Sunday, September 28, 2008

An interview with Bill Roth, author of the new book 'On Empty (Out of Time)'

Bill Roth is the author of the new and important book "On Empty (Out of Time)", which readers have described as "America's final "wake-up call"" and "A must read if you want freedom from high pump prices!".

We reviewed the book at the beginning of the month and I felt afterwards that this issue is way too important and requires an interview with the author to learn more about his views and thoughts on the energy issues we're facing.

Firstly here's a little background of the author (see also photo below): Bill Roth has a solid experience in the energy sector, with a career that included posts such as senior VP of marketing and sales with PG&E Energy Services and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions. Currently he is the President of NCCT, a San Francisco-based consulting firm helping businesses define and integrate Sustainability into their strategies, performance metrics, branding/marketing and business processes.. He is also's Green Business Coach.

Bill Roth is also collaborating with Eco-Libris to plant a tree for every copy sold, and readers gets their copy with our sticker saying "One tree planted for this book".

And now to the interview:

Can you tell us what brought you to write "On Empty"? would you describe it as a theoretic book or more of 'renewable energy for dummies' kind of book?

People are not dumb. In fact my belief in people is what motivated me to write On Empty. I believe if people are supplied with Pricing Clarity that includes the “Systems” costs tied to consumption and if they have the freedom to choose among competing fuels/technologies then they will make the right decisions. And that is what we are seeing right now in America. The Green Economic Revolution portrayed in On Empty is a grass roots, people-led, movement.

You describe the book as a "call for action" for the American consumer. What’s the actions you would like to see immediately and do you really believe that the American consumer will act accordingly?

The American consumer wants Energy Independence, they want lower pump/meter prices and they want a clean environment. They are also the world’s largest change-agent with $10 trillion of annual buying power. A key to America’s success is our system of empowering consumers by allowing them to buy “best of class” from the world’s entire inventory of goods and services. This is what must happen for America (and the world) to realize the benefits of moving from a carbon-based system to a sustainable system. And to achieve this empowerment requires two steps, Pricing Clarity at the pump/meter and removal of Barriers to Entry that now limit consumer access to sustainable solutions.

How did the U.S. got to this point where if I may quote you "we face recession and inflation as we borrow trillions of dollars to finance an energy system that we don't own, that keeps charging us higher prices and is placing our troops in harm's way"? whose fault is it - Washington? the oil companies? the American consumer? all of them?

This is a classic boiling frog situation. The story of the boiling frog is that if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water it will jump out. If you put a frog in a pot of room temperature water and slowly bring it to a broil then the frog will die. America’s wealth allowed it to stay in the pot even as it became more and more unsustainable.

The fault is that our market system is not including in its prices at the pump and meter such societal costs as “Boots on the Ground” or Global Warming or deficit spending. And our market system has empowered legacy companies with advantages that preclude consumers from easily buying competitive alternatives. The changes that are required are systemic and their result will be a global mega-trend as dramatic in its impacts as the Information Age or Globalization.

You claim in your book that the alternative energy technologies that can benefit both our wallets and the environment are already there. So why we don't see greater use of these technologies?

Pricing and consumer access are the two elements to enabling any new technology. And achieving low pricing is tied to mass production. For example, flat-screen TVs in the United States used to be a luxury item only a few could afford. But with mass production flat-screen TVs have now achieved commodity-low prices that enable mass consumer purchasing. Enabling this move into mass production was open, global, sourcing where consumers have multiple supply-channels from which to shop and price compare.

So during the 21st Century’s first seven years flat-screen TVs have gone from cutting edge technology only a few could afford to a low priced commodity achieving approximately 50% household market penetration. This same path is open, but has yet to be realized, for sustainable technologies. Why, because carbon-based prices at the pump and meter do not include the societal costs now paid for through taxes and government financing. And because the supply chain to the consumer is blocked by legacy companies.

Which of the renewable energy alternative/s you see as the most promising one?

Here’s the absolute key point of On Empty. It doesn’t matter what I think are the best technologies or what someone in Washington DC thinks. If we introduce Pricing Clarity and remove Barriers to Entry then the consumer will answer this question. And when the American consumer figures this out with their $10 trillion of annual purchasing power we will have enabled the mass production of sustainability that will offer Energy Independence, lower pump/meter prices and a clean environment to the world.

