Our use of energy and our dependence on energy supplies pervade every activity that
we undertake and every aspect of our society. Agriculture, transportation, manu-
facturing, and domestic activities all require, in various ways, electricity and many
kinds of fuels. Energy is frequently in the news, with such issues as energy costs,
especially for petroleum products; availability of supplies, particularly in countries
that rely heavily on imports; and its availability in those parts of the world that still
lack an adequate energy infrastructure.
New energy sources and new ways of using energy have had transformative
effects on society. Very likely, daily life for most people into the mid-eighteenth cen-
tury was not very much different from that of their ancestors centuries earlier. Then
came the invention of the steam engine and the discovery of ways to produce and
transmit electricity. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the rise of
the internal combustion engine and its applications in automobiles and airplanes. In
mid-century, nuclear energy became available. Now, in the early twenty-rst cen-
tury, we see increasing interest in nonpolluting energy sources that are unlikely to be
depleted: solar energy, wind energy, and energy from plant products.
Particularly since the latter decades of the twentieth century, there has been an
increasing awareness that our use of energy is inextricably linked with impacts on
the environment. The most massive of these impacts is the likely human effects
on the global climate. Perhaps the most spectacular have been the tragic accidents
at nuclear reactors and the continual debate about the storage of nuclear waste.
However, the important lesson is that every energy source, no matter what it is, has
some technological advantages and some disadvantages, some negative impacts on
the environment and sometimes advantageous effects, and some economic draw-
backs and some incentives. As a society, our challenge is to navigate our way through
this sequence of positive and negative issues, choosing the optimum (or least bad)
solution for our locality. Despite the claims of advocates of many energy sources,
there is no one-size-ts-all answer.
This is the second edition of a book that grew out of a course on energy and society,
which I taught for many years at Penn State University. The course was intended for
students not majoring in science or engineering to fulll partially their requirements
for science courses. Experience with the rst edition has shown that this book can
also be read by persons wanting to learn more about energy and its impacts, reading
on their own without using the book as a textbook. I have assumed that most readers,
whether students or interested laypersons, will have minimal background in science
and mathematics, not beyond high school algebra and science. Readers without even
that background can still enjoy and learn from almost all the material in this book,
picking up the needed science “on the y.”
As the energy and society course evolved over many years of revisions, it seemed
to me (and, I think, to most of the students) to present the material in a roughly
chronological fashion, beginning with the era in which almost everything relied on
human or animal muscles and ending with the early twenty-rst century. Because of
this approach, the book as a whole can also serve as a history of technology, albeit
with special focus on energy technologies.
However, I have tried also to make the chapters, or short sequences of chapters,
accessible so that they can be read on their own or form the basis for a course more
narrowly focused than a broad-brush history of energy technology and its impacts on
society and on the environment.
I have benetted greatly from the help of the many people listed in the
Acknowledgments, from student feedback on course evaluations, and from informal
discussions with colleagues at Penn State, North-West, and elsewhere. Any errors or
shortcomings are entirely my responsibility.