For the first time in 6 months I’ve been able to sit down and take a second to think. I spent my first weekend at home in I don’t know how long. The topic of energy is grazing in more headlines than ever. Between pipelines being proposed, talk of exporting natural gas, new wind development, solar plants being constructed, and the never-ending debate about coal and nuclear, it seems that we can’t get enough (news about energy). There’s a reason for this though. In order for something to be news, it has to be relevant to people. In a discussion with the cowriter of “Energy! O Energy!”, Marty Pool, we talked about how energy has become something that we need. It started out as a luxury and it has become something so integrated into our society that the world as we know it would cease to function if our energy system were to fail. Is energy comparable to any other “product”? It’s obvious that we need food and water to survive but would we be able to get this without the large-scale energy production of the modern world? Think about farming, livestock, processing, transportation, purifying… They all require massive amounts of energy.
I have been trying to strike up this conversation with some people while I am home and this entry is essentially a columniation of how that conversation has been going. Could we survive without the energy production that we have come to expect? A common answer, especially in Wyoming, to this question has been, “I could live off of the land. If the world fell apart tomorrow, I could provide for myself and my family by hunting, chopping wood, planting food, and building a house.” I think this is great and everyone should have some kind of basic survival skills. However, my question is, how many people could truly sustain their self, based on their surrounding environment. In Wyoming it would be easy. We have plenty of land, natural resources, and wildlife. You could cut down trees to make a house. You could hunt elk and deer for food. You could grow a garden with all of the space. You could get water from a near by river. You could heat your house with wood that you chop down. All one would need is the knowledge on how to utilize these abundant resources. Think about how much space it would take to do this. Now multiply that times 7 billion and you have planet earth. What about places New York City though? How many people could Manhattan support without importing anything? What about any major city? Without the large-scale production system in our world, cities would cease to exist.
Let’s bring it back to energy. If you were responsible for generating the energy that you use, could you do it? I think this is a fascinating question because it takes something that we never think about and makes it relevant to our every day life. The same question exists in every suit. Could you grow as much food as you eat? Could you carry or pump as much water as you drink? We have created a magnificent system of trade that allows us to not have to provide everything we need for ourselves. This couldn’t ring any louder with energy. There are those select few who do choose to generate as much power as they use and that’s great. It is often cheaper in the long run, has environmental benefits, and gives you a sense of accomplishment for being self-sufficient. The only issue with this is that it isn’t accessible to everyone. You can’t put a wind turbine on your apartment in downtown Salt Lake City. It’s not easy to build a nuclear reactor in your garage. You can’t build a dam on a river that you don’t own. You can’t put solar panels on your dorm. Even if you could, our energy demands often dwarf what is realistic for each person to generate. I was talking to colleague about generating power using a generator hooked to a bicycle. It sounds like a great idea! You can get a workout, save money, and create your own energy! Where is bad? The issues start rise when you consider how much power you use on a daily basis. According to a number of sources that I have interviewed for the film, the average person can generate around 70 watts of electricity. That’s enough to power one standard light bulb. Ask yourself; do you use more than one light bulb? What about your computer, TV, dishwasher, dryer, washer, AC, stove, phone, toaster, coffee pot, and everything else in your house that plugs into the wall? Who is going to pedal the bike to power these things? Even Tour De France athletes can only produce 300-400 watts. Your air conditioner can use as many as 4000 watts. That means that 10 world-class athletes pedaling like made would be able to power that one thing. I’m tired just thinking about it.
In conclusion to this thought, I want to say that it is interesting to think about if you had to make everything that you use. I am by no means asking anyone to generate their own power or grow their own food. It isn’t my place to tell anyone what to do. I just enjoy the conversation and find it interesting to think about. Until one understands the magnitude of this idea of “energy”, it’s hard to effectively make decisions about how to use and generate it. I have been tirelessly learning about energy for the last 6 months. The more I learn, the less I discover that I know. I will never know everything about energy, not even close. No one will but that’s not the point. After putting in all of this time these last 6 months, I don’t regret a second of it. Everything I learn applies directly to me because I use energy. That’s why I’m interested.