Do you see the energy crisis you describe in the book mainly as an economic problem or a political one?

It is a systemic problem and it is global. Look, America in 1901 won the lottery when the Spindeltop oil well exploded into life in Texas. By the 1940’s our free market system enabled by Texas oil was supplying 75% of the world’s oil. The American free enterprise system engineered a carbon based world. Well, America now only has 3% of the world’s oil supply and we consume 25% of the world’s oil output.

Even worse, we now have China duplicating our unsustainable path of reliance upon oil and coal. The global system needs re-engineering into a sustainable system. And the great news is the same American enterprise system that enabled the Carbon Age has the consumer power to create a global Green Economic Revolution.

You write that this is a must read - why do you think this book is important and who do you hope will read it?

It is a must read because it explains to consumers, “us”, how we are the enabling driver in gaining Energy Independence, lower prices and a clean environment. America has tried and continues to try legislative, proscriptive, decision making. This is not what we do best. What America has is 300 million of the world’s best informed and wealthiest consumers who have driven every technology innovation the world now uses to global mass production.

The must read of this book is that the solution is empowering the American consumer, not legislation, not government investment in R&D, not tax credits or even global treaties. Just introduce Pricing Clarity and eliminate Barriers to Entry and get out of the way of the American consumer. They will do the rest of the hard lifting.

Do you hope that something will change in the way the government approach this issue after the upcoming elections in November? which one of the candidates is more preferable in terms of defining the right goals and taking action to achieve them?

The American political system is truly a marvel in the history of mankind. We now have two candidates who say Global Warming is real and we must solve it. That is a remarkable shift in just four years. I have compared their platforms and they are almost identical. Why? Because to get elected in America you have to “find that middle ground” which most American’s call “common sense.” So the good news is we have two candidates who see the problem and want to solve it. The other special aspect of Presidential history is that our Presidents have the opportunity to rise to the occasion.

Our heroes are Washington, Lincoln and the Roosevelts who inherited crisis and rose to the occasion with actions most pundits never anticipated. Whoever the next President is, this is their opportunity. They have the opportunity to move pass the lobbying by our legacy companies and enable America’s consumers to lead the world into a sustainable system.

How do you estimate the current financial crisis will influence the creation of the green economy you describe in your book? can it delay plans and investments in alternative energy?

America is at its best in a crisis. We have hit the debt wall, including the debt financing of our reliance upon imported oil. And while most American’s don’t understand all the confusing stuff being pumped out of Washington D.C. we understand the price at our gasoline pump. And that is telling us we need to find something other than gasoline to run our cars. And the increasing price at the meter is telling us we need to re-engineer our homes/offices/factories to be more energy efficient and possibly buy a renewable technology like solar.

On Empty’s chapter on BIG ANSWERS outlines the magnitude of change required to achieve sustainability. And it outlines the huge rewards for doing so. If America does rise to this challenge then in eight years we can build a sustainable and very healthy economy offering highly attractive green-collar jobs.

Are you optimistic? if the answer is yes - what's your secret? how do you do it?

I am hugely optimistic because the technology solutions are now available. That’s a major change from 1974 when OPEC enacted the oil embargo and our cars ran off of carburetors. The only thing standing between us and sustainability is Pricing Clarity at the pump/meter and removal of Barriers to Entry. And these changes will be implemented because the American consumer will demand it.

And to-date nothing has ever stopped the American consumer from buying what they want. The only issue is will our next President read On Empty and “get it” or will our country have to learn it the hard way by experiencing increasing pain at the pump/meter and from having Boots on the Ground protecting someone else’s oil field and from a financial melt-down because we can’t afford a carbon-based economy.

Do you want to add any message to our readers?

While On Empty has an American message the implementation path is, and must be, global. The American message is based upon the unique purchasing power of the American consumer and their ability to propel global change. But America is a free society that will buy solutions from anyone in the world (especially if Barriers to Entry are removed). The message of achieving Pricing Clarity and removal of Barriers to Entry is as critical to America as it is to Asia, or Europe or the Middle East. America is the consumer engine for a global Green Economic Revolution that will achieve sustainability offering the world lower prices and a cleaner environment.

On Empty's website -

Raz @ Eco-Libris