Engineering approach to global climate change

I'm at the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference in San Diego -- the highlight of my conference-going year, every year, for most of a decade now -- and I've just caught Saul Griffith's presentation of hacking and understanding energy consumption and production. Saul's a brilliant polymath geek, an MIT Media Lab alum who's responsible for everything from Howtoons to Squid Labs to a new alternative energy company (he was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant this year).

Saul's talk was a fast-paced discussion of the cold, hard, engineering reality of CO2 production, its relationship to energy consumption, climate change, and the human cost of all that. Saul sliced and diced the numbers every which way from joules per nanosecond to total wave-energy of the entire Earth, and laid out the program we need to adopt if we're going to do something about it.

This was a refreshing, engineer-oriented, can-do approach to climate, one that actually ended on an up note (if you do the stuff you want to do: exercise more, buy better stuff, do fewer business trips, live closer to your loved ones, and so on, you can reduce your energy consumption by 90 percent).

I took notes as fast as I could through the talk and I've put them online.

What does 2C mean?

Reports from BP and others are pretty conservative: 1.5 deg == 10% species lost, 3.5 deg 1-4 billion people in water shortage; 4.5 deg == entire cities and countries vanish

But none of these account for the environmental consequences of these consequences, e.g., what happens when 10 million people leave a drowned city and go somewhere else (war, famine, etc)

At 450 ppm CO2 temp goes up 2C.

We have to accept 2GtC into oceans/year, even though ocean acidification has its own grave consequences

There are long time-lags in the system -- CO2 is a lead indicator. Curve down the CO2 for 50 years, reap the rewards over 300 years.

It takes centuries after CO2 stabilization to reap temperature stabilization -- we've never deployed this kind of foresight before

2C gives you 7.3 GTCO2

Link to my notes, Link to talk precis