“I’m not a latte-sipping guy telling you how to understand climate.
This book is from the heart.”
The Big Switch is Saul Griffith’s answer to the biggest question of our times: the climate emergency. And the answer is electric.
In The Big Switch, Griffith argues that electrification is the path forward to mitigate climate change while creating jobs.
“We can solve our problems through abundance, not scarcity…
Sacrifice isn’t the only utopia that’s possible.”
Saul Griffith is an Australian American inventor and founder or co-founder of several companies including research and innovation lab Overlab, wind energy company Makani Power, research and development company Squidlabs, and online DIY community Instructables.
The book took only six weeks to write, building on more than 20 years of experience and a previous book called Electrify which focused on the US audience.
We spoke with Griffith about his new book, the differences between the US and Australia’s climate action, and his vision for an electric future.
What inspired you to write this book?
“I wrote the book to cut through the culture wars and the Australian climate conversation, exclusively as a plea to Australia to become a leader on climate change action.
“While writing my previous book for the US audience called Electrified, I realised that Australia needed to hear a version of the book aimed at our economy.
“Australia is not as politically divided as the US. A larger portion of Australia has already had a frightening experience with climate change. Our experience with the bushfires and with the dying of the koalas makes us much more intimate with climate change. But we also have had a positive experience with the highest rooftop solar in the world that is cheaper than the grid, so we can see that electrification works.”
What problem are you solving by writing this book, and what do you hope to achieve?
“The Australian climate debate has been successfully shouted over by the culture war of what we have to lose. But I strongly believe we have more to win than anyone else. Australia needs a clear picture painted of what we need to do to win.
“The fear-based conversation is all about exports – losing the coal and gas industry. But Australia needs to realise we are much bigger and more interesting than this. If we look at the other side of the coin – demand in households and communities – we can put the emphasis on climate and how to succeed in the future.”
Your book provides a path forward rather than contributing to a fear based conversation around climate change?
“Yes, a very clear path forward through electrification. This book is for the voters, but also for policy makers. We need regulatory and policy reform at every level to get where we need to go.”
What makes this book different from your previous book, Electrify?
“The first book was for a US audience. The solutions in Australia are subtly different, and the urgency is higher.
“We really are the luckiest country with all the resources and we already have policies for cheap rooftop solar, et cetera. This is about how we can decarbonise virtually an entire industry, homes and businesses, and maintain a thriving export economy.”
What did you learn when writing the book and what surprised you the most?
“That’s a good question. I learned that we are already doing pretty well at a state level. Not enough to reach 1.5 [degrees warming], but there is a stark difference between state and federal level governments.
“At the federal government, revenue looks like mining, so it makes them obsessed with the export question (which I think explains Australia’s horrific climate record for the past 30 years). But at the state level it’s often more progressive.”
Do you really believe that we can continue on the same lifestyles that we currently have if we switch everything to electric?
“We can solve our problems through abundance, not scarcity. We have the luxury here in this country to enable abundance. And that’s not true for every country.
“It is my belief that the reality and issues around having giant SUVs should be separated from the question of climate change. We can have a better world if we focus on local solutions.
“On the face of it, we can keep our giant homes and big cars and electrify it all and still solve climate change.
“Sacrifice isn’t the only utopia that’s possible.”
What is the biggest challenge that you think we face in the switch to electrification?
“Our narratives and love stories. We need to let people acknowledge nostalgia for things past.
“People that love cars don’t love the noisy aspect – they love the lifestyle and idea of cars. People should still be able to enjoy these things without sacrificing their love affair with these ideas.
“The hardest thing is that I think people don’t want radical change – they want a change while keeping their recognisable lives. And I believe they can get it without sacrificing personal comforts.”
How has your background with your multiple companies informed the book?
“I’ve started about a dozen companies, so I’ve been in the industry, and because of that I get to see what’s coming. I’m in the ecosystem that affects what’s coming. I can forecast the costs – and that enables me to say that if we do it right, we can solve this complex jigsaw puzzle.
“I have spent my whole career in energy fighting for climate solutions. I have been part of the debate since the 1980s, working on solutions in the US and party to public policy debate over there.
“But I grew up in Australia and my first job was in a steel mill, so I can authentically say that I have sympathy for and understanding of the industry.
“I’m not a latte-sipping guy telling you how to understand climate. This book is from the heart.”
What is the most important takeaway from this book?
“Australia needs to boldly show that not only can one household decarbonise, but we as a community need to do it. We need to make the first moves to electrify and show others that we can do it, and show them how it’s done.
“This is our way to atone for 20 years of f*cking up the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] process. We can demonstrate how we can improve our lives and bring forward climate action by 10 years.
“If we see one place that has decarbonised, that can demonstrate that anyone can do it, and that it can be done.”
“The general public needs to know that we have one shot.
It is possible to fix but it needs unbelievable urgency.”
The Big Switch by Saul Griffith. Published by Black Inc.
$24.99 Available online and in all good bookshops.
Link to purchase: click here