Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, August 01, 2005

Oil Addiction: The World in Peril - 4

by Pierre Chomat (Universal Publishers, 2004)

translated from the French by Pamela Gilbert-Snyder

Part I. Man's Egosystems

Chapter 4. Raising the Giolettis to the Clouds

The Giolettis' washing machine had been showing signs of wear. To restore it to good working order, they called a repairman specializing in electronic circuits who had been highly recommended by friends. The electrician arrived, fixed the few circuits he thought were defective and, his mission accomplished, left the Giolettis with the assurance that their appliance would cause them no further problems. That evening, the Giolettis threw in some dirty clothes and pressed the magic button on their little machine. To their satisfaction, it began to whir, leaving them to their usual pursuits while the magic of electricity did their laundry for them.

But things did not go exactly according to plan. Not long after starting, the washer interrupted its normal cycle and the entire house began to be lifted off its foundations! The Gioletti children noticed that their home was behaving strangely and, looking out their bedroom window, were delighted to see a crowd of neighbors who, with eyes open wide, had gathered to witness a spectacle straight out of Harry Potter: a house with all its lights on and all of its occupants inside, dangling from the end of a crane boom, rising up toward the clouds! The two children, amused to no end by this stunt, decided not to tell their parents. Their father, Giovanni, was glued to the television as he watched a soccer match; their mother, Anna, was relaxing in a bubble bath. After almost an hour, the Gioletti home finally stopped rising and began swinging in the air, its rooftop on a level with the tallest trees on the street. The parents remained oblivious to what was happening. It was not until a neighbor called to thank them for such a fabulous show that they discovered their unenviable situation.

Everyone on two legs had come to witness this strange event. Proud firemen dressed in red rescued the Gioletti family from their predicament, which was uncomfortable in more ways than one. In the photo that appeared in the papers the following day, the fireman carrying Anna looked particularly pleased. The accompanying article explained that the Giolettis' house had been hooked up to a crane being used in the construction of a nearby home. The ingenious repairman had skillfully wired the electrical circuits of the washing machine to the crane to lift the whole house into the air. He had adjusted the crane to run at slow speed so that it would consume the same amount of electricity as for a normal load. What a master of his profession! No wonder he came so highly recommended!

Yes, it takes the same amount of energy to lift a house 23 feet into the air as it does to wash a load of laundry. Five hundred ergamines leave their coats at the door of the nearby power plant and never come back to claim them {a}. Five hundred man-days of work are consumed in less than an hour.

Every time Anna and Giovanni use their washing machine, five hundred ergamines are mobilized immediately at the power plant to send the best of their energy all the way to the Gioletri home - just to clean a few shirts, socks and other fripperies. Once one knows how many ergamines are involved in its operation, this appliance takes on a new luster. It truly is an amazing device - more like an entire sweatshop! For each of Capri's households, owning a washer means having five hundred invisible servants, ready to rise to the occasion at any hour of the day or night. Their absolute discretion saves their masters from having to clean their five hundred shirts, which would make the washing never ending. Anyone can see there is something truly magical about this little machine.

The washing machine's efficiency is positively mind-boggling. Yet it is not the biggest consumer of ergamines that the Giolettis own. They have an entire range of devices all designed to help them maintain one of the most dynamic lifestyles in history. Little drops of fossil fuel are sacrificed in almost everything they do, some to ensure their comfort, others to grace their tables with food, still others for their entertainment, transportation, and decor. In all, the Giolettis consume an average of one hundred thousand ergamines a day to lead their charmed life on the Isle of Capri. If all of these ergamines were devoted solely to lifting the house off the ground, they could raise it 1,800 feet into the sky every day. In just three days, it would soar as high as the peak of Mont Blanc in the Alps, and the Giolettis' heads would be truly in the clouds. Of course, this is only a metaphor!

Ergamines are so discreet that the Giolettis do not feel the effects of "altitude" in their pampered daily life. They neither see nor hear the thousands of little Cinderellas sacrificing themselves daily to raise them to new heights.

The Giolettis are competing for the honor of draining the last ergamine from the world's energy reserves - and they are not the only ones, in Italy or elsewhere. In the West, thanks to the abundance of our energy slaves, nearly all of us live thousands of times beyond our physical means. Not every Italian is as big an energy glutton as the Giolettis, but their combined oil-addicted appetites translate nevertheless into the virtual lifting of each city in the country - with all of its houses, schools, theaters, hospitals, churches and town halls - one hundred kilometers toward the sun each year. The better to thank it, perhaps, for having enabled the Earth to patiently store these generous drops of oil over thousands of centuries, just so that the intrepid earthlings of today could consume them all as quickly as possible.

Of course, Italians do not really go on vertical voyages. Their cities do not rise daily into the clouds from the great Italian boot. That would be impossible. But it would be just as impossible for Italians to abandon their petroleum-based lifestyle. How would they manage without tires, without plastic, without nylon stockings? The idea of their cities levitating toward the sun doesn't make any sense - but neither does their total lack of awareness of the number of energy slaves it takes to support their life style.

Like most of us in the West, Anna and Giovanni are among the greatly "assisted" creatures of the modern world. This little "lift-off adventure will not change their way of life. We can only hope that one day soon all of us who are served so docilely and invisibly by ergamines will become conscious of the level of comfort we enjoy and its real price.

The story of ergamines is not being played out in some virtual game. By the time the sun rises tomorrow, our world will have guzzled the equivalent of 160 million barrels of ergamines {b}. This is real; it is no mere metaphor. Placed side to side, these barrels would circle the globe three times. That is the daily dose required to feed our planet's insatiable energy consumers. And they will not do without. They would not know how. So, to keep them fed, oil companies must constantly search for the energy elixir and obtain it somehow from the nations that produce it, nations that themselves benefit only rarely from it.

By 1750, Homo sapiens had put 660 million people on the globe {c}, two thirds of them in Asia. These were essentially rural populations. We can roughly estimate the energy potential that was available for physical labor at that time as being more or less equivalent to the energy of two billion people, if we include their draft animals. Today, the energy of the six billion people {d} inhabiting the Earth is negligible compared to the energy really spent by the 22,000 billion energy slaves they are employing around the clock.

Thus, in 250 years, the energy mustered for human benefit has increased ten thousand-fold. We are no longer exploiting our planet - we are ravaging it! Our species' development has such a high energy requirement that we have to wonder whether we have not become, in fact, suicidal.

The stakes for humanity are enormous.


{a} In a single cycle, a typical washing machine consumes approximately 10:06 two kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. This energy would be sufficient to raise the Giolettis' 100-ton house 23 feet into the air using an electric crane. A fossil fuel electric power plant would need to burn 500 ergamines in order to provide the Gioletti's with this amount of energy, assuming that the plant has an efficiency of 33%, which is normal for this type of plant.

{b} Electronic document "Geohive Energy" accessed at:
In 1999, the daily world consumption of fossil energy was about 157 million barrels of oil equivalent (Mboe): 70 Mboe for oil, 46 Mboe for coal and 41 Mboe for gas. In addition, the world consumed 13 Mboe of nuclear energy, 4.5 Mboe of hydraulic energy and 1 Mboe of other renewable energies.

{c} In 1750, the world contained an estimated 660 million people: 437 million in Asia, 114 million in Europe, 100 million in Africa, 10 million in North America, 2 million in Oceania and 1 million in South America.

{d} In 2000, the world contained more than six billion people: 3670 million in Asia, 800 million in Africa, 730 million in Europe, 520 million in South America, 310 million in North America, and 30 million in Oceania.

Bill Totten


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