Thursday, November 17, 2011

Saving Energy? Changing Light Bulbs

In my essay “We Are Here”, I mentioned four things that we face as challenges: population density (how many people per area), population pressure ( how much resource use per person), tribalism, and unintended consequences of our creativity both social and physical. Here I want to see if we can reduce our resource use per capita. It will be seen that the other three challenges weave in and out of this challenge.

Worldwide fuel consumption averages 1853 kilograms of oil equivalent per person per year. The highest per person fuel users (in Luxembourg) use almost a hundred times more fuel per person than the lowest fuel users (in Bangladesh).
Handbookof development economics By Hollis Burnley Chenery, T. N. Srinivasan.2009.

Our global consumption of fossil fuel energy is threatened by the continued dwindling of easily accessible, high quality sources. This in turn threatens global conflict(oops already happening), more deadly global conflict. And this use is devastating and threatening land, oceans, rivers, the air, underground water, climate and peoples very homes and health. So what can we do?

Obviously, we need to reduce our use of fossil.
Will we? Can We?

When I held classes on “simple living” in the mid 1970s I made this suggest. That for three or four days as you move through your world with each thing you touch consider the ideas below.

What is it made from?
Where did it come from?
How much energy did it take to make?
Could I make it myself?
Can I get it locally?
Do I need it?

Some of these are questions most of us cannot answer in full or even partially. Addressing our energy and material uses at the head of the stream is a major step towards sustainability. Ask not how to reduce from our present 100 percent use to 90or 75 percent use; ask what we truly need to live non-brutishly to preserve this earth for the seventh generation.

So there are really two questions here:
1. What energy do we truly need to live a non-brutish life?
2. How do we reduce the fossil fuel energy we presently use?

I can’t decide for you what is or is not brutish. For 99% of human existence we were gatherers and hunters. There is a concept called the Human Energy Equivalent which is around 10000 joules or about 2388 kilocalories (HEE) (Odum and Odum, 1976). With the use of fire and perhaps dogs for travois, we probably used half again or twice that much daily.
Odum,Howard T. and Odum, Elisabeth C. 1976. Energy Basis for Man and Nature. McGraw-Hill. N.Y.
See also:

I don’t propose nor could we (unless we do some really stupid violent stuff) become gatherers and hunters again. This is simply a jump off point for looking at our basic needs.


With agriculture, animals (horses and oxen), mechanical wind and water, various forms of fuel (peat, wood, perhaps some coal), we used5 to 7 times the energy of gatherers and hunters. My studies of medieval Europe shows this was not a total brutish time. A major lack was basic knowledge of hygiene, chemistry, medicine and physics.
See bibliography at end of essay.

Within the European continent, differences in energy consumption among regions were relatively wide. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the average per capita daily consumption usually ranged from 63 to 84 MJ, or 15,000 to 20,000 kcal, even though minimum and maximum values were actually much further apart (Table 2).
Malanima , Paolo. 2006. Journal of Global History (2006) 1, pp101–121. London School of Economics and Political Science 2006

10 megajoules are equal to our daily calorie(kilocalorie) need or more for heavy work. So 33 megajoules are over three times our daily need and 161 megajoules are 16 times our dietary needs.

To put this in gallons of oil, daily use would be between 1/4 gallon of oil to a little over one gallon of oil per day.


Worldwide fuel consumption averages 1853 kilograms of oil equivalent per person per year. The highest per person fuel users (in Luxembourg) use almost a hundred times more fuel per person than the lowest fuel users (in Bangladesh).

1853 kilograms of oil equivalent is 13.5 barrels of oil or568 gallons of oil per year. As noted in the quote, this is not evenly distributed. In 2000, I put all the countries of the world, their per capita use, and their population on an excel spread sheet. I then rank ordered them from the least to the most and did an accumulation of population. Seventy- five to 80 percent of the people in the world have little direct access to petroleum, natural gas or electricity. They are close to the per capita consumption of pre-industrial times. The “developed” world uses many multiples of those 4 billion people.

Buckminster Fuller had the idea of energy slaves in about1944. This is number of slave equivalents for the energy we use.

It would take 11 1/3 years to replace a barrel of oil (equivalent to 1700 kwh), while a top athlete would make it in about 5 2/3 years.

How Much Human Energy Is Contained in One Barrel of Oil?
Computation attributed to David Pimentel
. . .
1 Barrel of Oil = 23,200 Hours of Human Work Output
(Energy equivalent of 46.4 gallons of gas per barrel of oil x 500 hours of human work output per gallon of gas = 23,2000 hours)

See also:



It blows my mind how much fossil fuel we use. On television, you see sea ports with thousands of shipping containers. Containers as far as the eye can see, stacked four, five, six high. Huge cranes. Huge ships. I mean HUGE ships. And you see pictures of cities all over the world with thousands, millions of cars. And you see pictures of the earth lit up at night across the northern hemisphere.



