, produce one per cent or a tenth of a per cent as much pollution and offer decisive competitive advantages to it's manufacturers, as well as the marketing advantages of simply being a superior car. It does not of course solve the problems of too many people driving too many kilometers in too many cars and may make them worse by making driving even cheaper and more attractive. But, I think, I would rather run out of roads and patience than out of air and oil first. And we ought not to run out of either because we ought to have real competition amongst all ways of getting around or not needing to. For example, being already where you want to be so you needn't go somewhere else. That means good land use as well as good telecommunications.
And non-motorised mobility options. 'All those that believe in individual mass transit-raise your right foot', as Dave Brower says. The Hypercar is heading rapidly to market. We are expecting it late this decade. For purely competitive reasons, [it has been developed] without help from any government mandate, subsidy or tax policy.

The same technological revolution that permits this sort of leapfrog, with better peformance and lower costs, is occurring in many other areas. For example, we have recently done experimental houses, in temperatures ranging from -44°C to +46° C , which is a range of 90 Celsius degrees. Houses that require however no heating or cooling equipment cost less to build and are more comfortable to be in. We recently had a design for retrofitting, that is improving, the air conditioning system of our California office, with only three per cent of the original air-conditioning energy use. This 97 per cent saving actually made the building more comfortable. We recently analysed a way to retrofit an existing twenty-year-old giant glass office tower in a way that would save three-quarters of its energy, greatly improve comfort and amenity, and pay for itself in minus five to plus nine months. As it was twenty years old, you had to renovate it anyway for other reasons, like age and CFC's. Renovating it to quadruple its efficiency and make it work and look better would cost essentially the same as simply replacing what was already there.

There are many, many examples from motors, lights, office equipment, household appliances, building envelopes - all of these technical sectors. Even industrial production equipment, where two-fold to ten-fold efficiency improvements can be made. These improvements are highly profitable and can improve function and service quality.

JM: My understanding of what you do is that you spend a great deal of your time travelling the world convincing governments and institutions about the nature of these possibilities.?

AL: Yes, and even more time working with the private sector to implement them. We feel that the main centres of action now are in corporations and communities as well as individuals. We place much less emphasis on governments.

JM: Why is that then?

AL: Governments are necessary and good at certain things but stopping up the cracks round my window is not one of them. I think governments should steer not row. It is important to have government, amongst other things, to get the rules right. We ought to be rewarding architects and engineers for what they save and not what they spend, and correcting the other perverse incentives that afflict all 25 or so parties in the real estate value trade, who are systematically rewarded for inefficiency and penalised for efficiency. So, guess what, we get a huge stock of immediately obsolete buildings. We are starting to understand what are the market failures in buying resource efficiency and how to correct them by tweaking the trim tabs to help the market move properly. So, I think government has a very important role of that sort and can use market forces a great deal more creatively than has been done so far. A small example. Rather than primarily relying upon building standards, useful though they are, as a floor for performance, one ought to have a sliding-scale connection fee. When you connect your building to the grid, if it's efficient, you get a rebate; if it's inefficient, you pay a fee. How good or bad it is determines the size of the rebate or fee, and the fees pay for the rebates, so it's revenue neutral. This motivates continuous improvement, whereas building standards are obsolete before the ink is dry and there's no incentive to do better. You could do the same thing for cars; to get good cars on the road and bad cars off the road faster, by having this sort of debate. It transfers well from those whose inefficient choices impose social costs to those whose efficient choices save social costs. I am very excited by the speed of change and the quality of much upper-management now in the private sector and also, I might add, in the military services, where I've been working lately. There are some astonishingly
decisive and exciting managers there who know how to lead, not simple to manage. Forexample, we have been overhauling how the US Navy designs buildings and procures design services and equipment for buildings. I can't imagine, even though we have worked with some excellent companies, a private sector firm that would move as quickly and as well as they did in that instance.

JM: So how are you viewed in the US as an institute? Where do you fit into the general scheme of things?

AL: I think we have earned a certain amount of respect for foresight and using advanced technologies and market forces in a creative fashion to work better. We don't lobby. We don't litigate. We're not an environmental group but what we do has important environmental benefits and we talk to everybody. We are completely trans-ideological, non-partisan, non-sectarian, and well known for saying what we think.

JM: So what change have you noticed, say in the last five years?

AL: Very rapid and impressive rise in interest and activity in the private sector towards the same ends.
There's now a whole generation coming up of visionary green CPO's, who are leading major companies in quite unexpected, extremely interesting and constructive directions. We have long felt that the private sector is probably the most important source of constructive action on the world's major issues because it alone has the resources, skills, agililty and organisation to get difficult things done fairly quickly. It certainly has the motivation because it is turning out to be so much cheaper to save resources than to consume or produce them. Resource productivity or resource efficiency is not a panacea, but it is certainly a very powerful tool, perhaps the most powerful we know, for slowing down depletion and pollution.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Harry Mulisch is Holland's most important postwar writer. Born in 1927 in Haarlem to a Jewish mother whose family died in the concentration camps, and an Austrian father who was jailed after the war for collaborating with the Nazis, Mulisch feels a particularly charged connection with the Second World War and 'The Assault' is his masterpiece on that subject, documenting the horrors experienced by a young boy following the assassination of a collaborator outside his house. Personally I enjoyed 'Last Call' even more and consider it to be one of the greatest novels about the theatre. An aged actor, who believes his life and career to be over, unexpectedly receives an invitation to star in a new play. Strange and extraordinary events ensue. This is a very deep book, full of twists and turns and profound insights, genuinely moving and disturbing. Highly recommended.

For my money, Jake Arnott is one of the best British writers around, on a par with Colin MacInnes in his portrayal of the underworld of London Life. His books are intensely readable evocations of the criminal and cultural underbelly of the city at various times in its modern history. His characters are rounded and believable, the stories strong and well--plotted. Even more impressive is his expert grasp of mood and moment in which there is a never a false step. Best known of his works to date is 'The Long Firm' (made into a tv darama series and set in the period of the Krays and Profumo), followed by 'He Kills Copper, 'True Crime' and now his latest 'Johnny Come Home' which centres on glam rock, the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement and the Angry Brigade. His evocation of the early 70s is superb and the tale he tells genuinely satisfying. No wonder David Bowie is a big fan.

Neil Gaiman is someone I've known from the Sandman comics but this is the first of his novels I've read. Originally published in 2001, this is revised paperback version in which a huge chunk edited out of the first edition has been put back in. A large doorstep of a book 'American Gods' is a gripping phantasmagoria based on the idea all the immigrant groups that came to the US brought their Gods with them but then neglected them, being captivated more by the new Gods of Media, Television and the like. The old Gods, now scattered, forgotten and unemployed are called on to fight one last battle fore their survival. A gripping tale, which might be described as a hybrid between Stephen King and Phillip Pullman, its the product of a muscular imagination that will take your mind into uncharted waters.

Final note: Well worth checking out 'The Fight' by Norman Mailer, his classic account of the Rumble In The Jungle between Ali and George Foreman. This must be one of the greatest books on boxing and is an ideal companion to the stunning documentary 'When We Were Kings.' His blow-by-blow account of the fight itself will have you scurrying back to the DVD.


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