December 15, 2006

Why human power is important to you!


I'm on a roll now - somebody stop me.

Styrofoaming Within's deck is very tedious work - like assembling a giant three dimensional puzzle, and I've found that I need to take short breaks or I start to get sloppy. Unfortunately for you, the breaks are resulting in these daily treatises showing up in your inbox. This is good though, as it really gives me a chance to solidify my 'greater good' message that is the basis for the human powered trans Atlantic expedition.

Yesterday, I talked about why Human Power was important to me - today, my topic is why Human power should be important to EVERYONE.

Our fragile environment

United States burns 20.4 million barrels of oil per day. We are damaging our environment beyond repair by burning copious amounts of hydrocarbons into our atmosphere. According to Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth", global warming is melting the ice shelf and global sea levels could rise by over 20 feet. Looking at the global temperature data and it's correlation to greenhouse gas emissions, I believe there is indisputable evidence that burning hydrocarbons is responsible for most of the global warming that is wreaking havoc on our weather systems.

Aside from the frightening global warming issue, I am also deeply concerned about our attitude with regard to consumption. Up until just last year, the US was the worlds largest consumer of natural resources. According to David Suzuki's "Sacred Balance" (I absolutely LOVED this book - everyone should read it), since 1940, Americans alone have used up as large a share of the Earth's mineral resources as all previous generations put together.

The real scary thing is, as of last year, consumption in China eclipsed that of the United States in all the worlds resources but oil, and China's 1.3 billion person economy is growing at a frightening 8% annually

Why is this concerning? There are around 6 billion people living on this rock today. Estimating future population growth at only 1% per year, the numbers are staggering. By 2015, experts estimate there will be 7 billion people on the planet. By 2050, there may be as many as 10 billion people living on Earth. Can mother Earth support this extended family? When will we reach the limit of our resources?

We live in a culture where incentives exist to encourage doing more with more - not doing more with less. Doing more with less is called "efficiency", doing more with more is called "Gluttony". Bigger, faster, more powerful vehicles that consume more fuel at faster rates, larger meals wrapped in complex, land-fill bound packaging, disposable products filling store shelves - you get the picture. Take the new wave of hybrid cars for example. Hybrid technology that was intended to produce spectacular fuel economy, was flipped around by car makers to instead, produce more horsepower for their new hybrid SUV's! Less green, more mean.

Human Powered vehicles are all about trying to do more with less. How to go faster or farther with less energy. Technologies Incorporated into human powered vehicles like aerodynamics, wheel rolling resistance, mechanical efficiencies and size and weight optimization are directly applicable to the cars and boats and other vehicles that we rely upon in these modern times. Most importantly though, Interest in human power represents an essential shift in basic philosophy from one of 'feasting on earths resources' to a 'do more with less' ideal.

Health

It is true that the world needs to pay more attention to human power as a step in saving the environment, but there is a far more important, pressing and urgent concern at hand here in North America and spreading quickly throughout the rest of the world. We are killing ourselves and human power is our only savior.

3 million years of evolution has produced an animal whose natural environment probably consisted of walking the distance of a full marathon each and every single day*. Now take that animal (also known as a "human being"), and stick him in a small cage, rob him of natural sunlight, make him sit in a chair all day and feed him a steady supply of chemicals and refined foods.

Is it any wonder that 60% of North Americans are over weight? Described by the World Health Organization as an "escalating epidemic", obesity is "one of the greatest neglected public health problems of our time with an impact on health which may well prove to be as great as smoking." Being overweight leads to many serious medical problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many other health related issues.

An unnatural sedentary lifestyle causes chemical imbalances in our bodies which can lead to a host of psychological problems. Population studies have shown an inverse relationship between physical activity and depression, and there is evidence that active people who become inactive are more at risk of depression that those who remain active. According to a study from Duke University, aerobic exercise was MORE effective than antidepressant drugs in treating depressive symptoms in three study groups.

The cause of the obesity epidemic and skyrocketing rates of depression is obvious in my opinion. We need to become reacquainted with our "natural environment". Break out of our cages, get outside and get ACTIVE! Ride your bike, run, walk, swim, climb, row - whatever it takes.

Human power is the power to live. Use it or lose it.

* this refers to a Columbia University study published in early 2005 that suggested "you would have to walk 5.7 hours a day over fields and hills to approximate the energy expenditure of early humans". I have looked for the actual study, but all I could find was many references to it on the Internet.


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