It would be a fair assessment to say that only a small percentage of people are really aware of how much energy they are really using. If you look at it closely, there are obvious energy costs, and then there are hidden energy costs.
An example of obvious energy cost is the amount of gasoline it takes to drive your Ford Explorer four miles to the supermarket to buy a gallon of milk. There's a definite amount of calories in the gasoline burned for such an adventure (if you want to call it an adventure). That amount is about 12,400 calories, provided your Explorer get 20 miles per gallon (a generous amount). That's an equivalent amount of energy of a person walking 124 miles (the average person burns about 100 calories by walking a mile). This is an astounding realization, and I was amazed when I started making comparisons.
A good example of hidden energy costs would have been the purchase of an avocado at the supermarket in the winter months in Seattle, Washington. The numbers are a little more fuzzy here, since we did not specify where the product was grown. But chances are it's close to a thousand calories.
(All together the food-processing industry in the United States uses about ten calories of fossil-fuel energy for every calorie of food energy it produces. (Pacific Views, March 29, 2006))
Another good example of hidden energy costs might be the actual vehicle you used to transport the food item to your house. It takes about 27 barrels of oil energy equivalent to build a car, or 1,142 gallons. At 31,000 calories per gallon, that's a lot of energy. The math is pretty scary here. That amount of energy is equal to the energy you would burn by walking 354,000 miles.
One good way to start to get a better perspective on how much energy is used by driving is to start bicycling. Once you've been riding your bike to work for awhile, or to the grocery store, you start to become aware of the incredible amount of energy that is just wasted by cars. You see people do all manner of wasteful things with energy. The most common is floating it as soon as the traffic signal turns green only to slam on the brakes shortly before reaching the next red light. There is probably some way to calculate how many miles of walking that little move would cost you, but maybe we have better things to do, get the heck out of their way. This is just another sign that energy is still so cheap in this country that people feel they can afford to waste it, even if we are in a recession.
Another area to observe energy use is in the household. Imagine for a moment, being on one of those elliptical training machines at the gym. Some of these machines actually have a wattage meter on them, so you can see how many watts of energy …