For most people, perhaps excluding mathematicians, having a realistic sense of scale is hard to do.  Numbers with the thousand, million, billion and trillion tacked on makes it much easier to communicate without scrutinizing the commas and counting up the zeros.  Its handy, but it leaves out the sense of – well, scale.

Whether the topic is money, oil, one of the alternatives or energy we writers tend to overlook the importance of the random jolt of commas and zeros to clear things up for scale.  This writer is a guilty and pretty much jolt free author, but honestly one does feel that skipping the suffixes to shorten things up can mislead.

A very bright young man uses a video to illustrate scale.  The comparison is between 100 million and 3.5 trillion – in dollars for showing the silliness of a certain politician’s comments.  What needs to be not lost is that scale.  Its best to just have a look using this link the video only runes 1:38. Keep in mind, the comparison is between hundred of millions and single trillions.  Then we’ll have a brief discussion.

Hundreds of Milions Within a Trillion. Click image for the largest view.

One is just that, a single.  A thousand of those is like ten one hundreds or one hundred tens.  A thousand one dollar bills feels pretty substantial.  Ten one hundreds isn’t such a pile, but we use them often enough to get that one thousand multiple concept.

Now suppose you had a thousand plies of one thousand ones.  That would carpet a small house about 6 inches deep.  That’s a million.  A thousand houses carpeted that way gets you to a billion.

Now substitute oil, which the world cooks off over 3,570,000,000 gallons a day.  Every day.  When the news is a new plant producing, say 42,000 gallons, the world would need 85,000 of those plants to equal oils output.

Scale – its something quite fathomable, it just requires some thought.

Here the shortcut in case it was overlooked in high school and because of globalization, monetary inflation and we’ll give it a small boost.

Ten hundreds make a thousand, a hundred thousands makes hundred thousands then a thousands thousands make a million, a thousand millions makes a billion.  A thousand billions makes a trillion. A trillion is a million millions or a thousand thousand thousand thousands.

Math based on ten expresses things in a difficult to comprehend way.  It makes it possible for a politician’s ideas to sound really big when the idea is at scale incredibly small.  The concept so obscured that most everyone misses it. The geometric expansion using ten Is quite a grow curve.  That’s  scale – about a thousand times more than one regularly thinks.


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