onsdag 27 november 2019

Homo Colossus course assignment

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The energy footprint of a middle-class Englishman’s lifestyle (MacKay 2009).


We are about half-way through my main annual teaching commitment, the course "Sustainability and Media Technology" (DM2573) and this year we had to modify one of the weekly writing assignments for a couple of different reasons. While the content of this particular assignment had previously catered to my personal interests (having to do with the concept of Homo Colossus), I just about all-out highjacked the assignment this year so that the students basically worked for our not-yet-started science + art + communication project "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus". From the project application summary:

"The idea of us being as big as our energy footprint is called Homo Colossus. The project aims to convey it through art, augmented reality, and a museum exhibit and by interactively visualizing the energy size of Swedes from all walks of life; from the poor single mother who struggles to make ends meet to the executive who flies several times per week. What do we look like through the lens of our energy footprints?" 

We in particular stated in the application that:

”These [Augmented Reality] portraits will be exchanged on a daily basis, randomly chosen from a larger pool of “personas”, e.g. fictitious persons that represent Swedes of different ages, genders, incomes, habits and lifestyle choices. Instead of representing “the average Swede”, these personas will illustrate the energy footprint of a range of lifestyles that exist in Sweden today; from the retired housekeeper to the executive who lives in Visby and commutes to Stockholm by plane on a daily basis.” 

While we were careful not to specify an exact number of personas in the research grant application, we have internally set the (very high) internal goal of working with 100 different portraits of different Swedish lifestyles. My "highjacking" of the course assignment consisted of me asking all my students to:
- 1) read our research grant application (it's only 3 pages long) and
- 2) create a ”persona” (sketch out a portrait of that persona and his/her lifestyle) and calculate the energy footprint (size) of that person's lifestyle. This value should then be translated into body weight (had that person been an animal that used an equal amount of energy to fuel its Huge body).

Below I paste selected parts of the instructions to the students and further below I also publish my feedback to the students after the task was completed. While the personas (as well as the calculations) need to be checked, the students submitted no less than 90 assignments and this is a big help and a big boost to the research project - it would have strained our fantasy to start with a blank paper and the task to invent 100 different lifestyles!

TEXT: Sketch out a portrait of an unusual lifestyle
- Choose an unconventional lifestyle. ”Unconventional” means that you can not choose an ordinary household, e.g. a family (with or without children) or a student living alone or with a partner. Think of a specific person who ”inhabits that lifestyle”, e.g. think of an unconventional friend, family member, acquaintance or possibly someone from a reportage you have read, a documentary you have seen or even a realistic but fictive person from a book or a tv series (no science fiction or fantasy!). 
- CLARIFICATION: High-energy (affluent) and low-energy (poor) lifestyles could be of particular interest in this exercise as are lifestyles that for some reason score high or low on specific ”energy-related activities/practices” (for example a person who for some reasons spends a significant part of her salary on petrol for her car or on flying).
- Write about one page of text (300-500 words – but more is OK if needed) about that person and his/her life, life history, lifestyle, motivation, hobbies, relationships, living arrangements, ”social practices” etc. Try to develop a rich portrait – the goal is to give someone who reads your text an understanding of that person and his/her life(style).

