A Brief History of People, Progress, and Fossil Fuels

26 January 2017

For most of human history, the world was cold and dark. Other than rubbing sticks together to make fire, there was no light at night. If you had a home, it was built shoddily from wood, stone, or mud. Even if you were lucky enough to have a “roof” over your head, there were no heaters to keep you warm in the winter, or ACs to keep you cool in the summer. If you got sick, there were no pills to make you feel better. You never imagined traveling far from home because you had no way of getting there. And you probably didn’t live past 40.

This is how humans lived for thousands of years. But within the last 250 years, everything changed. We harnessed electricity to light, warm, and cool our homes. We built machines to build us sturdier homes. Trains and automobiles empowered us to expand beyond our home towns. Technological advances in science and medicine allowed us to treat and cure myriad diseases. We started living longer, healthier, happier lives.

So how did mankind make so much progress in such a short period of time? The short answer: energy. The slightly longer answer: fossil fuels—natural gas, oil, and coal. Energy ignited America’s Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, allowing us to replace manual labor with machine labor. The resulting explosion in economic activity catalyzed a wave of social progress unprecedented in human history.

It’s important to recognize how far we’ve come, but we must also look to the future. Today, more than 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, the same three sources that catapulted mankind into the modern age. The simple fact is that natural gas, oil, and coal remain the most abundant, reliable, and affordable energy sources the world has ever known. As we move forward through the 21st century, we should recognize the progress we’ve made and strive to use more of the best sources of energy to improve our lives.