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Let's take a look at some historical insight to figure how our global path dependency on oil and coal were created. Britain’s competitive advantage lied heavily on its country’s seemingly endless supply of coal that conveniently lied on or close to the surface. Coal and oil created on-demand energy in a way that was incomparable to bio-fuels. The easy accessibility of this fossil fuel made extraction and labor cheap. The science behind this natural resource is that these fossil fuels were formed from a collection of ancient sunlight, animal, and plant remains. As centuries dated our planet, the substances that we know of now as coal and oil were formed from the pressures of earth’s layers. In other words, when we started burning this natural resource to create energy, we simultaneously burned away centuries of history.
However, this mentality was not present during the industrial revolution. The advantages of on-demand energy washed away any possible uncertainty. Manpower no longer was a limiting factor as people turned to coal-powered machines for inspiration. Factories boomed and the opportunity to leave the agrarian lifestyle became possible with the creation of thousands of low skill level jobs, initially within the textile and coal industry. Innovation soared, especially within the energy sector, and inventors such as Thomas Edison, creator of the light bulb, and Nikola Tesla, creator of fluorescent lighting and Alternating Current (AC) electrical power system opened up a new and brighter way of life to the world.
The 1870s marked what would be the known as second Industrial Revolution in the United States. Much like Britain’s bountiful coal supply, the USA discovered their ample supply of oil and the benefits of refining it in create power. Gone were the days where oil was nothing but a lubricant for wagon wheels. Within this discovery, John D. Rockefeller created the first oil industry, crude oil fields, and pipelines. By the 1890s, he single handedly controlled over 90% of the world’s oil companies, creating a near monopolistic oil industry. Evidently he quickly became the first oil billionaire. It became a race to produce as much energy as possible in order to produce as many factories as possible, in order to produce as many products as possible. In other words, the industrial life became a feverish snowball effect and our path dependency on nonrenewable resources was created.
About the Author
Stephanie Carman Burgos, Marketing Coordinator at Talbott, is a current Cross Cultural and Sustainable Business Management Masters student at The American University of Paris. She completed her undergraduate degree at San Diego State University with a BA in International Security and Conflict Resolution: Environment and Security. Stephanie is a sustainability enthusiast and partakes in various outdoor sports in her free time.
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