Our Baseload

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us again that we are human. Normally we live, create life and eventually after many years we hope to die of relatively painless old age. This pandemic sees many people across the world dying long before old age expectations. The final effects on human birth and death rate may be as noticeable as with the Spanish Influenza of 1918.

With many countries mandating only essential activities because of COVID-19 then we’d also expect energy consumption to drop. And it has. But for the first quarter of 2020 it only dropped by about 3.8%. The second quarter sees a reduction of 10% from the previous year. Now, given the continual proclamation to restore economies, we’re seeing activities return to usual and energy consumption responding in accord.

This small drop in energy consumption due to COVID-19 indicates that even while we are cloistered at home we still demand a huge amount of energy. Also, it indicates that if we continue to rely upon the economy to nurture our lives and give us a grand old age then we need continual access to huge amounts of energy. What happens when we consume all the non-renewable energy sources?


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?