Climate Change Recalculated - Saul Griffith

Posted by Max Dunn Sun, 18 Jan 2009 06:41:00 GMT

On January 16th, the Long Now Foundation sponsored a very interesting talk at Fort Mason by Saul Griffith entitled “Climate Change Recalculated”.

Saul first went through a calculation of his energy usage. However, he did it in a different way – instead of using energy (kilo-watt-hours or kWh) he used continuous power expended (kilo-watts or kW) because this made it easier to add up and compare.

After adding up all his plane trips, driving, food, energy usage and embodied energy in the stuff he buys (which accounts for 1/4 of his energy use), he calculated that he used 18kW. By comparison, a person in Qatar uses 27kW but the average person in the US uses 11kW and the global average is 2.2kW. So he uses a lot more than the average American and way more than the global average. So he decided to shoot for 2.2kW and see how he would have to change his life.

First, he would be able to fly to the East Coast only once per year, and fly to Australia only once every 5 years. He would need to have a car that got 100 MPG, and then could only drive 20 miles per day. He could eat meat only once a week and would need to buy 1/10 of the stuff he does now and make it last 10 times longer. He isn’t quite there yet but has cut down on his travel and the stuff he buys and now is using only 12kW. Interestingly, this has also increased his quality of life. For instance, he isn’t traveling as much so is spending more time with his family.

Next he talked about climate change and what would be necessary to hold CO2 to 450 ppm. Humanity currently uses 16TW (tera-watts or 10^12 watts or a million-million watts) and in order to hold the CO2 limit, we can only burn 3TW of fossil fuels. Since 1.5TW already comes from renewable resources we would need an additional 11.5TW from new renewable sources. To meet this, we would need to produce 2TW of power each year for the next 25 years (not sure how he got this from the 11.5TW figure?), and this would require installing:

  • Photovoltaic: 100 m2 per second
  • Solar thermal: 50 m2 per second
  • Wind: one every 5 or 6 seconds
  • Nuclear: one new plant every 3 weeks

This is a lot! However, if GM and Ford stopped making cars and started making just wind turbines, they could meet the goal of creating a wind turbine every 5 seconds.

Summary: We need to reduce the power we all use – which we can do but is not easy. We also need to dramatically increase the amount of renewable power production – which we can do but it won’t be easy.

(For more details, see Climate Change Recalculated)

The next by the Long Now Foundation is Social Collapse Best Practices on February 13th and features Dmitry Orlov who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and how it survived and applies these insights into how the US might not be able to cope as well with a similar collapse. Should be interesting too!

Posted in ,  | no comments


Comments are disabled