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384 billion serfs

384 billion serfs

Why it’s so hard to scale down fossil fuels

oil rig and red line

In an 8-hour workshift, a healthy 35-year-old man can generate about 75 watts of mechanical power per hour, enough to keep a bright old-fashioned light bulb going. In a year, he can generate about 140 kilowatt-hours.

How does that compare to the energy embodied in a barrel of oil?

A standard 42-gallon (159-litre) barrel of oil can perform 1,700 kilowatt-hours of work. Modern oil-driven power stations are about 37 percent efficient, since they produce lots of waste heat. So one barrel of oil has the same work potential as the physical labour of 4.8 human men over a year.

Oil is a super-concentrated form of energy!

oil versus people

Fossil fuel serfs

In 2019, before lockdowns began, the world consumed about 35 billion barrels of oil, corresponding to the services of 165 billion labourers.  Oil makes up two-fifths of all the fossil fuel energy the world consumes, the rest being mostly coal and natural gas. Our total fossil fuel use in 2019 amounted to the work of 380 billion men.

Those fossil fuel-equivalent workers are always on tap, don’t take holidays, don’t need to sleep and don’t go on strike. They have no rights. Let’s call them our fossil fuel serfs.

You can think of a fossil fuel serf as the work capacity of a full-time human labourer for a year, measured in terms of oil, coal or natural gas.

A Ford Focus, for example, has a 52-litre (11.5 gallons) fuel tank. One barrel of oil would provide the petrol for three fill-ups. Each fill-up corresponds to 1.5 fossil fuel serfs.

Those 380 billion fossil fuel serfs power our cars and factories, keep the lights on, heat or cool our houses and cities, produce fertilizer for our fields, help to make the concrete, steel and asphalt in our buildings, roads and dams, and provide the plastics, synthetic clothing, tyres, detergents and hospital equipment that make our lives so convenient…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

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