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Global Energy Shifts: Fostering Sustainability in a Turbulent Age

Bruce Podobnik

Publication Year: 2006

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the citizens of Great Britain faced a formidable challenge: coal resources seemed destined to run out and commentators were unable to foresee a viable alternative fuel. To address the crisis, military strategists were urged to seize control of coal in foreign lands, and companies were encouraged to increase domestic production of the resource.

In Global Energy Shifts, Bruce Podobnik draws intriguing parallels between the "coal panics" that once swept through Britain and the "oil panics" that grip the world today. His concise history of global energy use contextualizes the coal and oil scares, demonstrating how the convergence of specific geopolitical, commercial, and social conditions can generate rapid and far-reaching transformations in the energy foundations of our world.

Ultimately, Podobnik informs readers on how a "crisis" of one fuel system is quickly averted with the introduction of another, and describes opportunities for shifting our problematic, oil-based system toward a renewable energy system.

Published by: Temple University Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

There are many people who assisted me in completing this study. First, I would like to sincerely thank Beverly J. Silver for her support. It was while working with Professor Silver at Johns Hopkins University on a research project examining patterns of labor unrest and capital mobility that I initially formulated my research topic...

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1 Global Energy Shifts in World Historical Perspective

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pp. 1-17

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the citizens of Great Britain faced what seemed to be a bleak energy future. Commentators argued that the country’s most important energy resource—coal—was destined to run out within a generation or so. At the same time, they argued that there was no viable alternative to coal. Two primary solutions to Britain’s perceived energy crunch were therefore offered...

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2 The Rise of Coal

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pp. 18-37

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, communities across the world relied on resources like wood, wind, and water for most of their energy needs. Only about 10 percent of the commercial energy used in 1800 came from coal. Within a matter of decades, however, a massive growth in coal mining had taken place. Coal fueled profound transformations in industries across Europe and North America, but it also helped propel new waves of colonial conquest and global trade. In fact, during the nineteenth century coal allowed the capitalist world-economy to undergo a process...

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3 Conflict in Coal and the Emergence of New Energy Systems

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pp. 38-67

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the expansion of the coal system was driven mainly by the interacting dynamics of geopolitical and commercial competition. The industrialization of warfare and colonial conquest spurred state authorities in Western Europe, North America, and certain other regions to support the expansion of coal-related sectors. At the same time, private companies found it profitable to satisfy the demand for coal that was coming from military, industrial, and urban sectors in advanced economies. As a result of these mutually beneficial...

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4 The First Period of Crisis

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pp. 68-91

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the world appeared to be entering a period of prosperity fueled in part by an unprecedented abundance of energy resources. Even though conflicts between coal mine owners and workers often swept through the world’s main mining regions, coal production continued to spread steadily into new regions of the world...

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5 The Rise of Oil, Natural Gas, and Nuclear Power

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pp. 92-112

At the end of the Second World War, the global energy system began a new period of growth that was more rapid than any ever before witnessed in human history. In fact, between 1946 and 1973 the world consumed more commercial energy than had been used in the entire period from 1800 to 1945...

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6 The Second Period of Crisis

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pp. 113-141

While the two and a half decades following the end of the Second World War were years of unparalleled growth in world energy industries, the decade of the 1970s ushered in a new era of crisis. Turbulence rippled through the international oil system, while accidents in nuclear power plants brought to light dangers in this emerging energy technology. Evidence also began to mount that the pollution generated by conventional energy systems was having detrimental impacts...

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7 Toward a Sustainable Energy System

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pp. 142-168

As the world begins the twenty-first century, the long-term viability of the global energy system is increasingly being called into question. This era’s most important energy industry, based on oil, is being repeatedly wracked by major security crises. Indeed, the cycle of terrorist attacks and counterattacks that has gripped Afghanistan and Iraq—and is echoed in Israel and the Occupied Territories—brings a new level of danger to the world’s most prolific oil-producing regions. Moreover, revelations that nuclear technologies and materials are proliferating through state and non-state channels reveal the inherent dangers of this energy system, especially...

Appendix A: Sources and Methods Used to Compile Energy Data

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pp. 169-172

Appendix B: Glossary of Petroleum Company Names

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pp. 173-174

Appendix C: Sources of Strike Data in Energy Industries

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pp. 175-176


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pp. 177-188


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pp. 189-216


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pp. 217-223

E-ISBN-13: 9781592138043

Publication Year: 2006