The End of 19th Century Energy Regimes?

There was an interesting story in the New York Times the other day about China and its decision to embark on an energy conservation program.  Unlike the United States, in which the need for energy conservation came like a slap in the face during the 1970s followed by a  hot and cold relationship with the policy over the next three decades, China has always seemed to me the most apt comparison with the energy regimes of the 19th century.  During the period of my research, the idea that coal was an infinite resource restricted only by the amount that could be removed from the ground held sway.  Smokestacks equaled progress and the idea that nations should somehow limit their consumption of fuel not only seemed strange; it was downright unpatriotic.  Now that China has embraced conservation (at least for the moment), does this sound the death knell for this mentality? Of course, the global markets for energy make it a somewhat different equation these days, but it should be interesting to see if we can finally see the scales tip in favor of conservation in the future.

Read the Times article here.

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About Sean Adams

I'm the Chair of the history department at the University of Florida. At UF, I teach courses on the Early American Republic and the History of American Capitalism. I've published books and articles on the history of the coal trade, and recently completed a book that examines the origins of America's fossil fuel dependency in the 19th century.
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