Fossil fuels: the evolution of human culture

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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.

Link to full Nature article 

Reference: Nature 426, 318 (2003)