Monday, December 5, 2011

Beyond Fuels 4: Human Power

In a world beyond fuels, we will need to figure out what we can use to keep what we want and need going. One method might be human-powered machines.

The Human-Powered Home by Tamara Dean gives a very useful overview of what can be accomplished by using muscles to power things. Solar power isn't always reliable and neither is wind, and hydropower assumes that you are near a river or stream that you can tap into, but when all else fails, there is always what my mother referred to as 'elbow grease'--or in the case of many of these appliances, 'knee and leg power'.

The first two chapters of this book give a history of using muscles to power things, and an overview of what you need to understand in order to build human-powered machines. These should be read by anyone who has ever thought about the amount of energy that can be raised by pedaling, stomping, or hand-cranking. The author gives clear and useful information about how all these things work--as well as what doesn't work and what hasn't worked.

The next three chapters concentrate on plans for actual devices (and stories about similar ones) to power things in the kitchen, the garden, and around the house. The final chapter focuses on recreational devices and, more importantly, devices for 'emergency preparedness'.

I became aware of this book when I found out one of my friends was using plans from it to build a bicycle-powered electrical generator. (I wanted to help but I didn't really know much about electricity. I spent nearly a week with my head in books about electricity and electronics--not really something I wanted to study!)

When you think about Peak Oil, etc, (see my posts on Peak Oil, 7/18/08, Peak Everything, 7/20/08, and Collapse, 7/5/10, for more on this concept and its reprecussions) you may start wondering whether we can salvage any of what we've learned in the last couple of hundred years and whether there will be a place for technology in the future. I think this book point the way to a technology that will always be available to us--using our arms and our legs.

Quote of the Day: "Replacing motors with muscles can even be considered a political act. Gandhi urged his fellow Indians to spin and weave their own cloth, endorsing local self-reliance as a means to defy the British textile industry which had crushed cottage industries and changed the nature of Indian society. He called this self-sufficiency 'swadeshi'. Through swadeshi he believed India could gain its independence. Each day he sat at his spinning wheel and practiced it himself. Perhaps we can claim hand-cranking our coffee mill each morning or pedal-powering our laptop in the evening as our own personal swadeshi." - Tamara Dean

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