Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Velocity of Consumption

Engineering Estimates

There is one particular skill that separates the engineer from all other technologists. which is the ability to make quick and easy feasibility estimates. A good engineer has the ability to do basic research and quickly produce an order of magnitude calculation. This is important because it can sometime lead to quick insights.

Here’s an example of quick estimation.

How long did it take the earth to amass the amount of energy that humans consume in one second?

I read in books on the subject that the fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and oil consume daily were formed from vegetation and dinosaurs deposited during the Carboniferous through the Permian eras. Scholars (intelligent design dogmatists aside) say this extended roughly 365 to 225 million years ago. It took, therefore, about 170 million years of animals and plants living, dying, and decomposing into carbon to give us the reserves of fuel we now have.

Large scale usage of oil gas and coal began more or less with the advent of the automobile in around 1900, and scientists figure that the fuel will be gone sometime around 2070. That means what took 170 million years to make, will be exhausted in 170 years.

170 million years to produce/170 years to cosume = 1 million production/consumption ratio

Each year we consume a million years worth of living dinosaurs and plants. Each year has very roughly 10,000 hours in it, and each hour has 3600 seconds.

1000000 production consumption ratio /1000 hours per year/ 3600 seconds per hour = 2.7 years production/second

So each second, humanity consumes the energy that took the earth 2.7 years to make.


Cure of Ars said...

You can hold intelligent design and still believe that the earth is hundreds of millions of years old. I think the term you want is creationist. Not to so say that intelligent design is science, because it’s not. It’s a philosophy. Intelligent design is a useful worldview even for scientists.

Open trials said...

Useful how?

I can't think of anything other than "Don't think like this."

Jeff Marchant said...

Hmmm. I'm not an engineer, but wouldn't "convert" be a better word than "consume?" I didn't "consume" plant and animal matter. I converted fuel into things I needed, like transportation, enhanced living conditions and human interaction. I used gasoline, which was converted from oil, converted from plant and animal matter, converted from sunlight.

I converted fuel into things that I needed. Things which enhanced my life, and I believe helped evolve the species memetically if not genetically.

People who think that we will one day run out of fuel and stand around scratching our heads with stranded cars everywhere have their heads in the sand. The first "oil crisis" caused the proliferation of fuel injection and increased fuel efficiency. This current crisis (if it is a real crisis) is causing people to shun their larger cars and buy more efficient models.

As the supply goes down, the price will go up, and while it will be painful to some in the short run, that rising cost of fuel will just drive more and more innovation. Actually, it is a good thing that we are finally running out. I want an electric car, or a fuel cell, or dilithium crystals or whatever, and I want it now. It won't happen until the demand is high. It won't be feasible until the end of cheap oil. Not the end of ALL oil. Just cheap oil.

I'm just a band director. What do I know?


Cure of Ars said...

“Useful how?”

I was reading in News Week the other day that scientist have found a vitamin D receptor in some cells. They do not know the function of the vitamin D receptor. Now if you believe that there is no intrinsic design to the world then it could be just a fluke that there is a vitamin D receptor. If arisen by unintelligent chance then why looks for purpose for something that has no intrinsic purpose?

If you have as a premise that there is intrinsic design to the world, on the other hand, then the vitamin D receptor is there for a reason and we need to find out what that reason is. This also brings up more useful questions to research, like what design is optimal for its purpose. These are just some examples of how allowing intelligent design world view into science enriches scientific pursuits. I can give more examples if you like.

Anonymous said...

...each second...took the earth 2.7 years to make.

Bad engineer! No donut!

1 year ~ 3 x 10^7 seconds
1 million seconds (to produce 1 second of consumptin) ~ 10^6/3 x 10^7 ~1/30 year, or a little more than 12 days.

Bill Gurstelle said...

Okay, I do admit my math may have been a little off, but not that much.

If we earthlings use up 1 million years worth of energy production every year, its the same as saying we use up 1 million years worth of production every 30 million seconds (because there's abour 30 million seconds in a year.

Therefore we use up a year's worth of production every 30 seconds.

Give me my donut.