© Eric R. Pianka
Russian translation by Sandi Wolfe
Albanian translation by Vera McMason
In the olden days, one man rode one horse and the bond between man and horse became strong. The first thing you did when you rode into town was find the livery stable and unsaddle your loyal horse, then pay to have it combed, scrubbed down and fed some oats and alfalfa. Regular visits to the blacksmith or farrier kept your horse's feet trimmed and fitted with horseshoes. Horses were so important that horse thievery was a hanging offense. Those were the good old days. Life moved more slowly then. Distances were measured in riding days, rather than in minutes or hours.
In the U.S., one horsepower is defined as a unit of power equal to 746 watts, nearly equivalent to the English gravitational unit of the same name that equals 550 foot-pounds of work per second. One horsepower is a unit of power that equals the work done in lifting 550 pounds one foot in one second.
One manpower = a unit of power based on the rate at which a man can work; approximately 75 watts, or about one tenth of a horsepower. In other words, it takes ten strong men to do the work of one horse.
Fossil fuel is our energy slave: one gallon is equivalent to about 50 horsepower hours and will move a one-ton car 30-50 miles. And, at current US prices, a gallon of gas is simply way too cheap, costing only about three dollars. Just imagine having to push your car that far -- how many people would be required and how long would it take? Let's do a few simple calculations.
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has an 8 cylinder engine and gets 25 mpg on the highway. This muscle car is rated at 523 hp, equivalent to more than 5,000 men. Big SUVs are rated at 400+ hp. So called "low" horsepower cars such as the Mazda Sport (A6) and the Chevrolet Cruze are rated at 184 and 153 hp. Toyota's Prius has a 120 hp engine. Even motorcycles use hundreds of horsepower units. Thus, all require the energy of thousands of men. Quite simply, we humans are energy gluttons. Our voracious and insatiable appetite for energy is doing us in. We must learn to live more frugally using much less energy.
Crowded Freeway near Houston, Texas.
Earth can no longer dissipate the heat it receives from normal incident solar radiation fast enough to stay in balance (Hansen et al. 2005). Waste heat humans generate from burning fossil fuels and using nuclear reactors only adds insult to injury.
Humans are extremely versatile, and although we seem to think that we exist outside the laws of nature, we do not. We are Earthlings first and foremost, and space and other planets will always remain hostile environments for us. Until recently, spaceship Earth has provided us with a rather nice place to live. But now, Earth’s life support systems are failing . . . we have overpopulated the planet and fouled its atmosphere -- the resultant pollution is contributing to global weather change. Earth is warming rapidly -- ice caps are melting and ocean currents are changing. The polar jet stream is wobbling erratically. Polar bears and penguins are facing extinction and though many humans refuse to face the facts, we might not be far behind.