Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saul Griffith's View of the World

Thanks to a friend, I came across a speech on energy use given in 2000 by Saul Griffith, an engineer and entrepreneur. It's available in two parts:

He began by offering a very detailed and personalized look at how much power he used per day, including his share of various governmental and infrastructure expenses.

He suggested the following approach to our energy problems. First, set realistic goals, such as 450 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Then, be realistic in engineering how we can reach the goal(s).

As long-term solutions, he identified renewable energy sources--solar, geothermal, and wind (and not including biofuels, wave power, and tidal power). The solutions all involve trade-offs, including environmental tradeoffs, such as the likely loss of certain species. For example, dedicating land to solar panels inevitably would disrupt wildlife habitats; building 250 million new green houses would by itself raise CO2 concentration by 8.9 ppm.

If we were to equally distribute the available watts per 7 billion people worldwide, that would allow each of us 2400 watts per day, which would require many of us to reduce our power consumption by 90 percent or more, making significant behavioral changes. One of his slides showed an American carrying a backpack holding the oil, coal and natural gas required to sustain his or her current daily lifestyle--67 pounds of oil, 64 pounds of coal, and 12 pounds of natural gas. Good exercise! Well, maybe not so good for the back.

He said something I didn't like, which was that he guessed buying local food probably would not be an efficient approach. I hope that since the speech he has spent some time with people knowledgeable about smart small-scale farming practices.

To sum up his major points:
  • Climate scientists have done a good job of quantifying the challenge.
  • We need an engineering response with public dialogue. 
  • We need to become more honest about the problem, thinking about how to design the best quality of life solutions in view of the enormity of the challenge.
"I wonder how right he was/is," says Virginia.