Our Civilization’s Essence
The image mostly speaks for itself, but there are a few things I’d like to call attention to in conjunction with it:
(1) In a very nontrivial sense, this chart is the story of our civilization.
(2) Notice the amount of energy it takes to generate electricity vs. the amount of energy we derive from electricity, as well as the energy our cars waste!
(3) I would like to see the sciences taught from the elementary level in terms of energy as a common currency and basic component of reality instead of as this magical thing that we feed our cars and depend on the Middle East for. When most twelve-year-olds hear the word “energy” they think of something like this instead of the above chart and what it all means.
(4) Using an incandescent bulb wastes something like 99% of the energy generated to keep it running. For every hundred units of coal burned to light up your home with incandescent radiation, the energy from only one unit of coal is actually converted to light. This is kind of ridiculous.
(5) In addition to climate change due to the greenhouse effect, ocean acidification is another potential 2012-style problem on the horizon for the human race. If the ocean becomes slightly more acidic, shells made of calcium carbonate will dissolve and there will be far-reaching implications for the rest of the food chain. It’s crazy to think that something that took hundreds of millions of years to develop and that all of life on earth depends on could be wiped out in a relative blink of an eye by something we don’t even use.
EDIT: 3/23/2012 2:42 P.M.:
Commenter James B Franks provides a more recent version of the graphic:
As Franks notes, it does seem like little has changed. However, some differences between this chart and the last:
(1) The ratio of energy used to energy lost has improved slightly, probably as a result of more efficient cars and consumer/industrial devices.
(2) The category “Nonfuel” has disappeared from the chart for some reason. I assume “Nonfuel” refers to plastics, etc., but wouldn’t these be counted under “Industrial”, “Commercial”, etc. along with other goods that require energy to produce? Does anyone know what the category “Nonfuel” truly refers to and why it is missing in the 2009 chart (largely accounting for the difference in total estimated energy use)?