torsdag 17 november 2016

Homo colussus' energy slaves (paper)

I have recently written about five papers I have submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2#3#4#5), but I in fact also submitted a sixth paper to the conference. This is the sixth and last paper submitted and this is also the one paper (abstract) I have written all by myself, even though it builds on the same project idea that recently generated an abstract that Jerry Määttä and me submitted to the academic track at the upcoming (August 2017) 75th World Science Fiction Convention.

The paper that Jerry and me wrote ("Estranging Energy: Teaching Abstract Concepts through Making Strange") is more theoretical and it discusses the "hows" and the "whys" of using images and metaphors to explain abstract concepts for teaching purposes. This paper instead cuts to the chase and presents and delves into the "hows" and the "whys" of the two metaphors in themselves, e.g. what is an "Energy Slaves" and how big is each "Homo Colossus"?

Here's the background: I have used the concept of "Energy Slaves" in my graduate course about ICT and Sustainability for several year. I know that a concept that include the S-word can be perceived as controversial (especially in an American context), but I find it less problematic in Sweden and it's a really useful way to explain how much energy we - as individuals living in an affluent society - use, as well as the blessings that (fossil) energy (sources) have brought humanity in terms of sheer power. It's possible to substitute "energy slaves" for "horsepower" at a rate of 10-to-1 if the concept is not to your liking.

This past spring I discovered William Catton's idea that each of us is a "Homo Colossus". I read about it in a book chapter of his from 2012 and also searched backwards to 30-year old articles of his where he first formulated and developed the concept. I immediately fell in love with it and later, after having turned it inside out, decided to also use it in our education. The two terms can be related to each other and exploring and figuring out their deep meaning as well as how the fit together is the name of the game of this paper.

Title: Homo colossus’ energy slaves 

Author: Daniel Pargman

Keywords: estrangement, defamiliarization, energy slaves, homo colossus

AbstractFossil fuels account for over 80% of mankind's primary energy supply. This is problematic for several reasons (climate change etc.) and we thus urgently need to phase them out. But how do we convince people in more affluent countries that much will have to change, perhaps including cherished aspects of their taken-for-granted lifestyles? How do we show that what we have come to perceive as “normal” in fact is anything but, that we use extravagant amounts of energy and that this eventually - and perhaps sooner rather than later - must come to an end?

We propose using concepts from literature and Science Fiction studies to help free people from the complacency that restricts our imagination as routines guide us through our everyday lives. Terms such as Shklovsky’s (1917) “ostranenie” (estrangement), Brecht’s “Verfremdung” (alienation) and “defamiliarization” (Bell, Blythe and Sengers 2005) can help us make that which is invisible visible.

We specifically propose the use of two strong concepts to help us visualize our extravagant use of energy, namely the concept of “energy slaves” (Nikiforuk 2014) and the idea that each of us is a “homo colossus” (Catton 1986, 1987). Each of us would be colossal if our extrasomatic use of energy - which is many times larger than the energy we acquire from the food we eat - instead was imagined fueling a creature that physically ingests and metabolises the same amounts of energy we use in our daily lives (heating our homes, driving our cars, flying on vacation trips etc.).

This paper illustrates how even the poorest of us nowadays have an oversized ecological footprint, but how the richest 1% or 10% on Earth are creatures of mind-boggling proportions. This paper is thus primarily a pedagogical contribution that frames mankind’s energy use in a historical and interspecies perspective.

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