A Human-Powered Future, But Not, Like, Slavery
America has two complementary problems which should be solved immediately. The first problem is an excessive consumption of electricity fed by the use of pollution-rich energy sources. The second problem is sedentary lifestyles and the excessive consumption of unhealthy, nutrient-deficient foods. These problems probably contribute to America’s 31st place rank in average global life expectancy, just before Cuba. Both of these problems could be addressed with a more cardiovascular alternative to internal combustion.
I remember thinking as a young, pre-environmentalist man that covered, all-weather bicycles would be a good idea. These were commercially produced by the designers of the ELF and there are a few videos of people building sports car bodies around recumbent bicycle frames. When I picture a post-fossil-fuel-society’s vehicles I imagine a caravan-type body led by recumbent bicycles for hauling, and human-powered airplanes and airships for crossing bodies of water. These vehicles would encourage cardiovascular health and strength, and they would reduce people’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Transportation could become clean if consumer habits changed, electricity production could do the same. The first bicycle-powered appliance I ever saw was on an urban permaculture farm named Jaguar de Madero in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. It was a stationary bike mechanically attached to a blender. I have also seen videos from India of mobile, bicycle-powered washing machines and dryers. Stationary bikes can power generators, meaning that they can power anything given enough input of human energy.
‘Enough’ energy is not achievable right now for the majority of households with a modern bike generator. They cannot create enough energy in 24 hours to feed the average needs of a modern household in India, Europe, or America. The Hans Free ElectricTM bike was created to provide 24 hours of energy for small, rural, Indian households with one hour of spinning. One hour of spinning, according to this FAQ page will produce between 50-200W of electricity. The average American household uses vastly more energy than that in a day at around 30 kWh. The reduced electricity consumption of European nations is still not close to covered by the suped-up stationary bike. The average German household in 2010 used roughly 10 kWh a day, which would require roughly 100 hours of cycling. Even the average Indian household, which uses around 2.5 kWh a day would require an hour more than a day of cycling to produce 24 hours worth of electricity (Data Sources: 1, 2).
Where we are today is not the point of this article. It is where we could be. There is a section of sidewalk in my city, Washington D.C., which uses pedestrian energy to power a few lights. The company Energy Floors in Rotterdam has used the energy produced on dance floors to harness billions of joules of energy through projects around the world, including their premier venue, Club Watt Rotterdam which was built in 2008. The Black Mirror episode ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ created a world in which the majority of people’s labor goes toward creating energy by pedaling. It was meant as a dystopia, but perhaps the future is in human-generated power and perhaps it can be made worthwhile with technological advances.
Energy efficiency in the ‘developed’ world will be necessary in the struggle to save society from environmental destruction. Access to affordable, clean energy will be necessary in the struggle to improve the standards of living for people across the world who do not currently have that access. Perhaps creating that energy through exercise could make a happier, better-adjusted human race while saving us from the ravages of excessive energy use.