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RMI2009 Recap: Reinventing Fire in San Francisco

By Cam Burns

In “A World Lit Only by Fire,” historian William Manchester suggests the Middle Ages represented nothing more than 1,000 years of technological dormancy, stagnant creativity, and archaic societal systems between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance.

Arguably, Manchester’s well-titled history should have included the period between the Renaissance and present time—we’re still clumsily burning plants to light and power our world.

At RMI2009: Reinventing Fire™, RMI’s three-day symposium October 1–3 in San Francisco, the Institute’s leaders, collaborators, supporters, and staff shared a wildly hopeful vision of how our resource-guzzling society could run on clean energy and clever technologies that don’t rely solely on combustion.

In his keynote address, Chief Scientist and Chairman Amory Lovins advanced this vision by describing RMI’s concrete new strategy as one with the ultimate goal of “driving the profitable transition from oil, coal, and ultimately gas to efficiency and renewables.”

More importantly, over the course of two days, RMI experts presented evidence that the Institute is making real-world progress in the fields of energy and resources, the built environment, and the transportation sector. RMI’s Stephen Doig, Lionel Bony, Michael Kinsley, Sam Newman, Victor Olgyay, Caroline Fluhrer, Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson, Hiroko Kawai, Mike Simpson, Matt Mattila, and others described RMI projects that are displacing conventional thinking about solar and wind energy, building and community design, nuclear power and distributed renewables, and energy efficiency and load management.

The strands of RMI’s important work have always been the same color; today we are simply collecting them into a stronger fabric. On this and the following pages, we share just a few of the myriad ideas, stories, and comments that emerged during RMI2009.

The concept of Reinventing Fire seems to have sparked a few imaginations. The event drew more than 300 people; the Saturday night RMIQ keynote presentation drew more than 500. Clearly, the Institute’s staff and supporters are not the only ones who believe the dark times are over and that we need not live in a world lit (and powered) only by fire.

Cam Burns is RMI’s Senior Editor.

--Published in October 2009

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