Friday, August 19

Energy Challenge

"The jet plane that roars overhead costs three quarters of a million dollars. That’s more than a man will make in his lifetime. What world can afford this kind of thing for long?" -Dwight Eisenhower, in 1959

Fossil fuels represent a huge repository of stored energy. However, fossil fuels are finite. How do I know this? I do believe fossil fuels can be generated much faster than our textbooks tell us, but I do not think there is an infinite supply or that we can replenish the supply fast enough to keep up with demand?

Why do I believe this? Simple, the source material for fossil fuels come from living things. On planet earth there is a finite supply of living material. There is no way you can have an infinite supply of something that comes from a finite source point. The idea that you can contradicts science and nature.

So let's concede (only for the sake of argument if you're not comfortable otherwise) that we can replenish our stores of fossil fuels to make more carbon-based energy. Why can't that be a solution to our current energy problems? Again, a simple answer: entropy.

In the past geology and climate have supplied sufficient pressure from potential energy to create the gargantuan stores of energy we've been tapping for the past few centuries.. Man does not have the energy sources, comparable to natural energy sources, to transform sufficient amounts of material to supply our current growing energy needs. Matter (and energy) can be neither created nor destroyed. Thermodynamics. Pretty simple to understand.

Living energy is different. I can use simple tools (levers, wheels, mechanical advantage) in conjunction with energy supplied by my muscles through the metabolic process to do many things. Metabolism is still not an infinite source of energy, but as long as I have food (fuel provided by things growing under the sun) I can do work. At a human scale I can continue throughout my lifetime to do work and apply energy.

The crux of the matter is that we've exceeded human scale. In a global context, as nations, as communities and even in our personal lives. The simple act of driving a car represents an immense amount of stored energy being converted that cannot be easily substituted with human scaled power.

So here is my challenge to you: each time you have to make a decision between human power and energy drawn from stored fossil fuels, choose human power.

If you can do something by hand or using electricity, do it by hand. Elevator or stairs? Stairs. Car or bike? Bike. Mixer or spoon. Spoon. Call your neighbor or walk down the street? Walk down the street.

Write a letter or send an email? Tough one. A letter will be transported by fossil fuel burners, an email typically uses coal powered electricity. Maybe your area uses hydro or solar or wind power. Better yet to go visit the person by bike and have a face to face conversation.

A good discussion would be the quality products of human powered production versus those that require lots of stored energy.

One step closer to biketopia.

No comments:

Post a Comment