Most of the world's carrying capacity in fully cellular container ships is in the liner service, where ships trade on scheduled routes.[41][21] As of January 2010, the top 20 liner companies controlled 67.5%of the world's fully cellular container capacity, with 2,673 vessels of an average capacity of 3,774 TEU.[1] The remaining fully 6,862 fully cellular ships have an average capacity of 709 TEU each.[1]

Cargo Containers

An intermodal container (also container, freight container, ISO container, shipping container, hi-cube container, box, conex box and sea can) is a standardized reusable steel box used for the safe, efficient and secure storage and movement of materials and products within a global containerized intermodal freight transport system. "Intermodal" implies that the container can be moved from one mode of transport to another without unloading and reloading.Lengths of containers, which each have a unique ISO 6346 reporting mark, vary from8-foot (2.438 m) to 56-foot (17.07 m) and heights from 8-foot (2.438 m) to 9 feet6 inches (2.9 m). There are approximately seventeen million intermodal containers in the world of varying types to suit different cargoes.[1] Aggregate container capacity is often expressed in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU / teu) which is a unit of capacity equal to one standard 20 ◊ 8 ft (6.10 ◊ 2.44 m) (length ◊ width) container.

The maximum gross mass for a 20 ft (6.1 m) dry cargo container is 24,000 kg, and for a 40-ft (including the 2.87 m (9 ft 6 in) high cube container), it is 30,480 kg. Allowing for the tare mass of the container,the maximum payload mass is therefore reduced to approximately 22,000 kg for 20ft (6.1 m), and 27,000 kg for 40 ft (12 m) containers.

In 2009, almost one quarter of the world's dry cargo was shipped by container, an estimated 125 million TEU or 1.19 billion metric tons worth of cargo.[8]

In 2002, 17,000 loaded containers enter the US every day.


Top 20 stadiums among the hundreds in the United States alone.


Penn State


Ohio State









Texas A&M

Florida State



Notre Dame



South Carolina


4 to a car

miles when driving 10 miles
gallons at 25 mpg

179735 gallons (conservative estimate) for just these 20stadiums, WOW!





According to NASCAR, about 6,000 U.S. gallons (~22,700litres) of fuel are consumed during a typical Sprint Cup weekend.[19] For the2006 season, which included 36 points races, the total for the season would have been 216,000 U.S. gallons (818,000 litres). One environmental critic recently estimated NASCAR's total fuel consumption across all series at 2million U.S. gallons (7.57 million liters) of gas for one season.[20]

At race speeds, Sprint Cup cars get 2 to 5 miles per gallon.[19][20][21] Consumption under caution can be estimated at 14-18 mpg,based on comparable engines generally available to the public. The rate of fuel consumption tends to be the same regardless of the actual speeds of the cars,as teams change gear ratios for each race to ensure that the engine always operates in its optimum power band; however, the fuel mileage will vary for each race,depending on the maximum speeds attained.

The fuel consumption criticism dates to 1974 and the energy crisis; NASCAR responded by showing data that racing was far less consumptive of fuel than regular air travel, etc.

According to NASCAR estimates, attendance has dropped in 14of the first 19 races of the season, and the average crowd of 99,853 projects to 3.6 million — which would be nearly a million off the total in 2003,

How much gas do you figure 3.6 million people use to drive to watch people driving?



As I mentioned gatherers and hunters with fire used about two HEE’s (Human Energy Equivalent(Odum and Odum, 1976). We in the United States use 100 plus HEE’s. Two thirds of the people in the world use considerably less. If there was an animal outside your door consuming the biologically disproportionate amount of energy used by the average U.S. citizen, that animal would end up on your dining room table. It would be war. In fact for thousands of years it has been war on plants, animals and each other.

Using appropriate technology, we need to achieve an individual HEE level of consumption at somewhere between 10 and30 units. We need not livebrutishly given all our accumulated knowledge.

We could save enough fossil fuels for generations to come. However, human nature stands in the way.
1. What we own gives us status which is power and access to mates. We can’t collect yams as they do in the South Pacific. We don’t have the potlatch as they did in the Northwest United States. (We should have the potlatch, the act of redistribution). So we buy things. They may also replace needs unmet in the social world.
2. The tribalism that comes from identifying with a team or an athlete is critical to our humanity. The church helps but doesn’t do it all except with crusades, pogroms and terrorism.
3. There is a whole soup of body chemicals that goes with both the tribal participation experience and the vicarious experience of athletic prowess, physical aggression and both victory and losing. The adrenalin rush, endorphin high may all be critical to containing in time and space behavior at the edges. These sports and sport experience may reflect conditions in the social world and be critical to a peaceful regular social life.
4. Depersonalization – let’s us act ways we would not normally act. Painting our faces and bodies,wearing costumes, screaming obscenities, and violence.

