Mans discovery of fossil fuels could be his downfa
ll. discusThroughout the entire history of mankind, the technological advancements that civilisations have made have always been tied in with the development of energy sources. The first human energy technology was fire, along with human labour as the major energy source. This has bee supplemented by animals for agriculture and transportation since at least the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Wind and waterpower for milling grain have also been used nearly as long.
The development of the steam engine by George Stephenson in the late 1700’s was the technological breakthrough that led to the industrial revolution. For the first time in human history transportation could be provided without the use of domesticated animals. Steam engines were used in steam locomotives, steam tractors and steam ships (B.Nebel and R.Wright 1995). Stationary steam engines were rapidly established in all the major industries. The major fuel for steam engines was firewood. By the end of the 1800’s, the demand for energy was ever increasing and firewood around industrial centres was becoming scarce. This led to a switch to coal as the major source for fuel and energy. As well as powering steam engines coal became widely used for heating, cooking and industrial processes.
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Air pollution during the Industrial revolution was far worse than anything seen today. Apart from the smoke and fumes obscuring visibility, they also caused major health problems to the inhabitants of the industrial areas reducing life expectancies, predominantly with respiratory diseases.
The simultaneous development of the internal combustion engine, well drilling technology and the capacity to refine crude oil into gasoline and other liquid fuels (B. Nebel et al 1995) in the late 1880’s, produced an alternative to steam power. Air pollution was greatly reduced as coal-fired steam engines and gasoline and diesel engines, and fuel oil furnaces replaced furnaces.
Due to the length of time it takes to change from one energy technology to another, it was not until the late 1940’s that oil surpassed coal as the worlds major energy source. World oil use peaked in 1979 when daily production passed 66 million barrels per day (W.Cunningham et al 1993). This was not without problems however. In 1973, the recognition of the increasing dependence of industrialised nations on oil along with tensions between America and the middle east led to a tenfold rise in oil prices by OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The sudden price rises were a major source of debt burdens in many developing countries, and is today held responsible for the world economic recession that became evident in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
During the early 1980’s with increasing concerns about conservation by environmentalists and the concerns from Politicians and Industrialists saw the need for safer, ‘greener’ energy sources. Environmental problems from the burning of fossil fuels came to dominate the headlines of world media with issues such as the greenhouse effect, acid rain and water pollution.
It was not until August 1990 that the supply of oil came to the attention of the world media and industrialised nations again. The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein brought a new dimension to the west’s dependence on oil. It showed they were willing to fight wars for it, under the guise of liberating Kuwait from an evil dictator. The following military build up in the region cumulated in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Today fossil fuels provide about 95% of all commercial energy in the world (W. Cunningham et al 1995). Approximately 1,200 million people living in developed, industrialised countries consume over two-thirds of this total energy supply, while less than one-third goes to the 4,100 million people living in the developed world (K.Pickering and L.Owen 1995). This shows a massive difference in energy use between people in the developed and developing nations. On average, each person in the United States and Canada uses about 300 GJ (equivalent to about 60 barrels of oil) per year. By contrast in the poorest countries in the, such as Ethiopia, Kampuchea, Nepal and Bhutan, each person generally consumes less than one GJ per year. (W.Cunningham et al 1995). This means that on average, a person in