Resistance To Renewable Energy Is Similar To The Early Rejection Of Coal

Without good stories to help us envision something very different from the present, we humans are easily stuck in our conventional mental programming

Per Espen Stoknes

I was reminded of the above quote when I came across this recent article about America’s early rejection of coal. With cheap wood available and houses having wood fireplaces, not many saw the wisdom of shifting to coal. As the article states, our current societal struggle with renewable energy has a long history. Coal itself faced a similar pushback in the early 19th century when the power source promised to solve many of the country’s problems.

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The History Of Energy Transitions

Energy transitions throughout history have ushered in times of dramatic change. While energy may be the biggest piece of this emerging story, it is part of a bigger narrative in what increasingly looks like a phase transition. That notion of dramatic change is echoed by several prominent sources. For example, Alec Ross in his recent book The Raging 2020s speaks of a world that resembles the 1930s, a growing sentiment that maps to my research on the period beginning in 1920.

As the visual below illustrates, that 1930 date aligns with the energy transition. That period began the long transition towards our current fossil fuel era – representing a major transitory period for the world. This recent article reflects on the history of energy transitions and the drastic change in our sources of energy over the last 200 years.

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