Saul Griffith speaks in Des Moines about how to solve climate change

Last Friday Morning last morning, in an event called “Rewiring America,” MIT Ph.D. and Otherlab founder Saul Griffith presented on historical patterns of energy use in the United States and what he sees as the path toward a more sustainable human lifestyle in the future.

Griffith’s research and development firm, Otherlab, works on innovations such as renewable energy, robotics and computational design tools. Otherlab’s collaborators include Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Google, NASA, Ford, Motorola and IDEO. 

Griffith began the presentation by presenting Sankey diagrams that depicted the amount of energy used by different types of households, businesses and other sectors.

Griffith then explained why focusing on committing to a zero-carbon energy solution is more important than focusing on increasing efficiency.

“You cant efficiency your way to zero,” said Griffith.

Rather, we should focus on creating carbon-free solutions, which requires a wholesale transformation of our infrastructure. The majority of the solution is with technologies we have today; they just need to be deployed at a far greater scale, Griffith told the crowd.

We need a war-like effort to truly fight climate change

During World War II the United States rapidly transformed its economy to cope with a wide range of scarcities, such as shortfalls in the amounts of ocean shipping, aluminum, rubber and other raw materials needed for the war effort.

Griffith proposed that a similar transformation and effort is needed today in order to combat climate change and other environmental challenges.

“If an effort was done at the rate of spending during World War II it could get done in under 10 years. That’s the war effort required to meet a 1.5-degree target.”

He concluded that the United States’ success in overcoming scarcities during World War II provides a basis for optimism that today’s environmental challenges can be met.