Your Personal Energy "Slaves" - This Is Why We Are So Prosperous

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Before the industrial revolution most work was performed either by humans or animals. Some civilizations managed to harness water power but this was never really that widespread.

The standard of living back then was atrocious compared to our current levels, so what gives? Why are we so well off when they were not?


There is a lot of money floating around the modern economy but our prosperity has nothing to do with money. It all has to do with the amount of surplus energy available for use in the modern era.

Five months ago I wrote a post in which I calculated that the average human generates about 170 watts of power all day, every day. If you are interested you can read it here: How Many Watts Of Power Does Your Body Generate?

170 watts of power is really not that much, enough to power a few incandescent light bulbs but not really enough to power even a small motorcycle. It gets worse as this is the power required for just your basic metabolic functions.

If you wanted to do actual physical labour (like dig a ditch) over a long stretch of time then maybe 100 watts is achievable at a sustained rate if you are in good shape. In all likelihood the sustained power output for an 8 or 10 hour work day is probably closer to 50 watts, less if the person is out-of-shape or lazy.

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Humans love energy. Coal energy, oil energy, natural gas energy, hydroelectric energy. nuclear energy, photo-voltaic energy and more. We use this energy to power our cars, trucks, tractors, ships, airplanes and factories.

The estimated amount of global energy consumption per year in 2013 was 1.6 x 1017 Wh (watt-hours). There are 3600 seconds in an hour so this converts to 5.76 x 1020 Ws or 5.76 x 1020 joules.

Assuming there are about 7 billion people on this Earth that is 81 billion joules per person per year. A watt is a joule per second and there are 31,536,000 seconds per year so this comes out to about 2600 watts of power are being used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for each person.

This is for the developed world of course. For developing countries that number is much lower.

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So, if you live in the developed world you have at your disposal 2600 watts of power output to make all of the things that you want: food, clothes, cars, bicycles, iPhones and even computer servers to deliver to you your favourite blog on Steemit.

At the start of this post we learned that a person generates about 170 watts in metabolic output just to live and maybe only an additional 50 watts of power for actual manual labour.

This means that the 2600 watts of power being output just for you is roughly equivalent to having 52 slaves working 24 hours a day seven days a week. Of course these "slaves" are actually automated machines running engines and motors and churning out the products that you love.

This ratio of 52 to 1 is therefore the real reason that people in the developed world currently live so very comfortably. We can sit in Starbucks on a lazy afternoon, drinking a coffee, eating a snack and surfing the social media in air conditioned comfort all because of this ratio.


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So in essence we are not prosperous because of all the money floating around the world (money is just a marker for wealth). We are prosperous because of the huge energy surplus producing goods and services for the global economy.

When adding up all of the energy used in the world it turns out that each person is the beneficiary of 2600 watts of power output 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Thinking about it another way, that 2600 watts is roughly equivalent to having 52 people working for you all day long.

In the past, only the kings of old could ever corral that much power output to themselves but we are better off because not even ancient kings had air conditioning.

In blog posts on topics like this, it is very natural to start thinking about the disparities between the developed and the developing world. The antidote to that type of thinking is this lecture by Hans Rosling - The best stats you've ever seen.

In this lecture he talks about the statistics of the developing world and the massive numbers of people that have been brought out of poverty in our modern era. Watch it, you will come out at the end optimistic about a better world in the future.

Thank you for reading my post.


World Energy Consumption
Hans Rosling - The best stats you've ever seen.
Gapminder: Unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view


I have to say that I am no longer all that optimistic about the future for several reasons. First, we have growing inequality that is going to get worse with increased automation. All that power does us no good if we have no income to buy it, or the goods it produces. The masses in developed countries are clearly feeling this, but misdiagnosing the situation by blaming immigrants and the poor and then voting for people like Trump and Brexit. Second, media, government, and business all seem to have largely aligned to ensure that inequality will grow in order for those at the top to have even more. The EU creates lots of economic issues for member countries that US states don't suffer from as much. Yet instead of fixing these issues, EU leaders demand austerity and, in essence, blame the poor. Third, the internet and large media companies bent on pushing a political agenda has increased the polarization of the public. Fourth, real problem analysis, along with the evaluation of possible solutions is largely absent from most policy making and public discussion. We can't even have rational discussions about how to frame problems anymore, much less solve them. At least in the US, there seems to be a real problem with Americans actually spending time to try to understand issues. Most prefer to watch sports and reality TV shows. I don't think that bodes well for the future.

Proud member of #steemitbloggers @steemitbloggers

Wealth distribution is a big problem and something far bigger than this post.

However, I am more optimistic that you seem to be that's why I referenced Hans Rosling. I think organizations like that can help us see the big picture.

The news and sometimes social media tends to focus on the confusing little stuff but that is just my opinion.

Surely, money is also a factor here.
It's not as if every person on Earth is presented with 2,600 watts of power daily, free of charge, to consume by whatever activities each person selects.
It seems, to me, that unequal distribution of wealth would closely correlate with unequal power-purchasing ability.

Yes, energy consumption and the wealth of people in a country are strongly correlated.

Distribution of wealth is a whole other topic though and well beyond the scope of this post.