Guest blogger – Saul Griffith's "Energy Literacy Series"

I'm very happy to introduce our new guest blogger, Saul Griffith. He's a friend and a long time contributor to MAKE, where his Making Trouble column and Howtoons comics are reader favorites. A visit to Saul's workshop is a mind-boggling treat — home-made bikes, giant kites, modded dune buggies, cheap eyeglass making machines, hand-held human-powered generators, and other wondrous prototype devices are all over the place. He comes closer to being a real-life Professor from Gilligan's Island than anyone I know. Saul was named a McArthur Fellow in 2007.

I'm looking forward to what Saul writes for Boing Boing over the next two weeks. I promise it will be very interesting. — Mark


I'm guest blogging at Boing Boing! I'm excited, not only because I've long been a fan, but also because you, as readers here, are out there at the edge thinking about the future and how to build it and participate in it.

I'm failing at finishing a book (with my colleague Jim McBride who will hopefully join me in the postings) that we've been writing on climate and energy issues for what seems like forever.  As we are approaching the Copenhagen UN Climate Change conference ( on December 7th, I thought I may as well summarize the contents of my book in a 12(ish)-part series here at Boing Boing.  Sadly it already appears the world has given up hope on reaching any sort of agreement on targets at Copenhagen, which is unfortunate, but lucky for me, because the entire book is about how you might choose such a target, and how you would plan appropriate responses, personally, locally, nationally, and globally. It also will help you call bull$#!+ on people at dinner parties who espouse some fantastic new perpetual motion machine.

If you want to just read it in a book you can wait for us to get our act together, squint at pieces at, or simply read David J.C. MacKay's wonderful "Sustainability without the hot air" instead, as he is more highly functional than myself, and already got his book covering similar material for the UK out there and published.

Before the climate change deniers and skeptics run to their keyboards to write long-winded diatribes in the comments section, I'll try to ward you off by saying that you can just consider the posts as a thought experiment.  "If this climate stuff were actually true in some parallel universe, what could we do to address the problem, and what might the resultant world look like?"

Naturally a lot of that is going to be pretty serious stuff with lots of graphs and charts. I'll do my best to make the graphs and charts pretty (thanks to Kirk Von Rohr), but as that's not enough to compensate for the seriousness of the matter, I'll also be posting about the things I'm working on at, passionate about, or random things that are interesting to me right now. A lot of that will be energy generation technology stuff, bicycles, programmable matter and computational geometry, origami, cool ways to make things, and science education.

I'm an enormous fan of the engineering methodology of figuring out your goal or target, then working backwards from there to figure out what you have to do to achieve that goal. That's the basic structure of the argument. I'm also a big believer in energy literacy and having more people really understanding what's up and what the options are. So briefly, here's an outline (and i reserve the right to change my mind about the order in coming days) of the Energy Literacy series here at Boing Boing. Hopefully it will give you a much deeper understanding of what's behind the scenes and headlines of the Copenhagen conference, and just how far the public conversation about energy is from the public's concept of climate targets.

1. Energy, Power, Carbon, population. (entropy, exergy, the whole 9 yards).
A primer on all of the key definitions and buzzwords and players with an emphasis on giving an intuitive understanding of the problem to non number nerds.

2. Personal Energy Use. (or How to obsessively compulsively measure the level of your own energy use)

a. Flying.

b. Driving.

c. Heating & Cooling.

d. Eating.

e. Stuff.

f. Society. (your tax dollars at work).

3. Global Energy Use demographics. (Or how to put your lifestyle into the larger global context, this is a global challenge after all)

US, current, historical.

Global, current, historical.

Breakdown per capita and by nation.

4. The need for a global climate target.

a. how might you choose that target?

b. climate models. scenarios. impact studies.

c. why +2 degrees celsius seems to be the target.

d. two ways of looking at climate. % reductions. total carbon left to burn.

5. Where can you get the power (energy) from that is not carbon based?

a. global energy balance.

b. solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, wave, nuclear, etc.

c. power density of the different options in terms of land. The nation of Renewistan.

d. how much industrial effort would that actually take?

6. By now you should have an idea of how challenging this energy supply game is, and why, perhaps, it's unlikely that we should imagine an infinite energy future. How do you live "conscious" of this. What is a lifestyle that "adds up?"
My New lifestyle: Living knowing what I know now. (Or how can i figure out how to live the way I'd like everyone to live)



Heating / cooling.


Stuff. (Heirloom products)

Society. (A hair-brained argument for not paying your taxes)

7. Other ideas, Crazy ideas, Why efficiency is rarely what people call it, Get out of jail free cards and other optimistic hype.

8. Climate change can be seen as an aesthetic issue. We are designing the world we live in. How do we do that well? What could it look like?

Oh yeah, there'll be data too. I love data.

And because we all love images I can't resist posting this drawing by the son of a friend of a friend's father, Marco Ahluwalia, who I think is 9 and lives in Jakarta (so much for fact checking). We'll need inventors like him, and the optimism and spirit inherent in his master plan.

Bio: Saul Griffith is an inventor and entrepreneur. He did his PhD at MIT in programmable matter, exploring the relationship between bits and atoms, or information and materials. Since leaving MIT, he has co-founded a number of technology companies including,,,, and For the past 3-4 years he has focussed all of his efforts on energy issues relating to climate change, including working on high-altitude wind power at Makani Power, and starting, a website for understanding and quantifying personal energy use. Most recently, he has formed with Jack Bachrach and Jim McBride to focus on energy solutions, working on new generation technologies, and the design and engineering of low-energy solutions to life's high-energy consumption products and services. For sanity, and to satisfy his passion for education in science, he works on with Nick and Ingrid Dragotta. Howtoons are comics with hands-on science and engineering projects embedded in illustrated adventures. Saul spends a portion of his time as an EIR at learning about the venture capital business and advising on their clean-tech portfolio. Saul blogs when prodded at