Yellow Vests

Pleasure is sitting comfortably in a safe, secure environment. Perhaps warmly enveloped in the folds of a large old chair, book in hand, tea on the side table. Current needs and wants are satisfied. Nothing threatens. The future is not a concern.

But what do you do when the future doesn’t look fine? Such a view may ruin any blissful day.

Recently, many residents in France reacted violently to a proposed change. The change could be argued as a move to cleaner energy. Or a change for competitiveness. The government proposed an increase in fuel tax amongst other things. The result would have been workers having to work harder and perhaps have less to no time to sit and enjoy life. The workers thought the government too focused on the future ‘end of the world’ while they worried about the ‘end of the month’. So, they donned yellow vests and demonstrated over all the streets of France.

Could a root cause of this insecurity be France’s complete lack of non-renewable energy resources? The country’s current accounts show a strong negative value for energy. And given the maturity of the nation, it’s understandable that France has moved nearly totally to a service economy. Perhaps a service economy is insufficient to keep the whole population safely sipping tea while ensconced in a chair.

Wearing a yellow vest and demonstrating certainly will sensationalize the workers’ concerns. But what does this mean in general? Will countries that are limited to a service economy also be limited in the lifestyles of the populace? Can we build a better future while holding onto the past? Or, do we have to get out of the chair, take a gamble and begin something new?

Bullrush

Memory

The average human has an incredible memory. A simple sniff might trigger a reminiscence dating back decades. Perhaps of your mother setting a hot apple pie on the window sill to let it cool. We learnt about memory tricks during school. Memorizing large quantities of data to regurgitate on exam day. Eventually, later in life, our memory fades. Fewer details appear. Instead our memory provides vague stimulation to goodness and pleasure.

Then along comes computers. Computers keep our memories. Vast quantities of childhood photographs and videos. No longer do we need memorize data. It gets thrown at our eyes by the megabyte-full. Some is online. One video storage service has over 216,000 years worth of video. Some is off-line. In your personal computer. Totaling both these amounts comes to over 5 zettabytes; that’s 21 zeros. We don’t need our memories anymore. We can use computer storage to revisit any time from our past. Nothing will fade from our memories.

Do we need all these memories? Let’s consider. Not so long ago, in hunter gatherer days, humans had an average life expectancy of 33 years. At that age we were still learning; there wasn’t much to forget. Lifestyles improved and we quickly achieved longer lives. Now, the world average life expectancy is about 72 years. Many places, with high GDPs, have values above 80 years. And higher GDP means greater technology. Technology that places a commensurate higher demand on energy to create storage media, to record data and to replay. Over and over again. To what avail have we replaced our biological memory?

Cap

I, Not Robot

Humans are tough. Slow to start. But when we get going; we keep going. In an endurance race, we can outrun horses. And most other land animals. We can do this regularly, often ably winning one day after another for a very long time. It seems that the human body has wonderfully adapted to the Earth in a way that makes us so successful.

And humans are great thinkers. We’ve invented and promoted machines. Using controlled sources of energy, we control machines to our great advantage. They carry us in the air, drill us holes through mountains and provide us views of the surface of other planets. But they, like humans, need energy.

Will robots replace humans? Or do we still have the advantage? A small, wheeled robot used to explore a room might start with an energy content of 10Wh/kg. A purpose built electric car begins with an energy content of about 2500Wh/kg. An adult human with an energy usage of 10.5MJ/day and the ability to live for 30 days without eating has an energy content of about 1500Wh/kg. From this, it seems that humans are closing in upon a mechanical replacement.

However, the biggest difference is that humans can obtain energy from a vast assortment of readily available foodstuffs. As long as the food remains available, humans can function. Robots on the other hand require very clean potential power. Usually in the form of electric current from batteries. If humans maintain control over this power then we won’t be replaced by robots. In the future, if there’s a shortage of mechanical energy, will humans still be tough enough for whatever opponent ¬†they encounter?

Combine

Wind Farms

Have you seen the wind? It pushes, slides or slams bye. Or it’s absent. A weightiness. Expecting. A potential. And what a potential it is.

Take a properly tuned set of blades and you can translate wind into electrical energy. To some profit. Wind farms feature tens to hundreds of wind turbines. All waiting. Waiting for the breath. A breath that pushes on their blades, turns their windings and sends electrical current into the waiting power distribution network.

Just a fad you think. The current largest farm in Cambria features 189 turbines. Each well spaced. Across a breadth of 145 square kilometres. Waiting in calmness. Or spinning frenetically when the wind blows. We can’t see the wind. But we can see the blades spin.

The world has some swell sites for these farms. Need Class 3 winds. And perhaps an energy storage medium. Like man-made petroleum. Is this your idea of the future?

Flying

Traffic Lights

The ubiquitous traffic light. Synonymous with cars. With over half the human population living in cities, traffic lights have become part of life. We allow them to tell us when to start, when to stop and when things are to change. Without them, chaos would permeate the transportation industry and bring grid-lock to every city dweller. So, yes, we need these red, yellow and green lights to control our lives.

Traffic lights are simple. Yet telling. A tall post keeps the lights above traffic. Wires in the post provide the lights with electricity. And control wires in the post may influence the light’s activation. Yes, simple. Telling is that their installation can cost $2million for one intersection. Typical incandescent lights use 2.4 kilowatt hours a day. Never stopping. The city of Toronto has 2346 lights. Suggestions are that the USA has over 300,000 lights. Would a global count of one million be reasonable? That’s 3.2E15 Joules/yr of energy to keep them turning on and off for every moment of every day.

And if you’re in a car waiting at the lights, your car is idling. Burning petrol to no avail. Say on average there are two cars waiting at every stop light. Every day. That’s 1.2E18 J/yr. A huge amount just to keep order within our transportation industry. Which doesn’t take into account energy lost in braking the cars and accelerating the cars. Cars and traffic lights make for quite a combination in terms of energy consumption.

Are traffic lights relevant? They don’t use a lot of energy Are they symptomatic? Their effect, cars waiting at lights, has a high energy usage. And traffic lights are essential for our transportation industry. So we will keep using traffic lights. And cars. But, for how long? Until all the gasoline is spent? Is this the best way to use the finite resource of utile energy stores on Earth? Blinking on and off.

Ribbit