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HistoryofEnergyUsebyHumans
EnergyisthedrivingforcebehindanybiologicalprocessonPlanetEarth.Without
electromagneticenergyfromtheSunconstantlybeatingdownuponus,therewouldbenolifeon
thisrockwecallourhome.Furthermore,energyhasalsobeenthecatalystofeverymajorchange
inhumansociety.Throughoutourhistory,ourspecieshasusedmanydifferentsourcesofenergy
fromtheveryfirstbonfirestotodayshydrogenfuelcells.Eachoneofthesepointsofprogress
hastransformedtheaveragepersonswayoflife.Inthisway,energyhaschangedthecourseof
humanhistoryeversinceweleftourcaves.Infact,onecouldconceivablyunderstandourhistory
solelybystudyingourenergyusagethroughoutthemillennia.InChapter3ofhisbook,
Energy,UniversityofManitobaprofessorVaclavSmildoesjustthis.
Inthebeginning,humanshadaverysmallenergyfootprint.Allofthetaskswe
performedwerefueledbyliteralmanpower.AccordingtoSmil,earlydietsconsistedofmostly
foragedfruitsandvegetables,whichrequiredlittleenergytoobtain.Whilewewerentexactly
doingthehardestoftasks,ourlimitationsintermsofenergyusageheldusbackfrombiggerand
betterthings.Eventually,oncewestartedutilizingtoolssuchasbows,spears,andevenfirethe
firsttimeweactivelytookadvantageofnonchemicalenergytohuntforlargegame,we
startedtoconsumeovertwiceasmanycaloriesastheearlyforagers(HistoricalPerspectives).
Thiswasthefirststephumanstooktowardtheenergyhogsweeventuallybecame.
Ournextstepafterhuntinglargegamewaslearningtofarm.Thiswasarguablythemost
importanteventinourhistory,inthatwenowhadmuchmorecontroloverourfoodsupply.In
ordertokeepourgrowingpopulationfed,however,weneededtoutilizemoreenergyinthe

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process.Thisiswhenwefirststartedusinganimalstohelpwithourmanuallabor.Largerbeasts
suchashorses,cows,andoxenwerenobeingemployedtoplowfieldsandcarryburdens.Also,
aroundthistime,westartedtofirstusewatertohelpmillthegrainthatwegrew.Thiswasa
significantstepinourenergyhistorybecausethiswasthefirsttimeweoutsourcedourlaborto
otherenergysuppliers.Also,tokeepupwithahigherdemandforfire,westartedburning
biofuelslikewoodanddung,andcontinuedthisformanycenturies(AShortHistory).
Humanscontinuedtrendsliketheseforawhile,untiloneofthemostimportant
inventionsofalltimecameabout:thesteamengine.OriginatingfromworkdonebyThomas
Newcomen,thesteamengineallowedpeopletoutilizemuchmorepowerthantheyeverpossibly
couldbefore.Thepopularityofthisnewtechnologyskyrocketedinthemid19thcentury,with
peopleburningfossilfuelsmostlycoalatthispointtofueltheseengines(EnergySources).
Infact,theinventionofthesteamenginewasthemainreasontheIndustrialRevolutionoccurred
in19thcenturyEurope.TheIndustrialRevolutioncausedwidespreadchangesintheeconomies
andsocietiesofdevelopingnations.Thiscanallbetracedbacktoenergyconsumption.
Eversincethesteamengine,societyhasbeenadvancingspeedilyandexponentially.Our
energyconsumptionhasbeenmultiplyingforaverylongtime,andlookstocontinueonthis
trendfortheforeseeablefuture.InthetimesincetheIndustrialRevolution,wehavemadeeven
moreadvancementsinthefieldofenergy.Forone,humanshaveharnessedthepotentialofthe
strongnuclearforceinatomsbysplittingnuclei.Whilethishasitsoriginsinweaponry,ithas
contributedlargeamountstotheenergyusageofnuclearnations.Also,renewablesourcesof
energysuchaswind,water,andtheSunhavebeenmakingacomeback.Thishasbeenduepartly
tothethreatofourfossilfuelsupplyrunningout,andpartlyduetotheconceptofaglobal

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warmingcausedbytheburningoffossilfuelslikecoal,petroleum,andnaturalgas.Inthe
future,onewouldhopethatwewouldmovemoretowardarenewableenergysupply.Maybe,in
thenextfewdecades,therewillbeanotherThomasNewcomen,changingthewayweconsume
energywithjustoneinvention.Maybewewillcontinuetousefossilfuelsuntilthedamageto
ourplanetisirreversible.Rightnow,however,itisimpossibletotell.
IchosetowriteaboutthistopicofSmilsbookbecause,asastudentofthesocial
sciences,Ihavealwaysbeenmostinterestedinhowthingsaffectand/orinfluencehumanbeings
andsocietyasawhole.Also,Itendtobeahistorybuff,especiallywhenitcomestoancient
history.Readingaboutthehistoryofenergyconsumptionbyhumansallowedmetopeekintothe
livesofpeopleineachepochofourhistory.Itsalsointerestinghowenergyfueledmostofthe
socialchangethatwehaveexperiencedthroughoutourshorttimeonthisEarth.Ifeellike
lookingbackonourhistorywillhelpmakeenergydecisionsinthefutureaswell.Hopefully,
students100yearsfromnowwillbeabletolookbackonmygenerationandsaythatwemade
therightchoicesinenergyproductionandconsumption.

WorksCited
"AShortHistoryofEnergy."UnionofConcernedScientists.N.p.,n.d.Web.19Mar.2015.

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"HistoricalPerspectivesofEnergyConsumption."HistoricalPerspectivesofEnergy
Consumption.N.p.,n.d.Web.19Mar.2015.
"U.S.EnergyInformationAdministrationEIAIndependentStatisticsandAnalysis."Energy
SourcesHaveChangedthroughouttheHistoryoftheUnitedStates.EIA,3July2013.Web.19
Mar.2015.