How much energy does it really take to make a piece of toast?

making toast
Screen capture

When we push the lever down on our toaster or turn the ignition of our car, we really have no idea of the power of what Bucky Fuller called "Energy slaves", when he calculated in 1944 that every American uses the energy equivalent of 39 people to do their bidding. According to author Andrew Nikiforuk, in his book "The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude," we probably use ten times as much today. (See my review of the book in Corporate Knights here) It is a difficult concept to visualize, until you see it in action with German champion track cyclist Robert Förstemann on a bike, trying to make toast. The toaster runs at 700 watts, and Förstemann, whose thighs have a circumference of 29 inches and has probably some of the most powerful legs in the world, seems to almost kill himself doing it.

In the end we find that it takes 1 Robert to toast a slice of bread, 180 Roberts to power a car and 43,000 Roberts to power an airplane. It's a demonstration of how valuable our energy resources really are, and I think how extravagant our dependence on the automobile is, comparable to being towed by 180 Roberts.

We usually convert our metric dimensions to American, but I think I am going to start converting our energy measurements to Roberts.

© The Toaster Project/ Daniel Alexander

Toast seems to be a microcosm of life, the universe and everything as I am reminded of Thomas Thwaites, who tried to make a toaster from scratch, to learn about the complexity of what really goes into even the simplest of our tools. More in The Toaster Project, Or A Heroic Attempt To Build A Simple Electric Appliance From Scratch (Book Review) Thwaites concluded his epic noting:

My attempt to make a toaster has shown me just how reliant we all are on everyone else in the world. Though there is a romance in that idea of self-sufficiency and living off the land, there's also absurdity. There is no turning back the clock to simpler times.

Förstemann's toasty experience is equally relevatory. We are totally reliant on our energy slaves; one has to be an olympic champion to generate the energypower [see comments] to make a slice of toast. We should be more careful with it.

Tags: Biking | Energy | video


treehugger slideshows