16 August, 2005


Something that gets too little attention in our society is how much work we put into unnecessarily moving things around. I have been reminded of this recently as I lost 10 lbs unexpectedly upon departing grad school, becoming addicted to coffee, and leaving the food mecca of the Bay Area for the less nutritious and higher-stress life of Washington. Now, when I run, my knees hurt less and I go faster -- because I have stopped carrying an extra 10-lb weight around.

To put it another way: When I see a bottle of Evian, I always see the bottle filled with ounces of golden, fragrant petroleum, with a thin film of delicious spring water lining the base of the bottle, and tiny figures inside, toiling over nothing. That is what $2.00 a liter buys. Transportation, refrigeration, and the labor of many people doing dull, unnecessary work. Unnecessary because anywhere that you can find Evian, you can probably find piped water. Pipelines are the most efficient conveyance known. They require no unskilled labor. Many operate on gravity. You get the point.

The latest Harpers' Index does the math on obesity and points out that the net excess weight of people in the United States is more than equal to the weight of everyone in Los Angeles. So as we drive around, in cars, planes, bicycles, or whatever, we are using all this extra energy to transport lipids that would be better stored as preserved food than in our bodies.

Of course this amount pales beside the work we put into moving our conveyances. That is, the amount of energy we spend moving the machines that exist to move us. Miles per gallon in the American passenger vehicle fleet has dropped from 21.5 to 20.6 in the past 20 years.

Driving on an Interstate, I have to be extra-careful because I find myself routinely lost in reverie, staring at all the metal in motion. How much mass is moving! How much energy is being spent! How miraculous. It is beautiful if you don't think too much about the peat bogs of Siberia.


When Dean Kamen first came out with his dorky scooter and insisted it was a "revolutionary" invention that would change everything, my first thought was: has this man never heard of a bicycle? My second was: if he built a light-weight automobile equivalent, THAT would be revolutionary. So much gas wasted getting a ton of steel up to speed. 

Posted by saurabh

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