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Eco-Inventor Angst

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 15, 2010 5:10 AM


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There's an intriguing, somewhat dispiriting profile by David Owen in the current New Yorker ($ubscription) of an idealistic, enviro-minded inventor who wants to do good in the world, but is having a hard time overcoming the "limits of innovation." The subject of the piece is Saul Griffith, who as recently as 2004 was a Ph.D. student at MIT. By all accounts he's brilliant--heck, that same year he won a $500,000 MacArthur "genius grant" for an eyeglass invention that the judges thought would bring cheap, corrective lens to poor communities around the world. It didn't work out that way, and eventually the gifted inventor turned his attention to energy--how to make it both clean and affordable. Again, things haven't worked out as he hoped, and now Griffith is thinking that the solution to climate change lies not with technology but human behavior. He's also become pretty cynical. Here's some friendly fire that is sure to singe greenies from Berkeley to Boston:

I know very few environmentalists whose heads aren't firmly up their ass. They are bold-facedly hypocritcal, and I don't think the environmentalism as we've known it is tenable or will survive. Al Gore has done a huge amount to help this cause, but he is the No. 1 environmental hypocrite. His house alone uses more energy than an average person uses in all aspects of life, and he flies prodigiously. I don't think we can buy the argument anymore that you get special dispensation just because what you're doing is worthwhile.

The kicker is a beaut, and shows that Griffith is as brutally honest with himself:

Right now, the main thing I'm working on is trying to invent my way out of my own hypocrisy.

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