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Energy Literacy, Part III: Test Your Knowledge

Mining-town_feA mining town in Australia. Photo: Microstock Man/Shutterstock

In Part I of this series, Adventure Ethics interviewed Tom Butler, co-author of Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, a new coffee table book by the Post Carbon Institute and the Foundation for Deep Ecology that shows and tells us, in graphic detail, the backstories that make up our current energy economy.

Part II provided an excerpt from the book. In it, Post Carbon Institute fellow Richard Heinberg argues that the cleanest energy is that which we don't generate in the first place. "In short," he writes, "our task in the 21st century is to scale back the human enterprise until it can be supported with levels of power that can be sustainably supplied, and until it no longer overwhelms natural ecosystems."

In Part III, it's time to test your own energy literacy with a short quiz. Below are five terms that are used frequently in Energy. Can you define them? Answers after the jump.

1: Embodied Energy

2: Energy Slaves

3: Energy Density

4: Energy Curtailment

5: Net Energy

Some of these concepts might have slightly different definitions, based on the source, but here are the answers, according to Tom Butler.

1: Embodied energy is the total energy consumed in the resource extraction, manufacture, transport, marketing, use, deconstruct, or dispose of materials, consumer products, or services. The embodied energy of a snowboard, therefore, would include the mining, logging, and extraction of all raw materials, the energy used to manufacture it, advertise it, ship it, package it, maintain it, and eventually recycle or dispose of it.

2: Energy slaves is a term describing the amount of human energy equivalent to the non-human energy we use to power infrastructure, such as buildings, transportation, etc. On average, each American commands the services of roughly 150 "energy slaves" each year, meaning it would take 150 humans, working 24/7, to generate equivalent work as that provided by the energy we consume in a year.

3: For fuels, energy density is the useful energy per unit volume. Fossil fuels are extremely energy dense. For example, for the same heat output, one would need to burn twice as much wood as coal. Liquid fuels such as heating oil contain more than three times the energy value of wood.

4: Beyond “efficiency” (getting more work out of less energy), an energy curtailment agenda assumes that in a post peak-oil world, a rational society would develop an intentional, comprehensive program to simply use less energy. In practice, curtailment policies would employ the full array of conservation and efficiency strategies, focusing especially on eliminating frivolous and wasteful uses of energy. Can’t we get along fine without lighted billboards and motorized paper towel dispensers?

5: Net energy is the amount of useful energy available after accounting for the energy consumed in its extraction, processing, and distribution.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor

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