Do we have what it takes?
Iʼll adapt from Saul Grifﬁth (saulgrifﬁth.com).
The biggest engineering challenge ever faced by
Also the biggest social, economic and political challenge
I met Saul in 2005. Ulla and I had spent all our
money on plane tickets to San Francisco. Without
having ever met, we got an offer to sleep on the
ﬂoor of his workshop. He & Arwen were such fun
that we started hanging out with them...
He became a friend and companion, visiting
I didn’t know this at the outset, but it turned out
Saul is also one of the most brilliant scientist/
inventors taking on climate change. I have learned
a lot from him, and I want to summarize his game
plan to you today.
No longer about stopping climate
"We are now working to stop worse
climate change – or much-worse-
than-worse climate change."
The starting point is thus: we’re beyond “stopping”
climate change. The question facing us now is, how
bad is it going to get?
Step 1: Temperature choice
Choose the temperature at which you
would like to stabilize the earth.
This is the greatest ethical choice of our century.
+4.5° Entire cities and countries lost to sea level
+3.5° 20-50% Species lost
+3.0° 1-4 BN people face water shortages
+2.0° 15-40% Species lost
+1.5° 10% Species lost
Make your pick.
If you wait until you can feel the
temperature, it's already too late.
The single thing that makes this most difficult is, we
humans are not programmed to work in the required
way. We naturally respond to stimulus from the
environment. But it we wait until we can feel the
temperature, it’s already going to be too late to do
anything about it.
The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
is the main reason the temperature of the earth is
rising. The reason we’re in a hurry is, carbon
dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is
growing at an increasing pace.
Let’s pick to stabilize the temperature of the earth
at plus 2 degrees. It would be highly preferable to
go lower, but this is more aggressive than some
studies believe is realistic.
Step 2: Translate into energy per capita
Calculate how much energy each individual
on the planet can use, given the means
Given our goal of circa 450 parts per million
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, how much
energy can we consume given the current means?
Here’s Saul’s calculation: 2,255 watts per person.
For comparison, here’s an average of how much we
consume today. In Europe, an average person
consumes 5,400 watts every year. In North
America, people consume over double that.
Cut your energy consumption by 50%
So, we here in Europe need to cut our energy
consumption to under half the current amount.
Most likely, the people in this audience consume
much more than the average, so you need to cut
Step 3: Ready? Begin.
Change your life.
Change the world.
Let’s get started.
First, measure your current energy consumption.
You can do this online. For instance at
wattzon.com, a calculator developed by Saul.
For many of us, reducing air travel is going to be
the biggest part.
Here’s Saul’s travel quota for 2010:
- Once every year from San Francisco to the East
- Once every three years from San Francisco to
Sydney, Australia, to visit family.
- Once every 4 years to Europe.
“Humanity already possesses the
fundamental scientiﬁc, technical, and
industrial know-how to solve the carbon
and climate problems for the next half-
Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow,
Science, August 13, 2004
Replacing existing carbon dioxide emitters with clean energy is
required on a massive scale.
Physicist Robert Socolow and ecologist Stephen Pacala, Co-Directors
of The Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University.
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/
Industrial capacity is doable:
9 Nokia phones every second.
We need to do this scale of manufacturing for clean energy production.
Aluminum cans -> solar thermal collectors
Cell Phones and computers -> solar cells
Cars and trucks -> wind turbines
Oil wells -> geothermal plants
Coal plants -> nuclear plants
We did bring online 6TW of energy capacity between 1980 and 2005. All that in only
25 years. This can be done.
The bigger challenge:
Massive change in mindsets.
Even with new energy generation breakthroughs,
consumption habits must change. Globally.
This is where the Internet comes into the picture. It
is our single most important tool in ﬁghting
climate change. I’ve started to work with
Greenpeace on this.
Eat less and more healthily.
Spend more time with my family.
Live closer together.
Spend less time commuting.
Less business travel.
Have higher quality, better designed products.
Breathe cleaner air.
Drink cleaner water.
It will only work if we change the rhetoric from
“less” to “more”. A low energy lifestyle enables us
to accomplish the things we want most in life.
"My new life actually looks a
lot better for my health"
We need living examples.
James Lovelock: Humanity is in a
period exactly like 1938-9.
"We all knew something terrible was
going to happen, but didn't know what
to do about it."
Lovelock said this in a Guardian interview: http://
But once the war was under way,
“everyone got excited, they loved the
things they could do. It was one long
So when I think of the impending crisis
now, I think in those terms.
A sense of purpose -
that's what people want."
Wondering what is the purpose of your life?
Sometimes the hardest questions have the most
simple answers. (Survival?)
Saulʼs full talk:
Please dowload the PDF and watch the video. The
fora.tv talk is the full one. If you prefer short
format, see Saul’s latest TED talk. Thanks for your