Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Human Power Station

I had heard about this programme, but didn't know the name until now. The basic idea is that a typical family of four go about their average daily routine in a standard house that, unbeknownst to them, is connected to a human power station of over seventy cyclists in a nearby warehouse. The idea is to make us stop and think about the power we take for granted.

I have mentioned the energy density of oil before, but it is worth remembering that a single barrel of oil gives the equivalent of around 10 years of human labour (depending on your assumptions). Or to put it another way, at current rates of daily usage,* the average Australian has the equivalent of 172 slaves working 24/7 for them in the form of oil energy. This doesn't include other fossil fuels.
*Based on per capita Australian oil usage. Other nationalities can consult the table in that link to make the relevant calculations.

What does this mean? That fossil fuels have enabled us to achieve all kinds of amazing things that previous generations could only dream of. That cheap energy has become so deeply woven into our lives that we ofetn don't notice the miracle we are living, the deep historical novelty of our situation. And that, given the finite supply of fossil fuels and their various nasty side-effects, our profound addiction to this incredible economic stimulant might require some serious rehab.
H/T Gareth.


byron smith said...

Breaking the addiction, eight presidents agree.

David Palmer said...

Good post up until the last sentance.

Do we really want to go back to pre industrial times (OK I admit to being a romantic conservative who would have liked being a part of the excitement and upheaval of reformation times) and live in appalling squalor, lose children at childbirth or during childhood, maybe our wife (speaking as a male), back breaking work.

Get real Byron, neither you nor I (me with a coarctation of aorta operation at age 21) would have got past 30, may be 35 years at most.

byron smith said...

Breaking our addiction to oil doesn't mean returning to pre-industrial times, not least because of the all materials we have mined during industrial times and all the knowledge we have gained.

It may mean a much less prosperous economy (measured in GDP, though this is a poor measure of real development), but there is much to be desired about a society less addicted to wealth, as well as oil.

psychodougie said...

i'm guessing they had to power the videos and lights and microphones themselves also?
but wow, what a powerful demonstration of the cost of power.

further to your response, i think what you're advocating is really a both-and: both reducing our own need and increasing investment/research/takeup of renewables, yeah?

byron smith said...

Doug: Both-and, yes! But also a third, namely, preparing for a very bumpy ride ahead when even doing both-and isn't enough to avoid serious economic/social/ecological consequences.