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Energy and CivilizationA History$
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Vaclav Smil

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035774

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035774.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use.date: 29 June 2022

Energy and Society

Energy and Society

(p.1) 1 Energy and Society
Energy and Civilization

Vaclav Smil

The MIT Press

This chapter shows how energy has shaped society, from prehistoric times through today’s fossil fuel-driven civilization. It suggests that both prehistoric human evolution and the course of history can be interpreted as the quest for controlling greater stores and flows of more concentrated and more versatile forms of energy. It also views human dependence on ever-higher energy flows as an inevitable continuation of organismic evolution. The chapter first provides an overview of how energy flows and storages are measured before discussing how the combustion of fossil fuels and the generation of electricity gave rise to a new form of high-energy civilization whose primary energy sources now include renewable energy such as solar and wind energy. It then considers several first principles that underlie all conversions of energy, including those for calculating energy and power, and concludes with an assessment of complexities and caveats involved in measuring energy storages and flows.

Keywords:   energy, civilization, human evolution, energy flows, fossil fuels, electricity generation, renewable energy, energy conversion, power, energy storage

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