ESTIMATES: Estimate the energy footprint of your person’s/persona’s lifestyle. 
This part, ”estimates”, might look a bit daunting but should rather be seen as a checklist that you methodically work though.
- In his 2009 book ”Sustainable energy – without the hot air”, David MacKay calculates the energy footprint of the average middle-class Englishman’s lifestyle (”a typical moderately-affluent person”). Use the information below as a template/checklist and adapt it to fit your persona’s lifestyle. That means: you should vary the numbers when appropriate – but you should also comment and justify each choice and each important decison you make about your estimates.
- You don’t need to read anything from MacKay’s book to understand these calculations – but the whole book is available online for free at https://www.withouthotair.com).
- MacKay’s calculations (see the figure) indicate that the average middle-class Englisman uses 195 kWh of energy per person and per day. Average UK and European ”Primary energy consumption” (oil, coal, gas, wind, hydro, nuclear etc.) is instead only 125 kWh per person per day, but that figure excludes ”embedded energy”, e.g. energy that was used ”elsewhere” (for example in China) to manufacture stuff that is consumed in the UK, as well as the solar energy that was acquired ”for free” through photosynthesis and that is ”embedded” in the food we eat. 
- Please check and modify the following categories for your ”persona” (you don’t need to bother with the smaller categories but you can modify also those numbers if you want to):
1. Car use  (40 kWh/day)
2. Jet flights  (30 kWh/day)
3. Heating, cooling (of an apartment, house)  (37 kWh/day)
4. Food (farming, fertilizer)  (15 kWh/day)
5. Stuff & transporting stuff  (60 kWh/day)
6. Smaller categories (no need to customize):
public services, gadgets, light (12 kWh/day)

This is followed by more detailed instructions about how to calculate the energy footprint of each of the categories, for example:

2 Jet flights (chapter 5 in MacKay)
- MacKay: one maximum-range (14 200 km) roundtrip on a Boeing 747 where every single seat is occupied (416 passengers) = 12 000 kWh = 33 kWh/day. 
- MacKay: A roundtrip between London – Los Angeles is shorter (9 000 km).
- MacKay: Most planes are not full – let’s say planes are on average 80% full.
- MacKay: One single roundtrip London – Los Angeles on an 80% full plane comes to 29 kWh/day ≈ 30 kWh/person per day
- Comment: It is easy to fly significantly more than one intercontinental trip per year
- Comment: use http://flightemissionmap.org to check the distance between different cities in the world
- Comment: go with MacKay’s figures after estimating and adjusting for the total distance flown by your persona in a year.

This exercise ends with translating energy footprint into weight:

2c) CALCULATION: Calculate the weight of your person/persona’s energy footprint. 
- Go through the checklist [above] where you have adapted each category to your persona. NOTE: it’s important that you justify each choice – but you don’t have to write more than one or a few sentences per category!
[...]
- Ask for help or at least compare your answer with a classmate to make sure your answer is not fundamentally wrong when you answer the question “How much does your persona weigh?”

After all students had submitted their assignments and I had had time to look at them, I wrote a message with some feedback to the students:

Hello.

I haven't read all the submitted Homo Colossus personas, estimates and calculations yet, but I have scanned and leafed through them and thus for example gotten to know 10 persons who have low (or very low) energy footprints (i.e. who weighs less than 10000 kgs) :

- My 91 year old grandmother
- Margaret Fairchild who has lived in a van for 15 years
- Sven (72) who lives in a hut in the woods
- Yara (21), a Syrian refugee who lives in Sweden
- Lea (24), and environmental activist
- Ms Person (28) who lives in collective/farm
- Sara Greenberg (25), a political science student
- Sarah Blom (36) who lives in a tinyhouse
- Emma who lives in protected residence for women
- Marita (82), a frugal pensioner

I have also gotten to know 10 persons with enormous (or humongous) energy footprints (i.e. who weighs > 150 000 kg):

- John Olofsson (39) - ex-professional snowboarder
- X (55), lawyer working in Moscow
- Aaron (25), a professional sportsman (NFL player)
- Alexander, CEO of Sustainable Feature
- Karla (20s), an Instagram influencer from Copenhagen
- My brother Michael (28) who lives in Munich
- Emma Marklund (27) who competes in racing
- Anna,  musician/bass player
- Dwayne ("The Rock") Johnson (47), actor
- Axl Rose, Rock star (Guns N' Roses)

Anna travels a lot as a musician and weighs 1 000 000 kilos and the last two on the list weigh about twice as much! I even got the tour dates for November 2019 for Guns N' Roses...

Thank you all for your assignments, they were really interesting and I will look closer at them after the course ends next week!

/Daniel
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