fish-bowlDo we appreciate what energy is?

Do fish know they’re wet?

Like clueless fish, we’ve lived within a world of cheap available energy our whole lives. We have no visceral understanding of how remarkable this actually is. For instance, what’s a Watt?

applebasketHow’s this for a start. Lifting an apple from the floor to a tabletop every second equals one watt. Powering a laptop computer takes forty watts – or the equivalent of lifting a small basket of 40 apples to the table, every second. Do you see where this is heading?

Let’s keep moving.

1000 watts, or a Kilowatt is about what it takes to boil water. Our apples are already uselessly out of scale. A few guys on treadmills maybe? That might work. We’ll get to that.


CarPushPicture this: 33,400 Watts can be created over the course of an hour by one gallon of gas. That’s approximately the equivalent of a person working for three weeks.  Too abstract? Try this. Putting aside the efficiency of a particular vehicle, imagine the energy it would take for you to push your car the distance one gallon of gas propels it.

Impressed yet?

Let’s give another idea a try. Keeping in mind the remarkable capacity of fossil fuel energy, how about this notion.  Imagine a fit young person pedaling a stationary bike, without a break, riding up hill. Imagine that it would take 147 of these athletes – let’s just call them our energy slaves – riding up that hill to create the energy we depend on to live; that is to travel, light and heat our homes, keep our food fresh and cook it, entertain and clothe ourselves, and of course, to keep our phones charged and operate our televisions and computers. For instance, here’s what it takes just to light my home:



Don’t you find this metaphor compelling? One can imagine a vision of alternative energy that employs people’s eagerness to keep fit. Here’s what that might look like if I were to take that notion literaly:



Well it turns out that this notion was put to the test by the BBC. Take a look at this experiment in energy slavery. I’m thinking you’ll never take a shower for granted again!

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