The stages of human history can be defined by our ability to harness the energy that exists around us. With each 'energy revolution' from the discovery of fire to nuclear fission, increases in the intensity of our energy use have made possible new ways of life and new cultures.
But our last energy revolution, while transforming the earth itself, also brought it to the brink of destruction. What will the next energy revolution, already underway, lead to?
In this broad-ranging history of life's most fundamental organising principle, Brian Black shows how the exploitation of energy has shaped our world as new sources of power defined new technology and culture – with associated environmental consequences. In doing so, he offers historical context for the politicians and engineers of today who help to facilitate our hopeful transition to renewable energy.
Introduction: History Under a “Heavy Sky”
1. Simple Exchanges and the First Prime Movers
2. Realizing Potential Energy from the Past
3. Expansive Power to Civilize
4. Warring For and With Energy
5. Complicating Ideas of Energy
6. A New Energy Ethic Emerges for the 21st Century
Conclusion: Our “Heavy Sky” Fuels a New Era of Energy Accounting
Brian C. Black is a Distinguished Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Penn State University, Altoona.