Fossil fuels: the evolution of human culture
Most of the progress in human culture has required the exploitation of energy resources. Undoubtedly, a key event in the evolution of human society was the harnessing of energy in the hydrocarbon bonds of wood, in the form of fire. The last 200 years have witnessed a shift from wind- and water-powered technologies to coal, then oil, and more recently, natural gas.
Many believe that we have now entered a 'post-industrial' society, where computers and human knowledge have replaced raw energy and materials in the generation of wealth. But there continues to be a strong connection between energy and economic activity for both industrialised and developing countries.
In this article, a panel of energy experts reviews the current state of the world's fossil fuel supplies — in particular oil – highlighting the difficulty in accurately predicting remaining reserves of conventional oil. They note that society now has a great opportunity to invest in different sources of energy, including renewable and nuclear, that would free us for the first time from our dependence on hydrocarbons.
Reference: Nature 426, 318 (2003)