ENERGY SLAVE TOKEN [HUMAN LABOR TO FOSSIL FUEL CONVERSION UNITS]
In 1940, R. Buckminster Fuller introduced the term “energy slave” to describe the
energy required to power the modern lifestyle. The concept “energy slave” refers to
the technological or mechanical energy equivalent to the physical working capacity
of a human adult. The energy requirements for any lifestyle can be calculated as a
number of “energy slaves” equivalent to the number of human labourers which
otherwise would be needed to produce the same amount of energy. In 2013, it has been
estimated that the average European employs the equivalent of 400-500 “energy
slaves” 24 hours a day.
The Energy Slave Token consists of a series of weights made of bitumen, which are
the energy equivalents to specific quantities of physical human labour time (ie. 1 hour,
1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 1 life). This series of weights is designed to present the
orders of magnitude that separate the labor power generated by our human bodies
from the energy exploited mostly from fossil fuels which powers the technosphere.
These open source tokens are designed to be easily replicated, used and distributed
In 1940, Buckminster Fuller was the first to use the term "energy slave" in a map in Fortune.
[Ref_1] Richard Buckminster Fuller (Feb. 1940). World Energy. Fortune. [Ref_2] Jean-Marc Jancovici (Aug. 2005). How Much of a Slave Master Am I? Manicore.
Voice over: “Technically, human labour can also be accounted for in kW and Joules, the amount of energy exerted into the system. Human labour also comes from ancient sunlight, energy stored in the materials they eat. Human labour radically stripped away from its social and cultural context is merely energy, which is why we use the same word for “work” in physics. A horse can exert 14 times more energy than a human per working day. A machine powered by combustion can exert several orders of magnitude more. Buckminster Fuller calls the fuel that powers machines, “energy slaves”: equivalents of human work. Our petroleum weights represent the volume of petroleum (equivalent in energy) to a duration of human labour time.
Most economics considers fossil fuels as a “natural resource” and therefore have no value on its own, rather, the value comes from the human processes involved in extracting, refining, distributing and using it. The relative inexpensiveness of fossil fuels is that which led to the abolition of slavery, not moral principle. Machines powered by cheap fuels were simply able to deliver more energy per unit of currency.”
Ongoing exhibition "Post-Growth" at 3bis F, Aix-en-Provence, 2020 [FR]
Ongoing exhibition "Post-Growth" at iMAL, Brussels, 2020 [BE]