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Filmed on Monday September 21, 02015

Saul Griffith

Infrastructure and Climate Change

A MacArthur Fellow (02007), Griffith is founder and CEO of Otherlab in San Francisco. He previously co-founded Optiopia, Makani Power, Potenco, Instructables, Squid Labs, and HowToons. He writes a column for Make magazine.

So far we are trying to deal with climate change at the wrong time scale. A really deep problem cannot be solved by shallow innovations, no matter how clever. The scale of climate change requires thinking and acting in multi-decade terms at the level of infrastructure—personal as well as societal. Get it right, and “the result can be like living in a beautifully managed garden.”

Saul Griffith is an inventor and meta-inventor, currently founder of Otherlabs in San Francisco (devising such things as soft robotics, soft exoskeletons, cheap solar tracking, and conformable gas tanks.) He is a MacArthur Fellow and frequent TED dazzler. His 02009 SALT talk on Climate Change Recalculated is the most viewed video in our twelve-year series.

See our blog for updates on tickets and other media; tickets will go on sale one month before the Seminar.

Green infrastructure


Griffith began with an eyeroll at the first round of responses in the US to reducing greenhouse gases, a program he calls “peak Al Gore.” Some activities feel virtuous —becoming vegetarian, installing LED lights, avoiding bottled water, reading news online, using cold water detergent, and “showering less in a smaller, colder house”—but they demand constant attention and they don’t really add up to what is needed.

Griffith’s view is that we deal best with greenhouse gases by arranging our infrastructure so we don’t have to think about climate and energy issues every minute. Huge energy savings can come from designing our buildings and cars better, and some would result from replacing a lot of air travel with “video conferencing that doesn’t suck.“ Clean energy will mostly come from solar, wind, biofuels (better ones than present), and nuclear. Solar could be on every roof. The most fuel-efficient travel is on bicycles, which can be encouraged far more. Electric cars are very efficient, and when most become self-driving they can be lighter and even more efficient because “autonomous vehicles don’t run into each other.” Sixty percent of our energy goes to waste heat; with improved design that can be reduced radically to 20 percent.

Taking the infrastructure approach, in a few decades the US could reduce its total energy use by 40 percent, while eliminating all coal and most oil and natural gas burning, with no need to shower less.

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SALT Summaries Book

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Condensed ideas about long-term thinking summarized by Stewart Brand
(with Kevin Kelly, Alexander Rose and Paul Saffo) and a foreword by Brian Eno.

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