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I first posted “The Inefficiency of Humans” in January 2017. It’s about the reasons that our energy metabolism provides only about 20-25% of the energy we consume as food for muscular work. I referred to this as our “inefficiency”, although it isn’t really that. The explanation and conclusions remain largely unchanged, but since then I’ve learned more about how energy metabolism is measured, so I’ve rewritten the post as this 2.0 version. Much of the original is unchanged.… Read the rest “The Inefficiency of Humans”

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Rooftop air conditioning units, midtown, Manhattan. Imagery Google Maps, ©2019 Bluesky, Maxar Technologies, Sanborn, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2019

A hot day in New York City

People who were there will remember Saturday, July 20, 2019, as a really hot day in New York City. Although it was not the hottest day on record, the temperature at Kennedy airport reached 96ºF (36ºC). On the street at Union Square in Manhattan, a large thermometer (known as BAT, the “Big-Ass Thermometer”) registered a murderous 110ºF.… Read the rest “Is Air Conditioning Going to Become Futile?”

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The discovery of oil in the province of Alberta in 1947 soon led to the desire to transport it to the west coast of Canada, and in 1953 oil began to flow through a pipeline built by the Trans Mountain Pipeline Company (route of all pipelines discused in this post in red on the map above). The pipeline took oil from Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, over the Rocky Mountains, to Vancouver on the coast of British Columbia.… Read the rest “Using Numbers Instead of Adjectives to Evaluate an Economic Decision”

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The acronym SEWTHA stands for the title of the book ‘Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air’, written by the late Sir David MacKay (above, on his bike), who was a physicist profoundly interested in the energy future of the world. In SEWTHA, he uses the physicist’s toolkit to analyze how much energy we use, how we obtain it, and, most importantly, how we can replace our current use of fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources.Read the rest “The Great Common Sense of SEWTHA”

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(Image credit: Wellcome Library, London “A Man Walking”, Image V0048616, Collotype after Eadweard Muybridge, 1887.)

The idea that driving a car is better for the environment than walking sounds like the raving of an antediluvian climate change denier. Of course there is personal benefit in walking, and all of us should walk more, not less. But the sad truth is that producing, processing, and preparing the food needed to power walking consumes almost as much fossil fuel energy as driving the same distance in a car.Read the rest “Save the Environment — Don’t Walk, Drive a Car”