The big global issues of energy can be set out in simple terms if you use units of people and animals. And get a friend to check your figures.
This is what James Watt did in the industrial revolution when he coined the term ‘horse power’ to measure his steam engines, in units in turn named after him. A horse generates up to seven hundred and fifty watts.
You or I might generate around eighty to one hundred watts and the strongest people we know up to a quarter of the power of a horse.
There are now calculations of how much energy we rely on in daily use in these terms. Professor Hans Peter Durr, associated with the World Future Council, has estimated that each person in Europe relies on the equivalent of sixty (strong) people-power – or, as I would extrapolate from his calculations, fifteen horsepower. These are assumed to work six days a week, ten hours a day. The US numbers are still higher – based on 110 people, or twenty eight horses.
Buckminster Fuller described these as the idea of ‘energy slaves’ that allow us to do so much more than our own bodies could sustain.
Sadly, in nature’s terms, this is by no means sustainable number of horses, as we rely on the cheat’s trick of machines powered by non-renewable energy. With my maths kindly corrected by Josef, a sustainable number of horses would be up to less than four each.
The next time someone talks about what should be done about energy, imagine four horses in your garden. That would be a sustainable lifestyle.
It is still a fair pack of muscle to have at your disposal – and somehow more beautiful than our world now being carved up by the fossil fuel guzzling descendants of the first steam engines in the north of England to outpace a stallion.