how many slaves are working for you?

8 Sep

LA traffic jam

An interesting idea paraphrased from An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World by J.R. McNeill. Required reading for my Environmental politics class, but a really fascinating and well-written book nonetheless.

Before the Industrial Revolution, humans mostly got by on their own muscle power, plus some help from domesticated animals and the little power they could harness from wind and water. Now, fossil fuels allow us to produce more than we ever could with our own hands. In 1990, the average American had 75 “energy slaves” working for them, meaning the energy equivalent to 75 humans working 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. People living in “undeveloped” countries rely mostly on their own power and have less than one “energy slave” with which to work. Meanwhile, they bear a disproportionately large portion of the environmental destruction caused by our rampant energy consumption.

Cambodian farmer

20 years later, we have 1.5 billion more people living on this planet and America is consuming more resources than ever. How long before our “energy slaves” run out?


One Response to “how many slaves are working for you?”

  1. Beth September 13, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    Is this one connected to the aforementioned “cheerful slaves” in the previous post? If the slaves are cheeful, does it make their energy any “better” in the socio-economic sense?

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