average daily allowance for two reasons: 1) It sounds Why would I want to bring this up in MAKE maga-fair. 2) It sounds familiar; we should consume a zine? Partly because the solutions we seek are, in
roughly 2,000-calorie diet to be healthy. essence, engineering problems, and we need you
There are 60× 60× 24 = 86,400 seconds in a day. to go out and start solving those problems. But also
That means on the day you drink this bottle of because when I think about the future, it doesn’t
energy drink, you are using about 90W. That’s right, look so good unless we change the way we generate
drinking that single bottle and disposing of it is like and consume power. This will require everyone to
keeping an old incandescent light bulb on all day. change the way they do pretty much everything —
If you drink a bottle every day, it’s like you have your and that’s the good option. The bad scenario is that
own personal light bulb following you around — we don’t change much, we kill all the supporting
always. Illuminating, eh? And I didn’t even count the ecosystems, and descend into a future that makes
energy required to make the drink inside! Tank Girl look like a fairyland paradise.
So why didn’t I use carbon footprint as a measure? And finally, because it seems to me that buried in
Well, CO2 is sort of the enemy here, but it’s the the maker ethos is a fundamental part of the solu-secondary effect caused by our lifestyles. If you tion. Makers reuse things. Makers repurpose things.
calculate in terms of CO2, it’s tempting to believe Makers repair things. I will bet that a handmade table
you can “offset” that carbon by planting a tree. That built to last 200 years has an energy label not much
might be true in the far future when carbon pro- different from an IKEA table built to last 7 years —
grams are well-managed and stable, but there’s except for the fact that you can amortize that energy
no guarantee that the tree you plant today will last over a time period almost 30 times as long. That
forever and not simply return that CO2 to the atmo- means it effectively uses 1/30th of the energy.
sphere when it dies. I prefer to measure our impact High-quality things that are appreciated, repaired,
in SI units (International System of Units), because and handmade become an important part of your
there can be nothing ambiguous about the results. life. My hope for a more beautiful future is that we
Every act of consumption we engage in has will have fewer things pass through our lives, of
consequences — consequences that are not very higher quality, and love them more.
visible to us. We aren’t presented with the ramifica- So go energize yourself by making an heirloom-tions when we purchase the product, we don’t see quality, reusable water jug.
the direct repercussions of the single act, and our
only way of seeing the end result is by abstract
association with headlines like “Polar Bears Dying
for Lack of Ice,” or “Dolphins Choking on Plastic in
the Pacific.” I suspect we’d act a little better if we
knew the consequences of our actions at the point
of purchase. Here’s an attempt to kick us off in that
direction. Perhaps one day all products will sport
both labels: nutrition facts and consumption facts.
If you’re interested in learning more, I recently
gave an extended talk on this subject at O’Reilly’s
ETech conference, and the slides and accompanying
text are available at wattzon.com.
Saul Griffith is a co-author of Howtoons and a recent recipient
of a MacArthur Fellowship.
Work is the
a force over
I perform work
on an apple when
I lift it from the ground to a table.
Energy is the ability to do work.
It’s a measure of how much work you
can do, whether it be moving apples,
or heating your house.
Power is the rate at which you
consume energy or do work. Lifting
the apple quickly onto the table
requires more power than doing
it slowly, but the same amount of
work is performed.
I chose watts as a convenient unit
to do all my calculations in. Wattage
is a measure of power, which makes
it independent of time. People often
ask “Watts per what?” The correct
answer would be “Watts per always.”
It’s the average. If you are burning
a 100W light bulb, it’s using 100
watts (joules per second) whenever
it’s turned on.
So I can conveniently use watts
to add together the things I do
that happen on markedly different
time scales: the yearly things, the
monthly things, and the daily things.
Thinking of your life in light bulbs
might help you build an intuition for
your power consumption.
Remember: “Watts per al ways.”
26 Make: Volume 14