Living Like Kings (and tapping into our human power)

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When we moved into our house several years ago there was an old wooden dock leaning up against the garage. This summer we decided to pull it out and see if we could get it in the pond across the street. After a little cleaning up, repair and attaching of floats, it was ready to go in the water.

Only there was one problem: I was home alone with the kids and didn’t have anybody to help me move it. I was really anxious to see if it would float, so after a little head scratching I had an a-ha moment. I could use the new dock posts to roll this thing up the driveway and across the road!

A guy doing mechanical work Back around 1944, American inventor and energy philosopher Buckminster Fuller coined the term “energy slave”. No, this is not your teenager complaining about having to take out the garbage. The term refers to the average output of a hard-working man doing 150,000 foot-pounds of work per day and working 250-days per year. Fuller used data gathered by the U.S., German, and Swiss armies to get his estimate of the average amount of mechanical work a person could do in a year.

So what does it all mean? Well, using Fuller’s method gives us another way to look at the way we use energy in our lives. For instance, it has been estimated that a middle-class American lifestyle uses energy that is equivalent to the work of 100 plus energy slaves working 24 hours Henry and Anne in the canoe per day for him or her. Who knew you had so much power? For most of human history power like this was relegated to kings and pharaohs, and now most of us take having this kind of power for granted.

My wife came home later that evening, and she was curious as to how I had moved the dock all by myself. When I explained she said, “Ah, caveman technology.” And here I thought I was being clever. Well… at least it is easier to launch the canoe and the kids now have a sturdy place to look for pond critters. And when we take our canoe out for a Saturday morning paddle at least I know we are living like kings (even if the adults have to do all the paddling).

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