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Energy Slaves, “Hard Work,” and the Real Sources of Wealth

Energy Slaves, “Hard Work,” and the Real Sources of Wealth thumbnail

Check out this brilliant ‘long-form comic’ by Stuart McMillen: Energy Slaves.  Click here or on the URL above.

Many Canadians and Americans struggle financially.  Millions are unemployed.  Many others live paycheque-to-paycheque.  A 2017 report by the US Federal Reserve Board found that 40 percent of US citizens couldn’t cover an unexpected expense of $400 without selling something or borrowing money.  There’s a lot of denial and misunderstanding regarding the financial challenges faced by a large portion of our fellow citizens.

Equally, though, there is misunderstanding, denial, and myth-making regarding those among us who are more financially secure, those who are well off—“the rich.”  Most glaring is the way we mischaracterize the sources of our wealth, luxury, and ease.  We lie to ourselves and each other regarding why we have it so good.  The rich often claim that their wealth is a result of “hard work.”  We hear people objecting to even the smallest tax increase, saying: “I worked hard for my money and no one is going to take it from me.”

The reality, however, is quite the opposite.  The rich don’t work very hard.  Every poor women or girl in Asia or Africa who gets up at dawn to walk many kilometres to carry home water or firewood for her family works harder than the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires.  Every farmer with a hoe or toiling behind an oxen works harder than any CEO.  My farmer grandparents worked far harder than I do, yet I live much better.  I would be self-delusional in the extreme to attribute my middle-class luxury to “hard work.”

A human worker can toil at a constant rate of about one-tenth horsepower.  Working hard all year at that rate I can do about 200 horsepower-hours worth of work—hoeing or hauling or digging.  But if I add up the work accomplished by non-human energy—by fossil fuels and machines and by electricity from various sources and electric motors—I find that, on a per-capita average, that quantity is 100 timesmy annual work output.  For every unit of work I do, the motors and machines that surround me do 100 units.  Those of us who live comfortable, high-consumption lives are subsidized 100-to-1 by work we do not do.  And the richest among us enjoy the largest of those subsidies.

Let me state that another way: If I look around me, at the hurtling cars and trucks, the massive quantities of cloth and steel and concrete created each year, the rapidly expanding cities, the roads that get paved and the bridges built, I am seeing a quantity of building and digging and hauling and making that is 100 times greater than the humans around me could accomplish.  Human muscles and energies provide one percent of the work needed to create and maintain our towering, hyper-productive, petro-industrial civilization; but electricity, fossil fuels, other energy sources, engines, and machines provide the other 99 percent.  We and our human bodies put in 1 unit of work, but enjoy the benefits of 100.  That is the reason so many of us live better than the kings, sultans, and emperors of previous centuries.

As Stuart McMillen brilliantly illustrates in his long-form comic, Energy Slaves, it is as if each of us has a whole troupe of slaves toiling for our benefit.  It is the work of these virtual assistants that propel us along, create our homes and cities, raise our food, pump our water,  and make our goods.

We will face many hard questions as we progress through the twenty-first century: can we continue to consume energy at the rates we do now?  How can we generate that energy without fouling the atmosphere and destabilizing the climate?  How do we more equitably share access to energy among our soon-to-be 11-billion-person population?  How do we address energy poverty?  And all these questions and issues are tied to others, such as to issues of income inequality.  But a vital first step is to begin to talk honestly about the real sources of our wealth, to acknowledge that we enjoy undeserved subsidies, to admit that we are all (energy) lottery winners, and to approach the future with attitudes of humility and gratitude rather than entitlement.  We cannot navigate the future if we cling to the self-serving and self-aggrandizing myths of the past.

Darrin Qualman blog

60 Comments on "Energy Slaves, “Hard Work,” and the Real Sources of Wealth"

  1. makati1 on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 7:58 pm 

    fmr, are you under psychiatric care? If not, you should be. Even Boat makes more sense than you do and he is running for the job of village idiot.

  2. fmr-paultard on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:04 pm 

    aswang i alone raised issue of failed state and 100th civil war in phils. i alone said phils don’t have monopoly of force. you’re just too stupid to think at my tard level.

    i shared devastation of marawi

    oh btw, the fight attracted foreign fighters! ask yourself if supertards allow that infiltration? Never…we went after afghanistan for bin bin

  3. onlooker on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:04 pm 

    Yes Mak, we have quite a fascinating diversity of characters on this board eh?

  4. JuanP on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:17 pm 

    I see we have changed personalities again! LOL! Anyone who is demented enough to think that supertards built shit for him is living in an imaginary world. Supertards don’t give a fuck about anyone but themselves! They don’t even know you exist, fmr, why would you think they give a fuck about you? Do you realize how stupid that is?

  5. JuanP on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:21 pm 

    The USA created bin bin, retard, just like they created Al Quaeda and ISIS. The US government is the biggest terrorist sponsor organization in the planet!

  6. Anonymouse1 on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:21 pm 

    Village Retard more like. He got himself a free upgrade, or promotion somewhere along the line. Village Idiots, would certainty be offended at the thought of being lumped together with boatietard.

  7. onlooker on Fri, 10th Aug 2018 8:34 pm 

    Mr. Paultard is utterly demented. Too much tard talk

  8. makati1 on Sat, 11th Aug 2018 12:10 am 

    Russians will survive when the SHTF:

    “Currently, I am living in Russia, where the difference between Russians and Americans when it comes to preparing for the ‘unknown’ could not be greater. While Americans spend untold hours per week mowing their lawns, pulling weeds and trimming the hedges, Russians are toiling at their ‘dachas’ (in Russia, it is common for people to own an apartment in the city and a piece of land in the countryside), growing fruit and vegetables in greenhouses, and collecting mushrooms in the forest. Every Russian I have met in the countryside also have their own private source of water from painstakingly dug wells on their land….

    The entire notion of ‘prepping’ in Russia is completely nonexistent since the knowledge of working the land, which became absolutely critical during the severe food shortages of the communist years, has been a traditional part of Russian life since the country’s inception. Although Russians, like any other people, would suffer grave hardships in the event of a severe economic downturn, many of them would still be able to feed themselves due to their time-tested ‘survival’ skills. I am not sure the same could be said of their American and European counterparts.”

    Few Americans will be able to feed themselves. The die off will be horrendous there. Nuff said.

  9. pointer on Mon, 13th Aug 2018 6:29 am 

    Humans will use slaves whenever the opportunity presents itself. In all cases, it requires a suspension of conscience.

  10. fmr-paultard on Mon, 13th Aug 2018 6:53 am 

    pointer, that’s a true statement but still ignorant of islamic teaching that muslims adhere to. supertards abolished slavery a long time ago. the first war supertard jefferson fought is against muslim pirates, the barbary wars. remember early supertards are anti-war and this was a necessity.

    remember slavery in islam has been going on since 7th century as as recent as libya half a year ago.

    Also remember instagram star from Kuwait complained about lax regulation for philipino servants there. The name of the muslima is Sondos Alqattan

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