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This chapter will focus on the importance of fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil) and especially petroleum (meaning natural gas and oil, or sometimes just oil). First we want to ask why petroleum and especially oil. Why has petroleum been so important, and why is it so hard to unhook ourselves from it? To do that we need to look more broadly for a moment at the energy situation that has faced, and that faces, humanity. Solar energy, either directly or as captured by plants, was and is the principal energy available to run the world or the human economy. It is enormous in quantity but diffuse in quality. As we have developed in the previous chapter, the history of human culture can be viewed as the progressive development of new was to exploit that solar energy using various conversion technologies, from spear points to fire to agriculture to, now, the concentrated ancient energy of fossil fuels. Until the past few hundred years, human activity was greatly limited by the diffuse nature of sunlight and its immediate products and because that energy was hard to capture and hard to store. Now fossil fuels are cheap and abundant, and they have increased the comfort, longevity, and affluence of most humans, as well as their population numbers.
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Derived, with substantial modifications and permission from Hall, C., P. Tharakan, J. Hallock, C. Cleveland, and M. Jefferson. 2003. Hydrocarbons and the evolution of human culture. Nature 426: 318–322. Updates on EROI are available in a special issue of the Journal Sustainability (2011) and Hall, C.A.S., J.G. Lambert, S.B. Balogh. 2014. EROI of different fuels and the implications for society. Energy Policy 64: 141–152.
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Tharakan, P.J., T. Kroeger, and C.A.S. Hall. 2001. Twenty-five years of industrial development: a study of resource use rates and macro-efficiency indicators for five Asian countries. Environmental Science & Policy 4: 319–332. CrossRef
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Hall, C.A.S., J.G. Lambert, and S.B. Balogh. 2014. EROI of different fuels and the implications for society. Energy Policy 64: 141–152. CrossRef
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- The Petroleum Revolution and the First Half of the Age of Oil
Charles A. S. Hall
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