So we won’t.




Cipolla, Carlo. 1967. The Economic History of World Population. Penguin Books. Baltimore,MD.

Clark, Wilson. 1975. Energy for Survival. Anchor Books.N.Y.

White, Lynn. 1978. Medieval Religion and Technology. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.

Catton, William. 1980. Overshoot.. University of Illinois Press. Chicago.

Chefurka, Paul. 2007. Population:The Elephant in the Room.

Cohen, Mark Nathan. 1977. The Food Crisis in Prehistory: Overpopulation and the Origins of Agriculture. Yale University Press. New Haven.

Fossier, Robert. 2010. The Axe and the Oath: Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages. Princeton U. Princeton.

Gies, Frances; Gies, Joseph. 1994. Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel. Harper Collins. N.Y.

Le Goff, J. 1980. Time,Work, & Culture in the Middle Ages. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

Mollat, M. 1986. ThePoor in the Middle Ages. Yale. New Haven.

Newman, F. 1986. Social Unrest in the Late Middle Ages. Bhinghamton. N.Y.

Odum, Howard T. and Odum, Elisabeth C.1976. Energy Basis for Man and Nature. McGraw-Hill Book Co. N. Y.

Postan, M. 1973. Essays on Medieval Agriculture and General Problems of the Medieval Economy.Cambridge.

Price, David. 1995. Energy and Human Evolution. Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. Volume 16, Number 4, March 1995,pp. 301-19

Ross, S. John . 2008. Medieval Demographics Made Easy.

Tuchman, Barbara. 1978. A Distant Mirror. Knopf. N. Y.

White, Lynn. 1978. Medieval Religion and Technology. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.

Whitney, Elspeth. 2004. Medieval Science and Technology. Greenwood Press. London.


  1. "So we won’t."

    But we already are doing all of these things, to a small degree, as the economy deflates with a big, "Hiss." The economy is directly connected to energy reduction, and we are now dancing to the bidding of the system at large, which is contracting. Now, instead of a positive sum game, we have a negative sum game. We're going to have to start cooperating and sharing our toys, or there will be a LOT of losers.

    We're going to have to find some different competitive cultural outlets to replace our large-scale athletic institutions that are beginning to collapse now (starting with Penn State). I won't be sad to see the silliness of professional sports disappear.

  2. Iaato - it is not a choice. It carries the emotions of loss and helplessness. Not a script for peacefulness.

  3. Our new world will be different, John, but the current world will not much of a loss, if you consider that our greatest institutions hide and support pedophiles, our societal goal is wealth rather than wisdom or joy, and we do things in pursuit of those goals such as wage war spreading toxins such as DU around the world and killing innocent civilians, medicate children needlessly, kill off the entire Gulf of Mexico and most of Japan, and cook the biosphere and acidify the oceans--all for making a buck.

    What am I missing, John? Where is the loss? I'm done with all of this. And I'm not helpless, either. Look up learned helplessness. That's another sin we can lay at the Pandora's door of fossil fuels.

    "Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

    "Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." RFK, 1968

  4. Quite a tour de force John. Not a happy picture to face, but better to know the inevitable - this way of life is coming to an end.

    At least some of the few hunter-gatherers who remain on the planet feel their way of life is good and would not want to buy into our way of life. While we have not the skills to become hunter-gatherers, if humans eventually return to that default human lifestyle I think it will be less brutish than the lives that many people lived in civilization.

    One group is the Piraha - studied by Daniel Everett. He asserts that they are extremely happy people who enjoy their lifestyle. The even un-converted Daniel who started as a missionary and became a linguist. Here is a clip of a trailer for a movie about the tribe.

    There are some uncontacted tribes left too - perhaps they will be the future


  5. Iaato - I am making an ecological and moral judgement that we must stop doing what we are doing and am trying to show the impossibility of stopping because of our very nature. Only the coercion of the inevitable clash of population, resource diminishment, environmental degradation and climate change will bring a screaching (or maybe a little slower) halt to what I try to catalog in my essay.

  6. Very true, John. That leaves us at, "be the change you wish to see in the world." Adopt a new value system and start living it. Do the right thing. Check out of the dominant paradigm wherever possible. Eventually people start to emulate.

  7. I agree Iaato. I lived off the grid for 30 years from 1974 until 2004. Now I live elsewhere, have a 3 kWh grid tie system at our home with a small greenhouse which is still going with minimum heat input from the solar electric. Peppers, tomatoes and cabbage. We also are growing an orchard/truck garden on another piece of land that will be soon off grid too. So I agree totally. Walk the walk as best you can.

  8. Kudos to you, John. Hang in there. Keep posting. People will eventually listen--I'm more hopeful now than I've been anytime since the late 70s. It is awfully late, but change is in the air.

  9. They are like florescent lamps. You can save a lot of energy unlike bulbs.